URBANA -- Joining with 10 Republicans, Champaign Democrat Alan Kurtz was elected chairman of the Champaign County Board Monday night.
Kurtz, a four-year board member, upset the Democratic caucus nominee for board chair, Michael Richards, also a Champaign Democrat.
It was the second time in the last decade that a Democratic board member worked with Republicans to become elected chair over the majority of the party's members. Eight years ago Urbana Democrat Barbara Wysocki was elected chair with the help of GOP board members.
This time all 10 board Republicans sided with Kurtz, as did Ralph Langenheim of Urbana and Astrid Berkson of Champaign.
Jon Schroeder, a Sadorus Republican, was elected the board's vice chair.
Richards predicted that Kurtz's selection as board chair would lead to division on the board, especially among the new board's 12 Democrats.
"We had a 12-to-10 margin and it was at a point where one selfish person could go make a deal with the Republicans and that's what happened," said Richards. "Al Kurtz has been a strong Democrat. I'm sorry to see him switch sides and become the Republicans' county board chairman."
He said "we've got a lot of angry people here tonight and I think that's going to continue."
"There are a lot of people in this room who feel betrayed by Al Kurtz and when the voters find out, we're going to have a lot of Democratic voters, especially in District 7, who are going to feel betrayed by Al Kurtz."
James Quisenberry, an Urbana Democrat, acknowledged that "there have been splits in our party before and they haven't necessarily gone well. We'll have to see how this works out."
Rather than a split in the party, Quisenberry said Kurtz's actions amounted to "a person going out and leaving the party to do this."
Kurtz, 72, said he challenged Richards because "Mister Richards was not qualified or earned this position."
"He's been on the board for six years and has not accomplished what I think I have accomplished," he said. "It was not against the party at all. I am a Democrat, first, last and always. I will absolutely follow the principles of the Democratic Party."
He said he didn't think Richards had a mandate from the Democratic caucus when it chose him last month. He noted that Richards got only seven Democratic votes on the first ballot Monday night.
"Obviously they still felt that he was not ready for this position," Kurtz said.
Kurtz said "there's been a split in our Democratic Party for a long time. We lost every single race in the countywide elections, very simply. All I can see is that within this caucus I will work to repair any of the problems that have occurred, and will put together a very strong caucus."
He denied that a deal was made to make Republican Schroeder the vice chair of the board in exchange for GOP votes.
"I didn't do anything. They came to me," he said. "I got phone calls from them. They were not happy with the choice of our caucus."
Kurtz said that up to that point "I wasn't sure what I was going to do.
"Their explanation was very simple: they wanted the best for the county."
John Jay, the Republican caucus chair, admitted that there "absolutely" were Republicans who urged Kurtz to challenge Richards.