Lauren Staley-Ferry will become the first Democratic county clerk in Will County in 80 years, a sign of change in the local political climate.
Will County government was dominated by the Republican Party in the county’s more rural past. But Democrats have been gaining a stronger foothold for years culminating in the election on Tuesday.
“It’s a blue county now, and I think we can count on it being blue for a while – at least purple,” said Tim Brophy, a Democrat elected county treasurer on Tuesday.
Local Democrats likely benefited from Democrat J.B. Pritzker’s landslide victory over Gov. Bruce Rauner at the top of the ticket.
But Democrats now hold every elected executive position in county government after Staley-Ferry won the county clerk’s race, Brophy defeated incumbent Republican Steve Weber, and Sheriff Mike Kelley was re-elected.
The Democrats also gained four seats and became the majority party on the County Board.
The county clerk’s job has been a stable Republican position for decades, having been held since 1962 by just three people – including current Clerk Nancy Schultz Voots, who did not run for re-election.
Staley-Ferry said a Democrat had not held the office in 80 years.
While going door-to-door, Staley-Ferry said, party affiliation seldom came up.
“Sometimes people ask what party you’re from,” she said. “But typically they just want to know what you bring to the table.”
She was unsure what her victory and others meant to party politics in Will County. But Brophy said the rise of Democrats illustrate a political change that has come with increased urbanization and population growth.
“The county 20 to 30 years ago was mostly Republican farm country,” Brophy said. “You had that cluster around Joliet that would go Democratic.”
Growth in Lockport, Bolingbrook and other areas has brought more Democrats to Will County, he said.
Brophy, however, also acknowledged that county Democrats were helped by the impact of the governor’s race and the pro-Democratic trend nationally in this election. What happens in the next county elections in 2020 could depend on the presidential election that year.
“It depends on who turns out,” he said. “If you get a polarizing Democrat running for office in 2020, that could affect those of us farther down the ticket.”