By Jim Hagerty
Two candidates who vied to succeed outgoing Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey were in good spirits Tuesday night, even as Democratic candidate Tom McNamara ran away from the field in the four-horse race.
Rockford business owner Brian Leggero grabbed 14 percent of the vote, but said the outcome far from marks the end of his political journey.
When the polls closed, Leggero tallied 3,043 votes, only 632 fewer than independent Rudy Valdez, the early favorite until many of his supporters shifted to 3rd Ward Alderman McNamara.
Leggero has run for a number of offices, including Rockford City Council and Winnebago County Board. He knows how it feels to fall short, and was once removed from a ballot because of a name-change discrepancy. He could have quit then, but chose to push for a better, safer Rockford.
The persistence paid off. Leggero was elected Winnebago County precinct committeeman four years ago. Last fall, he defeated Ald. Pam Connell for the Republican nomination for mayor.
“I am not comparing myself to Abraham Lincoln, but look at how many times he ran for office,” Leggero said. “I ran a grassroots effort without special interests. We offered a new positive direction for Rockford. But, unfortunately, the people spoke for the same failed policies. It’s a bad day for Rockford property taxes.”
Leggero, who spent $.50 per vote, said he will take the next couple weeks to unwind from a contentious political cycle, in the middle of which he underwent heart surgery. Leggero said he will then turn his attention back to public service, but the candidate still hasn’t decided whether he will actively support the mayor-elect.
“I will have to think about it,” Leggero said. “I am, however, still open to running for another elected office. I am dedicated to the people of the city.”
Valdez also came up short against the mountain of union support and a tenacious McNamara ground game. Like Leggero, Valdez still has work to do in Rockford, adding to his already extensive list of civic accomplishments.
The former aerospace administrator at UTC has held key roles in a litany of organizations on the cutting of edge of reshaping Rockford, most notably in areas previously overlooked in recent decades as developers feasted off projects on the east side of the Rock River.
Valdez has been involved in SWIFTT (South West Ideas For Today and Tomorrow), Latinos for Political Progress, Epilepsy Foundation, Rockford Public Schools and the NAACP, to name a few.
“I will continue to be active in the community,” Valdez said. “I will continue making a difference through relationships.”
Independent Ronnie Manns received 2 percent of the vote with all 86 precincts in. He could not be reached for comment.
In other noted races, Ald. Frank Beach, R-10, defeated Democratic opponent Jim Hughes to remain the longest-serving alderman on council.
“This is always an exciting time,” Beach said. “It is when the people get to speak to their government to either affirm what they do, or make changes. I feel personally, this is a way for me to extend my faith and love and serve the Lord by serving my fellow man.”
Beach has served on the Rockford City Council since 1981.
Ann Thompson-Kelly, D-7; Ald. Tim Durkee, R-1; and John Beck, R-12, also retained their seats. Democrat Jonathan Logemann unseated incumbent Jamie Getchius in the Second Ward, while Republican Chad Tuneberg emerged as the new aldermen in the Third Ward. He defeated Kayellen DiTomassi.
Democrat Bill Rose defeated independent Teena Newburg in the Ninth Ward. Natavias Ervins won in the Sixth Ward, and Lina McNeely (D) handily defeated Robert Esmond to remain alderman in Ward 13.
In Rockford Township, Assessor Ken Crowley retained his seat in a victory over Republican Jessica Horstman.
In a set of the most heated races of the consolidated election cycle, John Nelson, Jennifer Ray and Paul Gorski won seats on the Rock Valley College Board of Trustees.
Nelson grabbed approximately 31 percent of the vote, while Ray won 27 percent to win six-year terms.
Gorski defeated Marlana Dokken and Robin Castillo for a two-year term on the RVC board.
And a pair of local school bond referendums came in as tight as could be when all the votes were counted.
A $12 million building bond issue for Winnebago schools failed by just nine votes, while the Hononegah School District saw a $17.8 million measure pass by just 126 votes out of more than 7,000 cast.