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URBANA — Champaign County's first-ever elected county executive is Democrat Darlene Kloeppel.

A first-time candidate for political office, Kloeppel defeated well-known Republican Gordy Hulten, who has been county clerk since 2011.

Kloeppel never lost her lead as election returns were reported, winning with nearly 53 percent of the vote.

She wasn't surprised to win, she said, though, "you just don't know until the votes come in."

"I knew it would be an uphill battle," she said. "I worked hard for several months. I'm a really qualified candidate, but I know that sometimes, that doesn't get you the job."

Kloeppel, who has a master's degree in social work, served for 15 years as community services director at the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, and she's been doing consulting work since retiring from the RPC three years ago.

She was the first to formally announce she'd be seeking the county executive office.

Voters narrowly approved the new elected county executive position two years ago, making Champaign County just the second county in Illinois after Will to establish this form of government. The county executive post comes with considerable authority, including budget-making, an independent staff and veto power over the county board.

Kloeppel said she plans to spend the next few weeks before taking office in December getting ready for her first organizational meeting with the county board and getting started on how to undertake a strategic plan for the county — her highest priority for year one.

She called the victories among Democratic candidates "a pretty good sweep."

"I think that's a pretty good indication of how unhappy people are with their government right now," she said.