GOP incumbents look to defend seats in DuPage County Board primary

Election 2024
Kendall County voters will decide referendum questions in the June 28 primary election. Early voting gets underway May 19. (Mark Foster -- mfoster@shawmedia.com)

Republican voters in northeastern DuPage County will have more choices to make than Democrats at the ballot box in this month’s primary election.

Five Republicans are vying for their party’s nomination to the three District 1 seats on the county board.

The GOP hopefuls have made curbing crime a central theme of their campaigns and most remain leery of allowing recreational marijuana sales in unincorporated areas of the county. The intraparty contest has largely boiled down to a debate about their qualifications and other key priorities.

The race pits incumbents Don Puchalski and Sam Tornatore against challengers Cynthia Cronin Cahill, Bob Dunn and Maria Reyes.

The top three vote-getters in the June 28 primary election will advance to the general election in November to face DuPage NAACP President Michael Childress, the lone Democrat running for a District 1 spot on the board. The district covers all or portions of Addison, Bensenville, Itasca, Roselle and Wood Dale.

Cronin Cahill is an accountant who opened her own firm in Elmhurst about 30 years ago after working at Ernst & Young. She was an Elmhurst city treasurer from 1989 to 1993.

“I understand how budgets work and how to help the taxpayer save money,” she told the Daily Herald Editorial Board during a recent endorsement interview. “In fact, that was what I did when I was the Elmhurst city treasurer. I was a watchdog for the taxpayers.”

Though a familiar name, Cronin Cahill said she would represent a fresh voice. Her brother is departing county board chairman Dan Cronin.

“I have never been in government offices for very long. I don’t have a government pension,” Cronin Cahill said. “I am an outsider.”

Tornatore has been a county board member for almost a decade. The longtime attorney acknowledged “fresh ideas are great, but experience also matters.”

“Running a government of almost a million people greater than six states and the District of Columbia is hard work,” Tornatore said. “And I think you need people to know how to do it.”

Tornatore leads the county board of health. Tornatore said officials are working to obtain a state grant for a proposal to create a form of follow-up care for people to get help after they are released from the hospital for an overdose.

“We have significant behavioral health programs in place already dealing with mental health and drug addiction. What we’re hoping to work out and what we’re looking for is something called a ‘central receiving center,’” said Tornatore, adding that officials have a location in mind for such a program.

Puchalski, a fellow attorney, said he has the experience to support a new county board chair who will replace Cronin. He’s been on the board since 2005 and currently serves as vice chairman of the county’s judicial and public safety committee.

“This is an election about public safety,” Puchalski said. “We prepare balanced budgets. We have triple A bond ratings and we are fiscally managed much better than our county that’s sitting to the east of us. I’m seeking to be reelected to the county board because I think we’re doing a good job.”

Dunn is an Elmhurst aldermen. His city council term expires in 2023. He also has served as the vice chair of the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission’s Fly Quiet Committee, an advisory group that helped craft overnight runway rotations. By trade, Dunn is a supply chain executive.

“I’m very in touch with the global economy, and I truly believe we have a recession coming and the county needs to be prepared for that,” he said.

Dunn has called for making county operations run more effectively and efficiently.

“I think the county needs to look at outsourcing more functions to move away from a large government that tries to do everything for the community and be smart in how we staff and how we address issues moving forward,” Dunn said. “We were successful in Elmhurst in outsourcing quite a bit of our functions, reducing our pension, and we are well on track to being 100% funded within the next 10 years.”

Reyes has been a police officer for almost 24 years. She’s also a certified firefighter.

“It is imperative law enforcement serve on the DuPage County Board,” Reyes said in a response to a Daily Herald questionnaire. “For too long, legislators have made decisions with little or no input from law enforcement. My priority is public safety.”

During the Daily Herald forum, Reyes voiced opposition to provisions of the state’s sweeping criminal justice reform bill, the SAFE-T Act. The law eliminates cash bail beginning in 2023 and replaces it with a risk-based system for determining if people should stay in custody or go free while awaiting trial.

“It’s sloppy, it’s reckless and I think it empowers criminals,” Reyes said.