Democratic surge top Herald-News story of 2012
Compiled by Tony Graf firstname.lastname@example.org December 31, 2012 7:40PM
Reed Bible (center) and his wife, America (below right), celebrate Reed's win for the District 5 Will County Board seat after final absentee, grace period and provisional votes were counted in the Will County Board Room Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012, at 302 N. Chicago St. in Joliet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 2, 2013 6:18AM
The year 2012 saw continued gains by the Democratic Party in Will County. The party won key electoral victories — from the presidential race right down to the first majority on the county board in three decades.
The Democratic surge is The Herald-News’ top story of 2012. Other top stories include:
Joliet’s Caterpillar plant endured a 16-week strike. Warehouse workers walked off the job at the Walmart warehouse in Elwood in a shorter strike.
Two criminal cases — Drew Peterson and Christopher Vaughn — went to juries this year after being in the headlines for five years each.
Continuing foreclosure woes are a sign that, at the end of 2012, the United States has not completely turned the corner on the recovery from recession.
1. Democrat gains
Democrats surged in Will County this November, with several congressional victories and a milestone shift in power on the Will County Board.
Congressional Democrats added local territory with Bill Foster’s victory over Republican Judy Biggert in an 11th District that covers most of Joliet, Aurora and Naperville.
Representing Will County, Foster will join fellow Democrats Dan Lipinski, Bobby Rush and the successor to Jesse Jackson Jr. Republican Adam Kinzinger of Channahon won in the November elections and will represent a far western segment of the county.
Election Day, Nov. 6, left some suspense regarding the balance of power on the Will County Board. After a final recount two weeks later, Reed Bible’s victory put Democrats more in charge than they have been in 32 years.
Democrats now have the county board majority for the first time since 1980. The board is tied at 13-13, but Will County Executive Larry Walsh, a Democrat, can cast tie-breaking votes, which gives Democrats the edge.
On Dec. 3, the Will County Board made history when it unanimously elected the Rev. Herb Brooks Jr. as its first black leader.
“It makes me proud not only to represent my party, but all the ethnic groups across Will County,” the Joliet Democrat said after the county board’s reorganization meeting. “More importantly though, it’s important that government recognize that it doesn’t matter what your race, creed or color is. What’s important is the job that’s at stake.”
On Election Day, Democrats enjoyed victories, from President Barack Obama right down to state legislative candidates. Democratic candidates winning seats in Springfield on Nov. 6 included: Rep. Larry Walsh Jr., Sens. Pat McGuire and Toi Hutchinson, Senator-elect Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant and Representative-elect Natalie Manley.
Joliet’s Caterpillar plant endured a strike from May 1 through Aug. 17 by about 780 members of Channahon-based International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local Lodge 851.
On Aug. 17, a majority of machinists voted in favor of a contract and ended the 16-week strike. All along, the 780 union workers had billed their fight against the corporate Goliath as a battle to save the middle class by preserving decent wages, traditional pensions and low-cost health-care benefits.
The six-year deal includes a one-time 3 percent pay raise for Tier 2 workers hired after May 2005 and a $3,100 signing bonus for all workers. It more than doubles health-care payments, freezes pensions and provides no raises for Tier I workers hired before May 2005.
Caterpillar spokesman Rusty Dunn said the company has a responsibility to not only its 132,000 employees, but also to stockholders and customers. Company officials have to prepare for when the company’s financial outlook might be bad, Dunn said.
In another dispute, warehouse workers walked off the job Sept. 15 at the Walmart warehouse in Elwood to protest labor practices at the massive facility. On Oct. 6, 38 nonunion workers who were on strike settled their grievances with Roadlink Workforce Solutions, the company that staffs the Walmart warehouse.
3. Peterson case
Drew Peterson, a former Bolingbrook police sergeant, was convicted of murder Sept. 6 in Will County court in the 2004 death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio.
Savio’s death, originally ruled an accident, was re-investigated after Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy, disappeared in October 2007. Drew Peterson will be sentenced this year.
In September, the Will County jury deliberated for nearly 14 hours over two days before announcing their guilty verdict. Statements that Stacy Peterson made to two men — a divorce attorney called by the defense and a minister friend — before she disappeared were cited by a juror as being crucial in bringing down Drew Peterson.
“Without hearsay evidence would I have found him not guilty? Yes. A lot of the jurors said that, too,” said Ron Supalo, a juror from Bolingbrook. “They were either on the fence or they thought he was innocent and then with those two hearsay witnesses, bam.”
4. Vaughn case
Christopher Vaughn of Oswego was convicted on Sept. 20 in Will County court for the murders of his wife, Kimberly, and their children — Abigayle, 12, Cassandra, 11, and Blake, 8.
Vaughn shot Kimberly under the chin on June 14, 2007, before putting two bullets through each of their three children.
During an outing to a water park, he gathered the family in their red Ford Expedition, parked the vehicle in a small gravel drive off a frontage road west of Interstate 55 in Channahon Township, and got out of the car. He shot Kimberly, then reached over her body to fire two close-range shots through each of the children. Prosecutors believe Blake was last to be shot as he pushed his body into the back seat and held his left arm up in a defensive position.
On Sept. 20, it took a Will County jury less than an hour to convict Vaughn. On Nov. 27, Will County Judge Dan Rozak gave Vaughn four life prison sentences, one for each murder.
5. Housing market
As the nationwide economy lags, Joliet is seeing positive signs in the housing market. However, no one is going to declare the housing slump to be over as long as the foreclosure rate remains high, City Manager Thomas Thanas said.
Thanas points out two positive signs in particular:
Private investors have taken possession of most undeveloped subdivision land that had fallen into the hands of banks or bankruptcy trustees in 2007 and afterward. This is a sign that the land is in the right hands in order for future development, Thanas said.
The city has received more than $5 million through federal and state grants and has invested the funds in its Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which buys foreclosed homes, rehabilitates them, and gets them back on the market, Thanas said.
Another positive sign from 2012 is Raynor Park Homes. This development, which is being called Joliet’s first residential subdivision in five years, was approved by the city council in July. The subdivision is planned for the former Raynor Park School site, northwest of Hosmer Street and Curtis Avenue.
Nevertheless, foreclosures remain a painful symptom of the nationwide housing crisis. And Thanas said that until the foreclosure rate comes down, home prices will remain depressed and the weakness in the market will linger.
November 2012 foreclosure filings in Will County dropped 2.61 percent from a year ago. Nationally, foreclosure filings fell 19 percent from November 2011, according to Irvine, Calif.-based RealtyTrac.