Who’s On The Ballot: The Competing Candidates For Lake County Coroner

Whos On The Ballot: The Competing Candidates For Lake County Coroner

Alexandra Henriquez, Staff Writer

The Lake County Election has already started, and voting will conclude on November 3rd, 2020 at 7:00 P.M.. Running for Lake County Coroner this year are two strong candidates: incumbent Dr. Howard Cooper from the Republican Party and Jennifer Banek from the Democratic Party. Both candidates have many great attributes. I personally had the honor of interviewing one of the candidates, Dr. Howard Cooper.

Q: “What is it like being the coroner of Lake County?”

A: “We help a lot of people and we see a lot of different things. It gives me an opportunity to talk to a lot of kids and help as many families as I can in the county.”

Q: “What would you like voters of Lake County to know about you and what makes you the best candidate?”

A: “I am a doctor and I have a big forensic background of over 30 years. Since the 90’s I have been on the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team (DMORT) and with that team on 9/11, I was deployed to New York and I did victim identification at the World Trade Center. I was also on a Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team for the federal government, and after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans I went there and did body recovery, decontamination, and identification. I am also a founding member of the Department of Homeland Security.”

Q: “What were your experiences before becoming a coroner and how were you influenced by those experiences?”

A: “I have been involved in dental identification, I have worked for other coroners and medical examiners across the country doing dental identification. The two deployments I had from the federal government certainly gave me a lot of experience. When I went into the coroner’s office we set up a mass disaster plan and we also set up a pandemic plan. We used our mass fatality plan to go through the Waukegan explosion site, to make sure we brought back the victims to their families. Our pandemic plan is being utilized now (COVID-19 Pandemic) and our plan has been sent to all the police departments, fire departments, hospitals, funeral homes, long-term care facilities, and other coroners and medical examiners across the country have requested our plan. We have also sent that plan to the Governor.”

Q: “What other responsibilities do you have besides being a coroner?”

A: “This is my full-time job, so it is my responsibility to determine the cause and manner of death in every case that we take and we have over 5,000 deaths a year in our county. This year we are going to have considerably more (due to the pandemic). We investigate about 530 of those cases, so it is up to me to determine what happened. We also work closely with the families (of the deceased), and I am actually the person that would go and make notification as well.”

Q: “What recent accomplishments have you obtained?”

A: “Our biggest accomplishment recently is that we have gotten the office accredited by the International Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners and that is really a huge feather in our cap because there’s 230 different standards that we had to adhere to or exceed. It truly makes our office stand out from other offices. We are only the second office in Illinois to achieve that status and 1 of 26 in the country. All of my deputies are now boarded and that’s really a big deal because it means we know that our investigations are held to the highest standard.”

Q: “What made you decide to become a coroner?”

A: “It all started when I tried to get into my kid’s school to talk to them about the drug cases and effects of drugs I was seeing in my dental practice and the schools wouldn’t really talk to me, they didn’t care that I was a doctor. I knew that if I became the coroner, then I would be able to talk to kids and be able to lecture throughout our county. Being a coroner gives me a voice and allows me to help as many people as I can. With my experience, it was something that I was very familiar with and my background for over 30 years was forensics, so it was something I knew a lot about.”

Jennifer Banek, a candidate from the Democratic Party, is currently a nurse anesthetist as well as a captain in the Army Reserves. She has quite an educational background after attending Illinois State University (Biology), Northshore School (Nurse Anesthesia), and Depaul University (Nursing). Jennifer is also a member of the Cook Memorial Library Board and works closely with College Bound Opportunities in Lake County. Banek has received the honor of being a member of both the Illinois Association of Nurse Anesthetists and the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists. 


Sources: https://www.banekforcoroner.com/about