FREEPORT – Growing up in public housing, Brian Stewart wasn't destined to be a business and political leader.
But he has become one.
Soon, he'll be adding another job to his résumé – state representative for the 89th District, which includes Whiteside, Ogle and Carroll counties. His selection was announced Wednesday.
He will replace state Rep. Jim Sacia, R-Pecatonia, who announced last month he was leaving less than halfway through his 2-year term. His last day is Sept. 30.
Stewart, 55, beat a dozen other applicants for the position in a district that also includes Stephenson, Jo Daviess and Winnebago counties. Nearly half of the voters are in Freeport-based Stephenson County.
Stewart, a U.S. Army veteran and former Stephenson County sheriff's deputy, employs nearly 300 employees and manages more than 20 businesses, most of which are based in Freeport.
In a Sept. 9 conference call, the chairmen from the six counties' Republican parties unanimously voted for Stewart, party leaders said.
The official announcement for Stewart's selection was made Wednesday at the Freeport Public Library, attended by more than 100 people.
Greeted by a standing ovation, Sacia introduced his successor. The former FBI agent said he recommended Stewart, but was not involved in the search process.
"If you want to get something done, give it to a busy person," Sacia said.
Sacia and Stewart worked together in law enforcement.
Sacia said he decided to resign because he wanted to run for another office, but gave no details. He said a campaign would divert his attention from his legislative duties.
Stewart, who also got a standing ovation, praised Sacia and recognized all of the politicians and public officials in the room – a big chunk of the crowd.
"As a young boy, I was actually raised in public housing," he said. "We didn't have much, and I think that fact had a profound effect on me, creating a desire to build a business and provide for my family."
He said he would go to Springfield to remind the leaders about Illinois' biggest industry – agriculture. "Can we have some applause for that?" he asked.
The audience obliged.
He talked about giving local control to school districts and tackling the state's pension crisis, which he said was crowding out education spending.
He included guaranteed crowd-pleasers in his speech, such as pushing for the long-sought four-laning of U.S. Route 20 from Freeport to Dubuque.
He also promised to work in a "bipartisan manner."
In an interview afterward, he said he could handle the job, despite his businesses.
"No one will outwork me," he said. "I will put in the time necessary."
Andrew Smith, chairman of the Republican Party, said the party chairmen closely followed the law. Asked why the party didn't hold public interviews, he said it was difficult even getting all of the chairmen together, especially with one in and out of the hospital.
The Jo Daviess County chairmen interviewed all of the applicants, he said.
"In a perfect world, we would have an election," he said.
The GOP primary is in March, in which Stewart is expected to run.
Smith said he wanted the party to unite behind Stewart but that he wouldn't tell other Republicans not to run.
Personal: Fifth-generation native of northwestern Illinois, grew up in public housing.
Quote: "The Army was a godsend to a kid like me."
Occupation: Employs nearly 300 people and manages more than 20 businesses, the majority of which are based in Freeport. The businesses include a call center and a security service.
Experience: Former Stephenson County sheriff's deputy, rising to the level of sergeant; Army veteran; former Stephenson County Republican Party chairman; former Freeport alderman
Education: 1975 graduate of Freeport High School