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Wheaton City Council alumni reflect on how experience prepared them for careers in higher office

Published: Monday, Feb. 17, 2014 12:41 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, July 25, 2014 4:32 a.m. CDT

WHEATON – As election season heats up, a frequent topic of distinction among candidates is previous governing experience. Many point to their time at the municipal level as a selling point, and the Wheaton City Council has appeared on the political resume of several local politicians.

“Is it a springboard? I don’t know if I would say that,” said Wheaton Mayor Mike Gresk, a council member from 1995 to 2003. “But it’s a good testing ground to prove the type of person you are and get you out to the public if you aspire to go on to higher office.”

State Rep. Jeanne Ives, DuPage County Treasurer Gwen Henry, County Board member Grant Eckhoff and County Judge Linda Davenport are all Republicans who have spent time on the council. Henry also served as mayor from 1990 to 1992, according to the city website.

Council member Evelyn Pacino Sanguinetti will try to channel her predecessors’ success in higher office as a lieutenant governor candidate with gubernatorial hopeful Bruce Rauner.

Eckhoff, who served from 1989 to 2002, said his time on the council prepared him for the slow and steady work of large efforts, such as revamping Wheaton’s downtown business district.

“It taught me that some projects are harder than others, and if the hard projects were easy, we’d do them by now,” he said. “Getting the downtown done was hard work, which is why it hadn’t been done yet.”

Eckhoff said he applied those lessons to the county government consolidation effort, which recently saw success in the dissolution of the Fairview Fire Protection District.

Ives said her short stint on the council from May 2011 to November 2012 made her keenly aware of the effect state government has on local municipalities.

Trying to bridge the gap between state representation and the affects of laws such as pension reform, wage legislation and infrastructure projects on local residents is part of what made her run for higher office, she said.

Her time on the council connected her with the issues of the municipality and the voters in it, she said.

“It’s always good to run for a local board, especially Wheaton,” she said. “It’s very humbling to start to meet the people you are representing.”

Gresk said he thought governing a relatively large community – more than 50,000 residents – that is also home-ruled gives the Wheaton City Council authority and responsibility. He pointed to Pacino Sanguinetti’s rise as an example of the importance of local governance in political futures.

“There’s an obvious exposure you get from being an elected official. She obviously came to the attention of the Rauner campaign, and it would be naive to think that he didn’t look at her time as a city council member and see her record and style,” he said. “Being on the Wheaton City Council gives you some credibility, as does being on any city council.”

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Current office holders formerly on the Wheaton City Council

• State Rep. Jeanne Ives

• DuPage County Treasurer Gwen Henry (also former mayor)

• DuPage County board member Grant Eckhoff

• DuPage County Judge Linda Davenport

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