There wasn't a lot of blood but there were a few verbal punches and a little high-sticking in the opening face off of Kane County Board chairman candidates Friday afternoon (Jan. 13) during a lunchtime forum sponsored by all three Tri-Cities chambers of commerce.
Credit Democratic candidate Bill Sarto for the hockey analogy. He said he was at the Blackhawks game last night, and apparently, the images from the Hawks' 5-2 win were as fresh in his mind as the ice behind a Zamboni.
"Mayor Burns has taken the gloves off already," Sarto said, after listening to the opening statements.
The candidates involved in the free-for-all were two pairs who will be competing in the March 20 primary: Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns versus state Sen. Chris Lauzen on the GOP side; former Carpentersville Mayor Sarto versus former St. Charles Mayor Sue Klinkhamer on the Democratic side.
Burns set out in his opening statement to separate himself as the candidate with leadership experience, people skills and an open mind.
"My opponent believes in freezing things," Burns said. "I surround myself with ideas, no matter who espouses them."
In his opening statement and several times after that, Lauzen counterpunched with his three-point theme: (1) freeze the property-tax levy, (2) treat people respectfully and (3) offer honest, competent administration through innovation.
"I renew those pledges to you this afternoon," he said.
Lauzen said he wasn't going to mix it up with the mayor, but he did land a few blows in his closing statements, which seemed to be aimed at connecting Burns with the administration of present County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay.
"This race in the Republican primary will boil down to a competition between grassroots reformers who intend to significantly improve county government versus establishment insiders protecting their status quo," Lauzen said.
He made veiled references to Kane County appointments and dealings with department heads under the McConnaughay administration.
"There is way too cozy a correlation between pay and play in the decision-making role," he said. "I will refuse to give salary spikes to politically-favored directors who then retire on $110,000 pensions only to be called back to work on contract for the county—especially when rank-and-file workers have seen their salaries frozen over the past three years."
"I won't squander hundreds of thousands of our tax dollars in legal fees to settle disputes and correct management errors among elected officials."
Burns' closing made subtle jabs at Lauzen's right-side lean in the Republican Party and his people skills.
"If you want a partner, vote for Kevin Burns," he said. "If you want a partisan, vote for my opponent."
He also addressed Lauzen's closing arguments.
"I want to remind the senator that he is running against me and not the current County Board chairman," Burns said.
"It's fashionable to criticize those who hold the office for the organization you want to lead, because in some respects, it becomes red meat. The reality is, the county is in pretty dog-gone good shape.
"The issue is: Who is best (candidate) to preserve that good shape—someone who's done the work or someone who has never done the work? I didn't go to an Ivy League school, but I did go to a school with ivy. And I'll tell you what, I'm prepared to lead."
On the Democratic side, Klinkhamer talked about her good working relationship with the St. Charles City Council when she was mayor, while Sarto said his experience with a divisive board in Carpentersville made him the best-qualified candidate to run the Kane County Board.
"I've always prided myself with bringing people together," Klinkhamer said.
"I don't shy away from political battles," Sarto said. "I welcome them. You find ways to make it work."
Klinkhamer made a strong sales pitch for hiring a Kane County administrator. She said the 24 members of the County Board get part-time wages but full medical, dental and retirement benefits.
"That's a pretty penny of taxpayer dollars," she said. "It needs to change."
Sarto, meanwhile, sent probably the strongest fiscally conservative message of the afternoon.
"Today, we've heard about freezing taxes, we've heard about raising taxes," he said. "I'm here to tell you, we need to lower taxes. That will encourage new businesses to come in. I don't want to talk about raising taxes, because I don't think it's necessary."
Editor's note: This article was edited following a letter from Chris Lauzen saying that his closing statements were generic and not aimed at individuals alluded to in the original story. "My point was not to criticize any one individual, but to illustrate an existing practice and show how I would do things differently," he said.