JOLIET – The dust is settling after last week’s election, with several races still up in the air until last-minute mail-in votes are counted next week.
But most other races – for all intents and purposes – already are determined, with leads likely too large to overcome before the winners are made official April 25.
Still, there are other offices throughout the county for which no one ran. These include Shorewood village clerk, Wilmington village clerk, a handful of township assessor roles and countless trustee spots on various boards.
At the same time, other races – such as the 15 people vying for just three Joliet City Council seats, the Bolingbrook mayoral race and Lockport Township’s opposing slates – became hotly contested.
Dr. Steven Nawara, an assistant professor of political science at Lewis University, said a couple of factors could play into this disparity of high interest in one office and low interest in another.
For one, people should look at the office itself, he said. In many cases, local government offices are not full-time positions, and, as a part-time role, still can take away from a person’s primary job.
Typically, but not always, the larger the constituency, the more the official gets paid. According to payroll documents, Joliet City Council members are paid about four times more than members of the Morris City Council.
“And sometimes, they’re completely unpaid positions, so you have to get people to essentially volunteer their time,” Nawara said.
He ventures that in Joliet, with a population of more than 145,000 and three at-large council seats open to anyone in the city – as opposed to district or ward races, which limit the number of people eligible because of geographic boundaries – such seats are bound to draw more candidates.
A separate factor that could play into the difference in total candidates in one area versus another is the presence of local political parties.
“It’s local parties that are often tasked with recruiting for these offices,” Nawara said. “If you have a vibrant party organization and competition between two parties, you’re more likely to get an influx of candidates.”
Beyond that, the amount of candidates running for an office could come down to the personal motivations of people in the area. While some run for office to help the community, others do it for personal gain, or a mixture of both.
“A lot of people look at local government as a stepping stone, a way to get experience and move on to a higher level of office,” Nawara said. “And it could be both those things. People act like ambition is a bad thing, but chances are, it’s a combination of those two things.”
Will County Clerk Nancy Schultz Voots, whose office handles elections, said she thinks how many people run comes down to the amount of interest in a community.
“Running for office is not an easy thing to do. It’s expensive, and it’s hard to raise enough funds to win,” Schultz Voots said. “And I think people are busy, some people have two jobs and don’t want to take on another responsibility.”
For an office such as township assessor, candidates probably need a certain level of expertise, Nawara and Schultz Voots said.
“Assessors have to know about tax rates, they have to understand the tax cycle, that’s one of the reasons you don’t see many people running,” Schultz Voots said.
Nawara added an assessor likely needs a background in real estate and valuation.
“Quite frankly, a very small segment of the population is going to have that expertise,” Nawara said. “As for City Council, you could have a whole host of reasons to run – poverty, crime, road conditions.”
The lack of interest in some township races could be a reason why politicians such as Gov. Bruce Rauner have talked of consolidating townships. Rauner signed a bill in 2015 allowing a downstate township to dissolve.
“I think they’re trying to analyze the numbers to see if there’s no interest in township government and how much is it spending taxpayer dollars?” Schultz Voots said, adding it’s not her decision to make.
Nawara said part of the argument for consolidation or elimination of certain townships is that there’s an overlap of services between townships and municipalities.
“It would play out differently depending on how populated the area is,” said Nawara, who lives in an unincorporated area near Plainfield. “I’m not a part of the village, but I get a lot of benefits from the township. But I also recognize that the county would likely provide those services if the township wasn’t there.”
Nawara said those in support of consolidating governments use the rationale that you get a cost reduction while not losing much service, assuming another governmental body would pick the services up.
And with all these empty spots, some people may find themselves in public office in the next few months without ever having to raise a dollar for a campaign.
After the election winners become official, mayors, village presidents, boards and other elected representatives will have to nominate and then vote on candidates to fill positions such as village clerk and township assessor.