Republican gains on the Will County Board bore fruit this week when the party was able to elect one of its own as board chairman as a Democrat left in the middle of a meeting to elect leadership for the next two years.
Judy Ogalla, R-Monee, was elected to the top leadership position on the board Monday in a vote that broke down along party lines.
Republicans eroded the Democratic majority in the Nov. 8 General Election. The board is now evenly split 11-11 between the parties. But County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, a Democrat, has a tie-breaking vote.
That small advantage was not available to Democrats when board member Denise Winfrey, D-Joliet, left before the leadership vote. Republicans were able to make Ogalla the board chair in an 11-10 vote.
Winfrey is president of the National Association of Counties and reportedly left the meeting to catch a plane for an association event. She could not be reached for comment.
Ogalla said Winfrey’s departure came as a surprise.
“The Republican caucus did not expect that to happen,” she said. “We expected Joe Van Duyne to be the chairman.”
Van Duyne, D-Wilmington, was going to be the Democrats’ choice for chair, confirmed Jacqueline Traynere, D-Bolingbrook, the board’s Democratic leader.
Democrats also weren’t aware before the 9:30 a.m. meeting that Winfrey would leave, Traynere said Tuesday.
Asked if she was disappointed about Winfrey’s absence from the leadership vote, Traynere said, “That would be an understatement.”
“We found out Monday at 9:30 [a.m.],” Traynere said. “She told Joe at 9:30 [a.m.] that she was going to leave at 10:30 [a.m.]. She was at the meeting when she told us.”
Traynere said the meeting was lengthened by an unusual Republican caucus that was called at 10 a.m. and interrupted the meeting. But she said County Board members knew last week that Republicans planned to have the 10 a.m. caucus.
“The whole thing is rather unusual,” Traynere said. “This meeting takes place every two years. It sets the leadership for the board. It’s probably the most important meeting for the county board.”
On a bright note, Ogalla and Traynere said they are getting along as the two parties have agreed to split up chairmanships of county committees evenly between the two parties.
“So far, we haven’t had any arguments,” Ogalla said.
“I’m really working well with her,” agreed Traynere. “No problems – not yet.”