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Geneva mayor, others talk interest in top county job

GENEVA – One day after Kane County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay announced she will not seek a third term, the race to become her replacement was under way.

Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns announced Thursday the formation of an exploratory committee to determine whether he should seek the Republican nomination for the office of Kane County Board chairman in 2012.

Burns’ announcement comes on the heels of McConnaughay’s decision to run for the Illinois Senate in the newly formed 33rd Senate District.

Other names surfacing as interested in the county’s top spot are Republicans Jim Oberweis, of Sugar Grove, president and CEO of Oberweis Dairy, State Sen. Chris Lauzen, and several county board members: Mark Davoust, Philip Lewis, Tom Van Cleave and possibly Democrat Bonnie Kunkel.

Burns, 46, said the exploratory committee will be “taking the temperature of the county” to determine whether he should run for the county’s top spot next year.

“The exploratory committee will be ... exploring the opportunity with business leaders, civic leaders not-for-profit leaders and citizens throughout the county on their reaction to the potential of my running for county board chairman,” Burns said. “This will be a chance for me to share my story, my experience, my approach to public service and to learn firsthand, what they want to see in and from the county’s next chairman.”

Burns, a three-term mayor, said he did not have a firm time frame to decide.

“It will be determined on how quickly I can reach out to who I need to, to make a decision,” Burns said.

Though he has not served on the county board, Burns said, in a prepared statement, that he was qualified to be chairman.

“I’m confident that my experience, passion and approach to public service qualify me to serve as the next Kane County Board chairman,” Burns’ statement read. “To remain relevant, reliable and responsive to the needs of those it serves, it’s essential that the next Kane County Board chairman lead by example and be prepared to build an environment based on trust, mutual respect and appreciation for the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for all of Kane County.”

The position has drawn great interest, but possible candidates did not appear ready to dive into the race.

Lauzen, of Aurora, would not commit.

“I’m certainly interested, but it’s too early to make any informed decision,” Lauzen said.

Oberweis, 65, said a number of county Republican leaders were calling him to ask him to run for chairman.

“It’s very humbling to have people ask you to get involved,” Oberweis said. “I have to give it serious consideration.”

Oberweis sought elective office five times and lost from 2002-2008, most recently to Democrat Bill Foster for the 14th Congressional seat. Foster recently lost that seat to Republican Randy Hultgren.

“Over the next few weeks, I will continue to talk to as many people as possible to find out whether it’s 10 people or a large number of people who want me to run,” Oberweis said. “I’m certainly fortunate that I have the time. I could focus on that opportunity because my son is running the dairy business.

Davoust of St. Charles said he is “weighing all the options” and is discussing the matter with family and colleagues on the county board, among others.

“I’m happy that my name is part of the discussion,” Davoust said. “I take that as a compliment that my colleagues and others in the area see what I have done and consider me able to do that job.”

Davoust attended the ceremony Wednesday at which McConnaughay announced her candidacy for the Illinois State Senate.

But Davoust said he has not discussed his potential candidacy for the chief county executive position with McConnaughay, nor is he expecting her to endorse any candidate to replace her in the office.

“She’s made it pretty clear that she will have her own race to run,” Davoust said.

He said his decision will also likely be influenced by the identities of other candidates who might seek the office. But Davoust said he will not be rushing his decision, nor has he set a date by which his decision will be made.

Lewis, of St. Charles, said he has served five years on the county board, plus has 35 years of background in management, that he could bring to the chairmanship.

“I’m kicking it around,” Lewis said. “I have feelers out to see what kind of support I’d get. This is not a knee-jerk reaction and see who supports you and who won’t. And it’s a significant financial commitment. It’s not something you casually decide to do or not do. I’ll have to decide by the end of July.”

Van Cleave, of Batavia, echoed others’ comments about the commitment necessary to mount such a campaign.

“I have not made any decision,” Van Cleave said. “There are other good candidates. I would have to make a decision on a grueling campaign and I’ve not come to grips with that yet.”

Kunkel, of Aurora, said a Democrat certainly would have a chance to be chairman.

“I think people are tired of electing someone because of a party,” Kunkel said. “We are really ready for some different leadership at the chairmanship level.”

Kunkel would not commit to putting herself forward for the position, but she did not say no.

“I am thinking about somebody running – not necessarily me,” Kunkel said. “I’m not saying I’m not. I want somebody to run for chairman, somebody who has good management experience. I am scouting about, trying to find the right person.”

• Kane County Chronicle reporter Jonathan Bilyk contributed to this report.

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