Kadner: It’s ‘Code Word Lou’ in Crestwood
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org February 28, 2013 11:02PM
Updated: April 2, 2013 6:32AM
This season’s latest political gimmick is called “Code Word Lou.”
Voters usually get a lot of false promises during municipal elections, but in Crestwood a mayoral candidate has come up with an unusual offer to entice backers.
“Attention Seniors: Every Wednesday during the month of March if you go to McDonald’s on 13630 S. Cicero Ave. in Crestwood between 7-8 a.m. you can get a free coffee & hash brown with the purchase of a sandwich when you mention code word ‘Lou’ to the cashier.”
That notice appeared on the mayoral campaign website of Crestwood Trustee Lou Presta on Thursday morning.
“It’s outrageous, and I’m not going to swallow any more of this,” said Trustee John Toscas, who is running for mayor against Presta.
Toscas said he contacted the general manager for McDonald’s in the region and was told that the senior discount had been solicited on behalf of the village.
Presta then claimed it as his own and posted it on his website, claiming that citizens had to use his first name, Lou, to qualify.
“Every senior in Crestwood is entitled to the discount,” Toscas said.
Presta had a slightly different explanation. He said a manager for the McDonald’s in Crestwood contacted him about putting an advertisement in the Crestwood Advisor, a publication put out by the village but privately published.
“It was too late for the newspaper deadline so I thought I would put it on my web page,” Presta said.
Why require the code name “Lou” to qualify for the promotion?
“I just thought it was a funny thing to do,” Presta said. “If Toscas wants to put it on his website, he can tell people to mention ‘John’ when they come in.”
Toscas contends that there’s more to this McDonald’s deal than meets the eye.
“The village used to publish the Crestwood Advisor,” he said. “We would sell the advertisements, put the copy together, mostly notices about Boy Scout meetings and bake sales, and the cost versus the revenue was pretty much a wash.”
But Toscas and other village trustees decided to give the contract to Fanning Communications in Midlothian, which not only gets to keep the ad revenue but gets paid each month by the village to publish the newspaper.
“And Presta has Fanning working on his campaign,” Toscas said.
Presta said he did hire Fanning to do “some work” on his campaign and apparently sees no conflict of interest in dealing with a company that gets village business.
Presta’s campaign disclosure report, filed with the state elections board, shows expenditures of nearly $4,000 for fundraising advertising from October through December 2012.
Toscas said he didn’t understand how Presta came to be the conduit for a McDonald’s promotion that was intended for every senior in the village.
“I suspect there’s someone in the village working with his political campaign,” Toscas said.
I contacted Kim Hoffman, a manager for the Crestwood McDonald’s, who told me she originally contacted the village to purchase an ad in the Crestwood Advisor promoting some McDonald’s special deals.
She said the seniors deal on Wednesday morning was available to anyone in the village, and she didn’t know anything about “Code Word Lou.”
Toscas said he contacted the Cook County state’s attorney’s office to launch an investigation into the possible use of a public office to gain a political advantage.
Later on Thursday, Toscas called to tell me he had heard that the Presta website had been altered.
Sure enough, the mention of the McDonald’s promotion was still there, but the reference to “Code Word Lou” had been deleted.
While Toscas was all worked up about the offer, I have to admit it made me smile.
People in my business often get all worked up about officeholders using their positions to gain political advantage, but I’m beginning to wonder if that’s really all bad.
Here in Illinois, the insiders are always getting something for nothing.
Businessmen cut deals for zoning breaks. Politicians get campaign contributions, jobs and dinner parties in exchange for their votes on crucial issues.
The average guy is left paying the tab through higher property and income taxes and cuts in public services.
The only problem I have with Presta’s offer is that it seems really cheap.
I mean, first off, it’s only available to seniors. Second, they still have to pay for a sandwich to get the freebies. And, finally, it’s being financed by McDonald’s, not Presta.
I think Presta at least ought to offer to pay for any senior citizen’s sandwich off the $1 menu.
And it would be nice if Toscas countered with a “Dear John” day at Portillo’s or Wendy’s.
In the old days, back when Chester Stranczek was mayor of the village, senior citizens would get their driveways snowplowed and their home plumbing fixed for free.
Now that’s a real abuse of public office but also a great way to endear yourself to voters.
Of course, when people found out Stranczek had been slipping contaminated well water into their drinking supply for years, they got upset.
You don’t get something for nothing, as my mother used to say.
She never told me about “Code Word Lou.”
I was probably too young to understand that kind of talk.