Will Norridge Tumble for Jesse White?
For those who think that suburban Cook County politics is a boring, somewhat soporific enterprise, think again. On April 9, when 120 municipalities and 30 townships hold elections, there’s an abundance of comedy, duplicity, mendacity and audacity.
In the past, the operative descriptive word has been “trickle up,” meaning that ambitious would-be politicians seek suburban municipal or township office as a steppingstone to greater glory – like legislative, congressional or county office. They rarely succeed. Other than former Des Plaines Mayor Marty Moylan (D), elected state representative in 2012, and outgoing Elmwood Park village president Pete Silvestri (R), elected county commissioner in1994, suburban officials usually progress only to be ex-suburban officials.
Some “trickle out,” and hold second offices. Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens (R), Leyden Township supervisor, and River Grove Mayor Marilynn May (R), Leyden Township clerk, are retiring from their township jobs
A “trickle up” from trustee or alderman is common. In Des Plaines, two aldermen and an ex-mayor are vying to succeed Moylan. Two trustees are running for Niles mayor, as is a trustee in Harwood Heights, and an ex-mayor and library board president in Lincolnwood.
This year, there’s “trickle down” — meaning more luminous officials are downsizing. Tom Benigno, Illinois’ clout-heavy deputy Secretary of State and Jesse White’s chief-of-staff since 1999, is running for Norridge mayor. Skip Saviano, a defeated 20-year state representative, is running to succeed ally Silvestri in Elmwood Park.
Here’s a sampling:
Norridge: Most misanthropes think they have a good-for-nothing mayor. If Benigno wins and replaces retiring one-term incumbent Ron Oppedisano, he will be a for-nothing mayor. Benigno has promised to serve without pay. But that might not, however, include family and friends.
Benigno is a powerful man in state government. He earns $156,676, and runs an office with 4,753 employees. Every problem flows through him to White, and every decision flows through him to the office’s underlings. Benigno’s wife is on the Secretary of State’s payroll as a $2,000-a-month secretary. His aunt, cousin, three children and nephew were on the office’s payroll over the past decade. His son Anthony is on the county assessor’s payroll, as part of a 2011 trade-off in which White hired Assessor Joe Berrios’s nephew.
Now Benigno seeks to expand his horizons and his empire.
Norridge is a sleepy little northwest suburban village with a 2010 census population of 14,572, 7,632 voters, a 2013 budget of $15.5 million, and 150 employees. Longtime mayor (1951-1998) Joe Sieb was a nominal Republican, but the Martwick Machine, run by Democratic committeeman Robert Martwick, dominates the township and Norridge. When Mayor Earl Field died in 2009, Oppedisano was picked by Martwick and elected without opposition. The Machine’s 2013 candidate is village treasurer James Chmura, running on Martwick’s “Norridge Improvement Party” ticket.
Benigno makes the Machine and every village employee nervous. He may choose to serve without pay, but nobody expects the multitudinous Benigno Clan, once on the Norridge payroll, to work for free. In the 2009 election, 1,735 votes were cast in Norridge’s 14 precincts. Few doubt Benigno can “persuade” 100-plus of his office’s workers to troop through Norridge before April 9.
“He’s paying his workers $200 a day,” said Chmura of Benigno. “He’s getting financial support from White, Jim DeLeo and Mike Madigan. We are not going to let outsiders take over Norridge.”
“I’m not endorsing anyone,” said Rob Martwick (D), of Norridge, the committeeman’s son, who was elected state representative in 2012. Is he under Madigan’s thumb? Will the Benigno/White/Madigan/DeLeo Machine supersede the Martwick Machine?
Elmwood Park: Welcome back, Skippy! A 20-year state representative, Skip Saviano (R) is an integral cog in the Silvestri Elmwood Park Machine, had a direct conduit into Chicago’s 36th Ward Banks/DeLeo Democratic Machine (having once been an aide to State Senator Jim DeLeo), and was given a “free pass,” with no opposition, by Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan in every election from 2002 to 2010.
But the Banks/DeLeo Machine vaporized in 2011, and Saviano was no longer obsequious toward Madigan. The speaker recruited Kathleen Willis, a former Republican and Addison school board member, chopped Elmwood Park out of Saviano’s district, spent $700,000, and beat Saviano by 1,351 votes.
Now Saviano wants Silvestri’s job, but faces tough opposition from Joe Ponzio. “Skippy’s no shoo-in,” explained a Ponzio campaign strategist. ”He’s on the rebound. He needs a job.” This source accused Saviano of “abandoning” Elmwood Park in 2012 to run for re-election in a district stretching west to Elmhurst, Wood Dale, Addison and Bensenville. “If he won, he’d have moved to Elmhurst.” Elmwood Park is now in the House district of Camille Lilly (D), a black from the 37th Ward. “Why didn’t Skippy use his $700,000 to run against her (Lilly)?”
In the past, 36th Ward precinct captains, along with Elmwood Park jobholders, were enough to keep the Silvestri Machine in power. He was unopposed in 2009, getting 1,789 votes; in 2011, Silvestri’s trustee candidates got 5,815 votes to the Ponzio slate’s 4,396. “Now there’s chaos,” said Ponzio’s guy.
Park Ridge: “Mayor No” knows best. That describes Dave Schmidt, elected mayor in 2009, renowned as grouchy, grumpy, scrimpy and downright cheap.
Schmidt has a quaint, if somewhat antiquated idea. He believes that government doesn’t spend what it doesn’t have. It doesn’t borrow. It doesn’t hike taxes. It lives within its means. And Schmidt believes his job, during rough economic times, is to cut non-essential expenditures, and to veto any pay or spending hikes.
What an outside-the-box idea. Who would have ever thought of it? Certainly not such luminaries as Barack Obama or Pat Quinn. Some might call Schmidt’s approach “fiscal sanity.” Others, “political suicide.”
The city council screams about his so-called obstructionism, but voters seem reconciled to the necessity of a Mayor No. Park Ridge’s tax base is primarily residential, property values are still declining, and the downtown business core is stagnant. The only source of new revenue is property taxes. Schmidt, a Republican, faces self-styled “independent” Larry Ryles. “He’s a nobody,” said one area Democratic officeholder of Ryles, conceding that Democrats have folded up shop in both Park Ridge and in the township elections.
In 2009, Schmidt beat then-Mayor Howard Frimark, a Republican, 4,073-3,313. A lot of Democrats voted for Schmidt because they disliked Frimark, and now they detest Schmidt. Hardcore conservative Republicans love him. The situation is fluid, and the election a referendum on Schmidt.
Des Plaines: With one-termer Moylan gone to Springfield, a three-way battle for the succession is raging. Running are 26-year old Alderman Matt Bogusz, elected in 2009, who is endorsed by Moylan; Alderman Mark Walsten, elected in 2007; and former 10-year (1999-2009) mayor Tony Arredia. “It’s a simple choice,” said Moylan, “between the old,” meaning Arredia, “and the new,” meaning Bogusz.
According to sources in Des Plaines, Arredia’s record will be hashed and rehashed, with the travails of Tom Becker, Bill Schneider and Jim Dvorak exhumed. Walsten will position himself as the “independent,” Bogusz as the “reformer,” and Arredia as the repository of “experience.” All the contenders have a base of roughly 30-35 percent.
In 2009, Moylan won with 4,139 votes (43.2 percent) in a CHANGE 7,666 turnout; in 2005, Arredia was unopposed and got 5,523 votes. The winner will be the “No-Tony” candidate, likely Bogusz.
Niles: It’s two mayors in the past 52 years. With the cloud of disgraced Nick Blasé – mayor from 1961-2009 – fading, and incumbent Bob Callero retiring, two Polski Krolewicz – Polish Princes – are running for the job. They are Andy Przybylo, part-owner of the White Eagle restaurant, and a trustee since 1989; and Chris Hanusiak, who got 1,062 votes (20 percent) for mayor in 2009, and was elected trustee in 2011.
In 2009, Callero, the Blasé Machine’s candidate, won with 2,602 votes (48.9 percent) in a turnout of 5,324; he has endorsed Przybylo. Two of the four trustees have endorsed Hanusiak. ADD Przybylo is favored..
Harwood Heights: Loyalty, fealty, integrity. That may be the motto of variousU.S. armed forces, but Harwood Heights is not Fort Bragg. In 2009, Arlene Jezierny, a Republican, beat embattled mayor Peggy Fuller, a Democrat, by 1,027-756 (57.6 percent), in a 1,783 turnout. On her ticket, for trustee, were Jimmy Mougolias and Les Szlendak. They both turned on her, and Mougolias is now opposing her.
“He’s an opportunist,” said Jezierny of Mougolias. “I’ve done a good job as mayor.” Fiscal issues, including the village’s role in securing a Mariano’s Fresh Store, will be uppermost. Compared to Fuller, Jezierny is a pillar of stability. Since 2001, the mayor’s job has been revolving door.
Lincolnwood: Quitting is tough, and unquitting is tougher. Mayor Gerry Turry, elected in 2005, a cinch for re-election, announced his retirement in 2012. Into the 2013 race jumped ex-Mayor (2000-05) Peter Moy, of the “Forward Vision” party, and library board president Georgia Talaganis, of the “Independent Party of Lincolnwood.” Turry, an effective and popular mayor, reconsidered and jumped back into the race as an “independent.” If Turry wins, it will be difficult and costly.
Russ Stewart is a political analyst for the Chicago Daily Observer
E-mail Russ@russstewart.com or visit his website at www.russstewart.com.