Jeff Ward: DuPage County Needs to Do Some Political House Cleaning

Ah! But my esteemed Kane Countians get to take the week off!

My fine Kane County compatriots! You’ve done well. Political perfection may be a pipe dream, but I have to say that things are looking a little better out here because of your recent voting proclivities.

The sheriff who thought he was king is long gone and Pat Perez has done a phenomenal job in his place. In fact, he’s done so well that I’ve been encouraging him to consider a third term. You might want to do the same thing.

Once stripped of her County Board cronies, Chairman Karen McConnaughay fled for Springfield faster than a Rush Limbaugh advertiser jumped ship. She’ll do far less damage down there and fit in perfectly with that group of ineffectual state senators.

You saw right through Cathy Hurlbutt’s court clerk makeover attempt, you sent Bill Sarto packing, and then you put state Sen. Chris Lauzen in the county chair driver’s seat. I’d kiss you all, but then we’d have to talk about gay marriage.

You even managed to do a decent job of selecting judges.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure you’ll soon come up with something that completely frosts my cookies, but until then, I’m pleased to announce that Kane County gets to sit this one out. Put your feet up and have a beer!

Ah! But my esteemed DuPage Countians aren’t nearly as fortunate. You law-and-order, dyed-in-the-wool Republicans who love to call out everyone else are just a wee bit hypocritical when it comes to your own housecleaning.

Well … not all of you. Some of you actually do have the good sense God gave a billygoat.

And that short list includes the readers who, in response to my column chastising Sheriff John Zaruba for letting his son play policeman whenever he throws a temper tantrum, suggested that I’d only chipped the tip off the iceberg.

And they were right! All it took was a couple of short Google searches to come up with all sorts of interesting peccadilloes.

For example, the Tribune took exception to the fact that the sheriff regularly shakes down his deputies for campaign contributions. And by shake down I mean the officers who give till it hurts get promoted and don’t face nearly the same disciplinary consequences as their more miserly counterparts.

A quarter of the sheriff’s campaign contributions came directly from his deputies, and that doesn’t include what he wrings out of their families.

As if that wasn’t enough, in February 2008, the Naperville Sun reported that the County Board, in cahoots with Zaruba, awarded the DuPage County jail food service contract to a firm that didn’t submit the lowest bid, but did manage to contribute 15 grand to folks like the sheriff, former Chairman Bob Schillerstrom and key County Board members.

Former State’s Attorney Joe Birkett got around the low-bid conundrum by claiming Aramark, the firm that provided jail food for 21 years, suddenly wasn’t providing an appropriate menu. And now he’s a judge!

Speaking of judges, let’s move on to DuPage County Judge Kenneth Popejoy, whose antics actually make Sheriff Zaruba look good by comparison.

His problems started when he struck a parked car and decided not to take responsibility for his actions. According the Judicial Board complaint, Popejoy fled “at a high rate of speed,” showing a “willful and wanton disregard for the safety of persons and property” as he ran multiple stop signs and forced a 13-year-old jogger to jump out of the way of his seriously damaged vehicle.

When police arrived at his Wheaton home, he kept them waiting at his front door for 10 minutes while he called then-Chief Judge Stephen Culliton to bail him out.

Of course, the judge was immediately thrown off the bench—right? Nope! Two long years after he broke 30 laws in 10 minutes, the Illinois Courts Commission assumed their best serious faces, pointed their sternest index fingers, and suspended Popejoy for all of 60 days.

Apparently, a DuPage County judge has to murder at least two people before they’ll consider taking away the black robes.

And last, but certainly not least in my long litany of “we’re a step above in DuPage County” hypocrisies, let’s get back to Chairman Dan Cronin. You remember Dan; he’s the one who’s in the running for my “” award because he immediately turns into a pile of melted Jello at the mere mention of Sheriff Zaruba’s name.

You see, Gov. Pat Quinn just appointed Cronin’s sister, Cynthia Cahill, to the plumpest of all patronage plums, the Illinois Liquor Control Commission Board. Not only does this part-time gig carry a $32,800 salary, but medical benefits and a pension, all for attending 18 meetings a year.

Spokesperson Sue Hofer told me they do have to review dozens of cases prior to each meeting, but I’m sure any one of you would be happy to serve.

Please tell me someone else out there believes this conversation should’ve take place: “Hey, sis! I’m happy to hear about your new appointment, and I know I can’t tell you what you what to do, but would you please consider turning it down? Because the appearance of impropriety is always so much worse than the actual impropriety.”

Or better yet: “Hey, Pat! I really appreciate the appointment, but with my bro serving as DuPage chairman and all, it just doesn’t look good. So I’ll have to pass.”

Am I the only person on the planet with that kind of self-respect?

Of course, I’ve been patiently waiting for my DuPage County brethren to rise up and storm the castle, but there’s been nary a peep. Where’s the DuPage Tea Party when you really need them? Oh, that’s right! Their motto is: As long as it’s a Republican, we’ll just let it go.

Meanwhile, Zaruba’s served 14 years, Popejoy will be back on the bench and Cronin’s joking about the sheriff’s ride-alongs at a Chicago event.

Oh! DuPage County politicians are a step above, all right, but not in the way they’d like to think!

James Albright May 18, 2012 at 11:51 AM
Jeff this is just a small example of our bought and sold government. Wall street runs our government and everything trickles down from there. When you follow the money the outcome is almost always the same. Now days the internet has added transparency and people like you are able to point things out to the masses for free. The real question we need answered is how do we get money out of politics? How do we level the playing field so the candidate with the most fun tickets (money) doesn't always win?
Jeff Ward May 18, 2012 at 12:22 PM
James, That's where the Tea Party could come in, but they're too lazy to start building the necessary organization from the ground up. They'd rather just yell the nasty old black president. It start with the precinct committeeman posts. It's a tough job, but an easy and inexpensive election to win if you're willing to pound the pavement. And once you have your political foot in that door, the rest of the county elected offices are well within reach. I'll keep saying it. These are the races where the Tea Party could have a massive effect and these are folks that affect your taxes far more than any president ever could. But we just keep re-electing the same old mopes. Jeff
Martha Hanna May 18, 2012 at 12:37 PM
Good Morning, There is a group in Kane Co. trying to get money out of politics as we speak. "Move to Amend Kane" Go to Facebook to get involved.
Dan F. May 18, 2012 at 01:07 PM
Just when you thought it couldn't get worse than Schillerstrom, Cronin starts to show his true colors.
Jeff Ward May 18, 2012 at 01:25 PM
Martha, You could actually put the link right there in your comment! Jeff
Ray May 18, 2012 at 02:06 PM
Is this Popejoy the same Popejoy who was a world class track athlete/miler? If so, it's ironic that he almost hit a runner.
John McCormack May 18, 2012 at 02:17 PM
“How do we get money out of politics?” Start with implementing term limits. Your value to the Lobbyists drastically diminishes if you can’t get re-elected.
Jeff Ward May 18, 2012 at 02:19 PM
John, I too agree with term limits, but we can do that right now! It's called voting 'em out of office! Jeff
Kent Frederick May 18, 2012 at 03:07 PM
Jeff, Here's the problem. People in DuPage County don't pound the pavement. I have no clue who my precinct committeeman is, because he doesn't ring doorbells. He just mails a flyer shortly before elections, asking for votes for candidates he likes, rather than the ones endorsed by the DG Township Republicans. He actually encouraged a vote for Newt, rather than Mitt in the primary this year. I grew up in Cook County, and campaign season meant flyers on doors and candidates and precinct workers running around neighborhoods on weekends. In 14 years in DG, I've had Wally Brown and Linda Painter each at my door once, and that's it. No one running for state, county, township, park district, village, or board of education, or a precinct worker on behalf of a candidate. I once went to a Young Republican function, and the speaker was a precinct captain from Proviso Township in Cook County. He explained that he walked the precinct every week, trying to keep in touch with every resident and knowing who to call for any given problem (garbage service, potholes, fallen tree limbs after storms, etc.) Needless to say, his precinct had a high turnout, and endorsed GOP candidates did very well. If the Tea Party wants to change things in DuPage County, all they have to do is study how Aldo Botti beat Jack Knenupfer for Board President back in 1988 for the organizational blueprint.
James Albright May 18, 2012 at 03:08 PM
@Jeff how much would it cost for me to win? Give me a dollar amount. Why aren't you leading the charge and taking action in that form? @martha thats great but i have seen dozens of things like this fail. Remember the saying you have to fight fire with fire or in this case dollars with more dollars. I don't want to sit around and picket, play the blame game, get signatures etc. I want to take the kind of action Jeff is talking about. Get the public behind me, bring transparency, hold people accountable and reshape this discusting mess that entitlement has created. All while keeping the publics best interests at heart and not the company's or individual's that financed my campaign.
Jeff Ward May 18, 2012 at 03:19 PM
James, Give me an office and I'll give you an amount. You can run for precinct committeeman without spending a cent. A lot of those all-important positions are left open and then the powers that be get to appoint them. If I run, and I may someday, I immediately have to stop writing for Patch and the Beacon and Courier News. I may be biased, but I think my efforts are more valuable in this role. Start at the lower levels and build and organization. I certainly takes an effort, but if you have the PCs and they're willing to work for you, you can win any election. Jeff
Jeff Ward May 18, 2012 at 03:20 PM
Kent, That last paragraph is dead on! Jeff
John McCormack May 18, 2012 at 03:29 PM
Can you or I vote out Madigan or Cullerton? Cross or Radogno?
Jeff Ward May 18, 2012 at 03:34 PM
John, Not unless you live in their districts. But here's the thing. You can support their opponents with cash and effort. If your elected officials support them, then vote them out. I've seen it happen here in Kane County. I started taking on the county board cronies, the good guys suddenly got the cahones to actually do something, and now all but one is gone. It can be done. Jeff
Jeanne Tassotto May 18, 2012 at 03:43 PM
Jeff, Great article but you missed the elephant in the room. On Feb 17th there was a fender bender in West Chicago that lead to a high speed chase down Rte 59 that ended with a shooting in Fermilab. A car load of young people either hit or were hit by a car which may or may not have been driven by an off duty West Chicago cop. After the initial widely varying reports on this very little was reported until in late April the State's Attorney announced that no charges were being filed against this unnamed cop because they did not feel a case could be made against him. No case even though the victim was seriously wounded by shots that went through the trunk of the car and struck him in the back as the car was being driven away from the officer. In the last few weeks how many articles have appeared in the local press about the Martin/Zimmerman case that happened in Florida? Why is that this very similar local case has been swept under the rug here? The West Chicago police, the DuPage County Sheriff and the State's Attorney are all trying to keep this quiet.
Dan F. May 18, 2012 at 07:01 PM
So you are saying you were the catalyst who brought all the change to Kane County? Really? Tell us more!
Dan F. May 18, 2012 at 07:05 PM
How about a couple examples. And no peeking. County Board, Mayor, state House, Circuit Court Judge.
Jeff Ward May 18, 2012 at 07:46 PM
Dan, County Board Chair is getting almost as expensive as an Illinois congressional run. You need at least 100K and 250K would be better. Though you can get by on less. Eight years ago, Jim MacRunnels ran against the unlikeable Karen McConnaughay out here and with only 3 months of campaigning and about 30 grand, got 40 plus percent of the vote. She had to borrow $80k from her husband to survive the challenge. If he had 6 months and $60 thousand, he would've won. As long as you're willing to knock on doors and attend the township functions to lobby the PCs, you can run for county board on 5 grand or less. I've seen people win it without spending a dime of their own money. To win a run for mayor all depends upon the city and who's support you have. If they're aggravated enough at the incumbent and the "opposition group" is willing to support you, you can wage a serious campaign for 10 to 20 grand which you could easily come up with in contributions. State House is a completely different animal. That one goes beyond PCs, requires a lot of money, and a 24/7 campaigning effort. If you want to knock out an incumbent, you will need major support, a great campaign manager, and at least 150k to pull it off. Again 250k gives you a real shot. For judge you have to be a lawyer and, though you don't have to spend much money, you really need PC and insider support to win. There you go! Jeff
Scott C. May 18, 2012 at 09:05 PM
Further, Cronin can't trouble himself to respond to a constituent who makes a sincere private inquiry regarding his leadership (or lack thereof) on the issue of pension reform at the County Board level. Then again, he isn't alone. Several of his fellow County Board members (among others in DuPage County) have refused to respond to similar inquiries. Its almost as if they weren't elected by, charged to serve on behalf of, and ultimately answerable to the citizens of DuPage County. Nope. They seem to think they can do as they please, citizen inquiry and responsiveness be damned. These guys are dinosaurs on the issue of pensions. I hope they either evolve quickly or that they soon become politically extinct. Until then, they can wallow in the transparent hypocrisy of preaching mutual sacrifice, asking others to do more with less, etc., while they pad their own pockets (and apparently also those of their family members) on the taxpayer dime. And as long as we let them do so without speaking up in greater numbers, we get what we deserve. DuPage County needs people to run for these positions who believe in public service first, last and everywhere in between and who will outwardly reject political, party, partisan or faction agendas altogether. We also need more people to join in speaking truth to power. It may be easy to ignore one voice. It becomes more difficult to ignore a chorus. Speak up, folks! More articles like this please!
Jeff Ward May 18, 2012 at 09:53 PM
Dan, To continue, if you're not running against an incumbent then cut everything in half - but you have to be willing to commit a huge chunk of time to the campaign trail. If you've run before, then you will also be able to spend less money. Jeff
Blossom May 19, 2012 at 09:00 AM
I just happened upon your piece when it triggered my email alert on Joe Birkett's name. You're right on about DuPage County, but I'd like to add that that the fear factor plays a large role in the state's attorney and sheriff's elections. The vindictive and malicious nature of John Zaruba and Joe Birkett, and their willingness to abuse their power has kept candidates from opposing them in elections. Because I've publicly spoke out against both of them they've committed the greatest tyranny; the prosecution of an innocent man, my husband.
Dale Langley June 08, 2012 at 05:27 PM
Well said James... It's a sad fact that the dollar often wins the race.
Paul June 08, 2012 at 06:26 PM
Blossom, Dupage county judicial system is a joke. Your guilty until proven innocent there and you best have a ton of money or you will lose all the time. Birkett is a joke and most all the assistent district attorneys are. They go after people for there own record and to improve the way they look, not the truth. Its an abortion.
Xander Crews August 12, 2013 at 12:49 PM
Ah, another Ken Popejoy comment. When I ran cross country at North Central College, Ken was a volunteer coach, revered by many. He was quite the influence, binge drinking with the team, getting in drunken violent altercations with boys who spoke with the girl he brought around to impress. It think it was his ex wife actually. I don't remember him taking responsibility for that, either. What a fraud. He was a great runner, but it's not like he went to the olympics or anything. What passes for celebrity at a DIII school.


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