State Sen.-Elect Schmidt is still Suzi
Lake County Board Chairwoman Suzi Schmidt packed her belongings as she shared memories of a job she loves and prepares to start a new chapter serving the state legislature for the 31st district.
"Leaving the county board has been the hardest decision. It's been my life. I love this county and the people that are in it and it's been an honor to represent it," Schmidt said, as her eyes welled with tears.
Schmidt said it would have been easy to stay on the county board – her current salary pays about $25,000 more per year than the state senate – however she wasn't happy with conditions in Springfield.
"I always felt that if you're not happy and you think you have something to offer, then go for it," Schmidt said. She stressed that she will continue to serve the people of Lake County on the state level and added that she expects people to still call her Suzi, not Sen. Schmidt.
Schmidt defeated incumbent Michael Bond to win the seat for the district on Nov. 2. The district includes Grayslake, Round Lake and most of northern Lake County.
Schmidt Unified County Board
Looking back over her 10 years as county board chairman, Schmidt believes one of her main accomplishments was creating a unified county board.
"No matter what party, everyone worked together. One of my main goals was that everybody had a part in the process, everyone had a voice and was treated equally," Schmidt said. "I've always believed you treat people how you want to be treated."
David Stolman, county board representative from Buffalo Grove, said over time the county board pendulum swung from pro-development to pro-environment. He thinks the current board takes a centralist position.
"Her personality settled down the board and it was a good board to work with. There was no animosity," said Stolman, who was elected chairman to the board at a Dec. 6 special meeting.
Stolman said Schmidt has been a mentor for him. "Suzi is a person who is a great individual; she is not only fun to work with, but also intellectually stimulating. She is loyal, trustworthy and has always kept her word politically," he said.
Another major achievement Schmidt is proud of is maintaining financial stability in the county. Lake County has AAA credit rating, which puts it among the top 38 counties in the nation, she said.
The biggest controversy Schmidt recalls is when the county approved a smoking ban in 2007, prior to the state ban. She said the county board has not stirred up much controversy.
"We don't get into other people's business . . . sometimes road projects can be controversial, but that always comes out in the wash," Schmidt said.
This year, Lake County won a Sunny Award, for having one of the most transparent websites, from the Sunshine Review, a non-profit organization dedicated to state and local government transparency.
State Service Continues a Job Schmidt Loves
Schmidt's public service career began in the early '80s when she switched from art teacher to Lindenhurst recreation director. In 1985, she won a seat on the Lake Villa Township board and in 1988 won the county board seat.
Schmidt, a resident of unincorporated Lake Villa, has been married to Bob Schmidt for 30 years. She said he appreciates her love for public service.
Schmidt said she doesn't see herself as starting a new career by going to the state senate, but continuing the career she loves. She admits she will have to get used to a different lifestyle with traveling back and forth to Springfield.
"It's like going to college. I'm trying to get my arms around this move. I had to find a place to live and I had to find a roommate," Schmidt said. She will be sworn-in to the state senate in mid-January.
She said it was more economical to find a roommate on her state senator salary, and she doesn't want to live alone in Springfield.
Schmidt will have two offices in Lake County, one in the Lake Villa Township office and another in Zion.
As a state senator, Schmidt plans to focus on economic development and transportation. She will support an extension of Route 53 north. She believes economic recovery in Illinois requires a more business-friendly environment.
Schmidt plans to continue, at the state level, to work to bring Lake Michigan water to the western part of Lake County.
"I've always felt that safe, clean water is as important as clean air," said Schmidt.
Community Suggestions Welcome
As a county official, Schmidt has always been accessible and she plans to continue to be easy to reach. She said residents can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"People can e-mail me suggestions for state government. I tell them I can't know it all," she said. She said she tries to answer people within 24 hours.
Schmidt also has an e-newsletter with 4,000 people and she will post state government updates. She invites people to sign up for the newsletter by sending her an e-mail.
"I make a point of telling people, as an elected official you have to remember who your bosses are. You work for the public," Schmidt said.