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Local News

Challenger leads in Braidwood mayoral race

‘We’re not done yet’

At the Country Roadhouse Restaurant in Braidwood, the city’s incumbent mayor, Jim Vehrs, and his 50 or so supporters nervously awaited election results in a close race.

After calculating the initial results, Vehrs and his supporters saw he was down by a few dozen votes.

Vehrs began to speak to the crowd, thanked those he had worked with over his first term and touted the progress the city has made under his leadership. When he began to choke up, some of his supporters tried to reassure him the results were not quite official.

“We’re not done yet!” some in the crowd shouted out to him.

Braidwood Police Chief Nick Ficarello gave Vehrs a hug. “It’s not over yet, man,” Ficarello told him.

Vehrs told the crowd, “I’m sorry
I get emotional, but it’s from the heart.”

Four candidates, and one write-in, competed for the mayor’s office in the small city of about 6,200 residents. Vehrs faced challenges from a former mayor, Rich Girot, a local businessman, Bob Jones, and the city’s sitting commissioner of buildings, James Hutton. The unofficial election night results had Jones ahead with 403 votes, Vehrs trailing with 365, Girot with 342 and Hutton with 223. Seven people wrote in a name for mayor.

Among the main issues in the race was the city’s response to the opioid epidemic. Vehrs praised the police department and its efforts in “taking all these drugs off our streets.” After experiencing the highest rate of overdose deaths in the county, the city cracked down on dealers and created programs for users to get help.

The city then went for about 15 months between 2017 and 2018 without a single overdose death. Still, Vehrs said more needed to be done and admitted his efforts came with a significant financial investment.

“How do you put a price on a child’s life?” Vehrs said about a month before the election to questions about the growing costs in the police department’s budget.

Jones criticized the amount of money the city was spending, especially for the hiring of more law enforcement personnel.

Incumbent City Commissioner Fay Smith along with Wayne Saltzman, Charles Hart and Douglas Money appeared to secure their seats in city government.

Jones could not be reached for comment.

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