‘Goodness’ not enough in suburban elections
by RUSS STEWART
If there is any lesson to be learned from the April 4 suburban elections, it is this: Voters were singularly unimpressed by a good tan, good connections, good background and good intentions. In Lincolnwood, Norridge, Park Ridge and Schiller Park, "goodness" bit the dust.
In suburban municipalities, most of which are smaller than a Chicago ward, a different dynamic exists. Local contests are not partisan or ideological. A meritocracy prevails. Voters, especially property owners, know whether an incumbent mayor is competent, because incompetency directly affects them in the form of higher taxes, higher crime, and an overall decline in the quality of their neighborhood. Many voters personally know their mayor, and are leery of any change, absent clear incumbent ineptitude, ignorance or misconduct.
In LINCOLNWOOD, which has a population of 12,590 and a registered voter pool of 9,417, three-term mayor Gerald Turry spent three weeks of the 2017 campaign in Mexico. He should have been working the 10 precincts in dreary Lincolnwood. Voters knew where Turry was, knew the village functioned quite well in his absence, knew they had an alternative, and decided Turry was expendable. Turry lost 1,161-877, or 56.9 percent, to Trustee Barry Bass.
This year’s turnout was 2,060, or 21.9 percent, less than 2013’s 2,223 turnout. Turry, the 12-year mayor, backed by the dominant Lincolnwood Alliance Party, got the support of 9.3 percent of the registered voters. Turry, a former Niles West High school administrator, was elected mayor in 2005, announced his retirement in 2013, unretired, and won 857-776-564 in a three-way mayoral race as an Alliance-backed independent, getting 39 percent. Bass, from Lincolnwood’s east end, which has a large Jewish Orthodox contingent, was elected trustee on the Alliance slate, which has ruled since 1931.
Bass, sometime in 2016, decided that the Alliance-run government was a "cabal," and announced for mayor, blasting Turry for the village’s alleged high crime, insider favoritism and economic stagnation. Nobody took Bass seriously. But Turry, in some people’s eyes, showed that he didn’t take his job seriously. Alliance has 4 of 6 trustees, so Bass, whom they most likely deem an opportunistic turncoat, will be powerless. When the bickering and obstructionism begins, nobody will take Lincolnwood’s government seriously.
In NORRIDGE, which has a population of 14,572 and a registered voter pool of 8,989, deputy Illinois Secretary of State Tom Benigno disproved the notion that "if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again." In 2013 Benigno, despite a multitude of Democratic connections, lost to James Chmura 1,910-1,209, with 266 votes to a third candidate, largely because (a) Chmura, a village official, had a village network of supporters and (b) Benigno imported a bunch of precinct workers from Mike Madigan’s 13th Ward. In 2017, Benigno lost 1,889-1,331 with Chmura getting 58.7 percent and carrying 8 of 9 precincts.
"They just didn’t turn out," said Benigno. Give me a break. Benigno had a horde of what he said were "volunteers from Norridge, not outsiders" blanketing the town, devoted the last 4 years plotting his comeback, ripped Chmura for Norridge’s alleged high crime, wasteful spending and storefront vacancies, spent more than $75,000, and got 253 fewer votes in 2017 than in 2013. Norridge is economically booming, and voters resented Benigno’s doom-and-gloom fabrications. Turnout was 3,611, or 42.4 percent, in 2013 and 3,253, or 36.2 percent, in 2017. But there is an upside: Benigno has his $165,000-a year day job.
In PARK RIDGE, which has a population of 37,480 and a registered voter pool of 23,796, 39-year old attorney Lucas Fuksa thought the city was ready for a change. Fuksa was born in Poland, came to the United States at age 3, and was running in a city where at least a quarter of the population is immigrant or second-generation Polish. His opponent was acting mayor Marty Maloney, who took over in 2015 when Dave Schmidt died. Fuksa’s presumed Polish base was MIA, and the little-known Maloney won by a hefty 4,668-2,117, or 68.9 percent, carrying 28 of 29 precincts in a turnout of 6,805. The election was non-partisan.
In 2013, Schmidt, an avowed Republican, won 5,614-3,432 over Democratic-backed Larry Ryles. Turnout was down by 928.
In SCHILLER PARK, which as a population of 11,793 and a registered voter pool of 5,638, incumbent Barbara Piltaver, who won by 10 votes in 2013, got bounced after one term. She is a publisher of the local People and Places newspaper, penned editorials critical of the Republican-leaning local establishment, was viewed as an inconsequential gadfly, and was not taken seriously by former Mayor Anna Montana. Piltaver was the quintessential goody-goody, good-intentions candidate.
Montana was part of Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens’ Leyden Township political machine. Stephens is also the township Republican committeeman. So complacent were the Montana-Stephens crowd that, on Election Day, Montana had nearly $50,000 unspent in her campaign account. Piltaver won 1,211-1,201, carrying 4 of 7 precincts, and has been a competent, reasonably popular mayor. Her opponent was Nick Caiafa, a township trustee and a product of the Stephens Machine, who spent $58,253 through Dec. 31, and probably another $50,000 through April 4.
Astutely, Caiafa ran a low-key, high-intensity campaign focusing on precinct contacts, eschewing negative anti-Piltaver mailings. With 2,500 voting households and close to 50 workers, and a warchest of $75,000, the machine had the ability to identify, persuade and turn-out the anti-Piltaver vote. On April 4, Piltaver lost 1,279-1,014, or 55.8 percent, carrying only two of 7 precincts. Compared to 2013, Piltaver’s vote declined by 197. Clearly, she was an accidental mayor.
In MORTON GROVE, which has a population of 23,270 and a registered voter pool of 17,210, the big loser was conservative firebrand Dan Proft and his Liberty Principles Political Action Committee. Proft is attempting to rebuild the north suburban Republican Party in his image, spending money for targeted candidates in Maine Township. Incumbent Danny DiMaria, an ostensible Republican, beat then-mayor Dan Staackmann in the 2013 Action Party (local Republicans) primary, with the help of cross-over Caucus Party (local Democrats) voters.
Staackmann, a hardcore conservative, made a comeback in 2015, winning a Park Board seat. Proft’s PAC reportedly paid for two mailings to 9,000 households attacking DiMaria for taking an increase in his wi-fi and cell phone expense allowance while mayor. Voters were non-plussed. DiMaria, with the covert assistance of Democratic township committeeman Lou Lang, stomped Staackmann 2,383-794, getting 75.1 percent and winning all 16 precincts. The Action/Caucus party is firmly in charge.
In DES PLAINES, which has a population of 58,364 and a registered voter pool of 40,971, 30-year old wunderkind mayor Matt Bogusz infuriated the city’s patriarchy by not being sufficiently docile and capitulative. Especially aggravating was the fact that Bogusz ordered all city officials (but not himself) to take a polygraph when somebody leaked confidential personnel records to the media, and spent over $80,000 for an ad agency to create a new city motto; they came up with "City of the Good Move," which the oldsters lampooned as sounding like Des Plaines was a constipation-free zone.
Nevertheless, with the local economy booming and Rivers casino revenue flowing, there was minimal discontent with the "Boy Mayor." Malcolm Chester, one of the anti-Bogusz aldermen, waged an inept mayoral campaign. Bogusz won by a thumping 4,717-2,715, getting 63.5 percent and losing just three of 43 precincts. In 2013, against a former mayor and an alderman, Bogusz, then an alderman, won 4,599-2,652-1,120, getting 54.9 percent. Bogusz got 118 more votes than in 2013, but his opposition got 1,057 fewer votes.
Des Plaines has term-limits, so Bogusz will be out-the-door in 2021. A Democrat, Bogusz is looking for a soft landing somewhere. The patriarchs are well-placed for 2021.
In NILES, which has a population of 29,803 and a registered voter pool of 21,521 political longevity is a virtue, not a vice. Nick Blase was mayor for 48 years, until he went to jail. Incumbent Mayor Andy Przybylo is a local institution, having been a trustee for 20 years, Blase ally, and mayor since 2013. Przybylo won a second term 2,262-597 over Steve Yasell, not much different from his 2,770-1,604 2013 win. Niles’ voters are content with the status of the status quo. However, they did pass a referendum mandating term-limits, so Przybylo will, like Bogusz, be a goner in 2021.
The mayor-in-waiting is George Alpogianis, a local restaurateur who led the trustee field in 2017. To put it in perspective, Przybylo’s 2,262 votes were 10.5 percent of the voter pool.
In SKOKIE, it’s the same old, same old. Skokie’s population is 64,784 and its registered voter pool is 41,677. The city is less than 40 percent white, and under 30 percent Jewish. Mayor George Van Dusen is the lineal descendant of a clique of insiders who have run Skokie since the 1960s. Van Dusen was unopposed for a fourth term in 2017, getting 3,063 votes in an 8.4 percent turnout, or 7.3 percent of the registered voter pool. Skokie is a politically peaceful city and that won’t change anytime soon.
In MAINE TOWNSHIP, Proft did score a win with the triumph of Susan Sweeney for trustee. Sweeney will be groomed for a future legislative race.