For the first time since the 1970s, the Grundy County sheriff is a Republican. By fewer than 200 votes, Minooka police officer Ken Briley beat incumbent Kevin Callahan on Tuesday night.
“The campaign has taken on a life of its own,” Briley, a longtime Minooka resident, said Tuesday during an election night event at the Fraternal Order of Eagles No. 1024 in Morris.
Even before the numbers were in, he said this year’s campaign was different than when he ran and lost against Callahan in 2014. He said the message was different this time around, and said what was a culture of bullying and a hostile work environment in the office needed to change.
“We need to support law enforcement,” Briley said.
Briley worked as a correctional officer at the Old Joliet Prison before eventually transferring to Stateville Correctional Center, where he served as warden for five years, according to his campaign website.
Going in to Tuesday night, Callahan supporters who had gathered at Clayton’s Tap, less than a block away from the Republican gathering, were positive and enthusiastic their candidate would be re-elected.
As the precinct votes began filtering in, however, supporters were less certain Callahan would be victorious. The numbers were tight right up to the end, with Callahan’s opponent finally emerging as the winner by 189 votes, according to the Grundy County clerk’s unofficial results.
When the final precincts were closed, the Eagles hall erupted with a cheer, and Briley began tearfully hugging friends and family around him. He wasn’t taking chances, however, in the days leading up to the election.
“I wrote two speeches, one with a frowny face and one with a smiley face,” he said when giving his victory speech. “We did it!”
Briley also thanked Callahan for his 35 years of service.
Many of Callahan’s supporters were surprised – some said they were shocked – at the result.
“Well, it’s disappointing for one thing,” Callahan supporter and Morris resident Chris Perry said. “Kevin has been such a wonderful sheriff to this county. ... I really don’t feel Mr. Briley has the qualifications for the job.”
“It was a very nasty election,” said David Perry, Chris’ husband. “And negativity seems to be the tone of the day. I’m disappointed. I can’t say I’m surprised, considering ... the fact that we live in Grundy County, which is so deep, deep red. I was hoping for a better result, though.”
The buzz at Clayton’s the whole evening, even before the results were known, was what Callahan supporters said was the negativity of Briley’s campaign ads.
“Kevin has done a remarkable job, and he has run a very positive campaign,” Grundy County Board member Lana Phillips said.
Briley said he would begin Dec. 1 to help bring the office and the community back together after the contentious campaign.
As Callahan spoke to supporters at Clayton’s, he said he had hoped it had gone another way.
“The voters of Grundy County have spoken,” Callahan said. “I guess they wanted a change in the sheriff’s office, and they’ll have one. I didn’t think I’d be leaving this way. Thirty-five years ago, when I took the job, I thought I would leave on my own terms, but when you run for office, there’s no guarantees.”
Callahan said he is honored to have served the people of Grundy County and thanked his staff and supporters.
“I’m very appreciative of the people who have supported me,” he said. “We’ll move on.”
• Morris Herald-News editor Kevin Solari contributed to this report.