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Polar vortex challenges primary candidates

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Updated: March 24, 2014 6:36AM

Local primary candidates had no idea when they threw their hats into the ring last fall that their toughest foe this campaign season would be Old Man Winter himself.

Kane County Sheriff candidate Don Kramer was in the Lily Lake area off Route 47 putting up some campaign signs when he ran into an unexpected challenge.

Walking across the road and through the ditch to get to a cornfield, the next thing Kramer knew, he was up to his neck in snow … and for a moment, panic threatened to set in.

“I knew,” he recalled, “this couldn’t be good.”

So the retired Kane County lieutenant from Geneva began to roll … and though he got plenty wet, Kramer managed to create enough of a hole to climb out.

“The more rural places,” he said with a grin, “are particularly challenging.”

And important.

In local elections, where candidates have limited funding and where every vote really does count, trudging through snow banks and pounding signs into frozen ground are the best ways to get names and messages out to voters.

Most of them, starting in late fall, took December off because of the holidays, then hit the campaign trail with a vengeance in January. And as we all are well aware, since the beginning of the year, there’s been nothing but one polar vortex and nasty snowstorm after another.

Bill Lenert, an insurance agent from Sugar Grove running for Kane County Board, admitted he even got stuck in a snow drift while out knocking on doors and had to be plowed out.

His opponent, incumbent Melisa Taylor, also of Sugar Grove, “somehow managed” to get stuck multiple times one day while using her daughter’s car, and ended up passing out campaign pens to thank her rescuers.

“It’s been crazy,” she agreed.

Then there’s those incredibly high winds.

Once signs were pummeled into the cold frozen ground, candidates have been struggling, especially this past week, to keep them up.

On Friday, Lenert was out repairing dozens of damaged signs. Some of the large posters, he said, were located far from their original spots, and a couple were blown away, never to be found. “I had to order 50 more,” he noted.

Jacqueline Harmon, campaign manager for sheriff candidate Lt. Kevin Williams of Geneva, admits at one point, while wrestling with Mother Nature, “I thought I was going to blow away myself.”

There have been plenty of weekends, she said, when the volunteers simply did not want to go out into the sub-zero conditions. “But Kevin is so passionate, he’d get us pumped up and excited again.”

Williams’ campaign, she said, is made up of volunteers from all ages, so when the weather was brutally extreme, the older people would drive the cars and the younger ones would do the heavy lifting … or knocking.

In this kind of winter, she said, “it really does take a team effort.”

Not every candidate ventured into the ice box, though.

Kendall County Board incumbent Matt Prochaska, a consultant from Bristol, said it didn’t made sense to risk frostbite on some of the more dangerous weekends. He and Kane County’s Taylor both avoided the streets when conditions were brutal so that residents hunkering down for the day wouldn’t have to open their doors to Old Man Winter.

But other candidates said venturing into the arctic blast can be an ice breaker in itself.

Whether they appreciated their passion or just felt sorry for the campaigners, most residents, I was told, graciously opened their doors. One woman, noted Kramer, even invited him to join her for a bowl of chicken noodle soup she had just made.

“As you are warming up,” he said, “it gives you time to really connect to the voters.”

Harmon, Williams’ campaign manager, noted yet one more plus this campaign season. Despite the fact she had no time for the gym these past six weeks, she still managed to lose five pounds.

“It’s a great workout,” she said of tramping through the deep drifts, pounding poles into frozen ground and wrestling with wind-whipped signs.

“It gets your heart rate up … and you certainly burn calories.”

Kane Board hopeful Bill Lenert was equally enthusiastic.

“It’s really been fun ... seriously.”

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