MORRIS – For the first time since the 1970s, the Grundy County Sheriff is a Republican. By fewer than 200 votes, Ken Briley beat incumbent Kevin Callahan Tuesday night to become the next sheriff of Grundy County.
“The campaign has taken on a life of its own,” Briley said Tuesday at a Republican election night event at the Fraternal Order of Eagles in Morris. “So many people are talking about it.”
Even before the numbers were in, he said that this year’s campaign was different than when he ran and lost against Callahan in 2014. He said the message was different this time around, and what he called a culture of bullying and a hostile work environment in the department needed to change.
“We need to support law enforcement,” Briley said.
Going in to Tuesday night, Grundy County Sheriff Kevin Callahan supporters who had gathered at Clayton’s Tap, less than a block away from the Republican gathering, were positive and enthusiastic that their candidate would be re-elected.
As the precinct votes began filtering in, however, supporters were less certain Callahan would be the favorite. The numbers were tight right up to the end, with Callahan’s opponent, Ken Briley, finally emerging as the winner by
189 votes, according to the Grundy County Clerk’s unofficial results.
When the final precincts were closed, the Eagles hall erupted with a cheer and Briley began tearfully hugging friends and family around him.
He wasn’t taking chances though in the day leading up to the election.
“I wrote two speeches, one with a frowny face and one with a smiley face,” he said when giving his victory speech. “We did it!”
Briley also thanked Callahan for his 35 years of service to Grundy County.
Many of Callahan’s supporters were surprised – some said they were shocked – at the result.
“Well, it’s disappointing for one thing, because Kevin has been such a wonderful sheriff to this county,” said Morris resident and Callahan supporter Chris Perry. “I really don’t feel Mr. Briley has the qualifications for the job.”
“It was a very nasty election, and negativity seems to be the tone of the day,” said David Perry, Chris’s husband. “I’m disappointed. I can’t say I’m surprised, considering the tone of politics in this day in age and the fact that we live in Grundy County, which is so deep, deep red. I was hoping for a better result, though.”
The buzz at Clayton’s the whole evening, even before the result of the election was known, was what Callahan supporters said was the negativity of Briley’s campaign ads.
“I’ve been a supporter of Kevin’s the entire time he’s been in office,” Grundy County board member Lana Phillips, D-District 2, said. “Kevin has done a remarkable job, and he has run a very positive campaign, both this year and four years ago.”
Phillips said Callahan always has put the safety of Grundy residents first.
Briley said he would begin on Dec. 1 to help bring the department and the community back together after the contentious campaign.
As Callahan spoke to supporters at Clayton’s, he said he had hoped it had gone another way.
“The voters of Grundy County have spoken,” Callahan said. “I guess they wanted a change in the sheriff’s office, and they’ll have one. I didn’t think I’d be leaving this way. 35 years ago, when I took the job, I thought I would leave on my own terms, but when you run for office, there’s no guarantees.
“I’m proud of the campaign we ran, and I’m proud of the office, and I will
be forever,” Callahan said to loud applause.
Callahan said he is honored to have served the people of Grundy County and thanked his staff and supporters.
“I’m very appreciative of the people who have supported me,” he said, “and we’ll move on.”
Other Grundy County races
The make up of the Grundy County Board will remain largely unchanged. The top three vote-getters in each district get to sit on the board.
In District 1, incumbents Ken Iverson, D-Morris, and Millie Dyer, R-Morris, retained their seats. Incumbent Don Neushwander, R-Morris, however came in fourth and Drew Muffler, R-Morris, will join the county board.
In District 2, incumbents Chris Balkema, R-Channahon, and Deb Warning, R-Minooka, keep their seats and Greg Ridenour, R-Minooka, also joins the board.
District 3 saw incumbents Mike Onorato, D-Diamond, and Douglas Boresi, R-Coal City, retain their seats. Jake Olson, D-Gardner, also won a seat on the board.
Grundy County Treasurer Lori Werden, R-Morris, was also reelected to her seat, easily fending off a challenge from Coal City trustee Tim Bradley, D-Coal City.
Kay Olson, D-Morris, was unopposed for Grundy County Clerk and won reelection.