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Kadner: Oak Lawn debate lacks spark but offers insight

SandrBury (left) Dave Heilmann during Oak Lawn mayoral candidate forum Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School Tuesday April 2 2013.  |

Sandra Bury (left) and Dave Heilmann during a Oak Lawn mayoral candidate forum at Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School Tuesday, April 2, 2013. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 3, 2013 11:05PM



Sandra Bury promised “fireworks” before Tuesday night’s debate with Oak Lawn Mayor David Heilmann, but the fact is the much-anticipated confrontation between bitter political foes lacked spark.

More than 400 people filled the cafetorium at Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School to hear the two mayoral candidates debate just a week before the April 9 municipal election.

Heilmann promised to move the village forward if voters would only oust the uncooperative band of back-biting trustees who have opposed him at every turn,

He only vaguely mentioned that those nasty folks were all his running mates when they campaigned as the United Party in 2009.

This time Heilmann assured the audience he has it right and urged election of his hand-picked Mayor’s Independence Party slate, including a new village clerk and three trustees.

His former political allies, including Oak Lawn Village Clerk Jane Quinlan and Trustees Alex Olejniczak (2nd) and Thomas Duhig (4th), are running for re-election, but not as part of any slate.

Bury, an Oak Lawn optometrist, has embraced Heilmann’s old allies-turned-political enemies, and accused the mayor of orchestrating back-room deals that financially rewarded personal friends and business chums.

A half-dozen residents I spoke with after the debate said they were undecided whom to support before the event and hadn’t been able to pick a favorite after it was over.

“I just found it very disappointing,” one woman said. “Nobody really stood out.”

Another woman told me, “It looks like it’s going to be a choice between the lesser of two evils, but I don’t know who that lesser evil is either.”

Of the folks I spoke to who said they had a favorite candidate coming into the debate, none had changed his or her mind when it was over.

Heilmann, who has more than 20 years of experience in elected office as a park board member, township highway commissioner and mayor, clearly demonstrated a superior knowledge of government, in my opinion.

The task for Bury was to show undecided voters that her vows to bring transparency and ethics to the mayor’s office could be backed by leadership ability.

She faltered badly on that score when asked if the Oak Lawn Fire Department was adequately staffed, responding that she is not a firefighter and would rely on the fire chief’s opinion on such an issue.

She said if she found his opinion unreliable, she would replace him.

I believe that was an honest answer but also betrayed Bury’s weakness, a lack of assertive leadership in what has become a very rough political environment in Oak Lawn.

Bury attempted to bolster her leadership credentials by citing her years as a businesswoman and official posts in the Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce and as president of a state optometry association that lobbies lawmakers in Springfield.

I thought she came off like a high school kid running for class president. Bury would have been better served focusing on how she plans to change the political culture in Oak Lawn.

Heilmann, for his part, talked about the importance of teamwork, cooperation and sacrifice to build a community.

It must be wonderful to say such things with confidence in public knowing that the team you built four years ago has been trying to destroy you ever since.

Heilmann does take pride in his ability to act and he certainly said his lines with conviction.

On the other hand, by emphasizing his leadership experience, Heilmann reminded me that in the very least he’s proven himself a poor judge of character if his own low opinion of his former running mates is valid.

A leader ought to be judged on his ability to appoint trustworthy people to key posts and ally himself with individuals who put the community above personal differences.

Heilmann contends he blew the whistle on his former BFFs when he realized they were involved in illegal activities.

Bury said that the FBI has launched two investigations and the only people interviewed were Heilmann and his new BFF Trustee Bob Streit.

The Palos-Orland League of Women Voters moderated the event and I thought its representative wasted too much time editorializing on behalf of some of its favorite causes.

Also, I think the format should have allowed time for the candidates to question one another.

Questions were submitted by audience members in writing and then selected and condensed by members of the League.

Bury received enthusiastic applause when she criticized the village for allowing Christ Medical Center to operate for decades without paying building permit fees, impact fees, property taxes and “not even for their water” and said in the future the hospital should be made to “pay their fair share.”

Heilmann indicated that he basically wants to keep the largest employer in Oak Lawn happy, while trying to extract revenue through deals that include development of a senior citizens center.

Heilmann received applause when he denounced lengthy negotiations with the firefighters union that have dragged on for four years and said that the elected officials needed to conclude the process out of respect for employees willing to die for their community.

Heilmann and Bury both spoke of a need to curtail an outbreak of crime in Oak Lawn, with Heilmann saying he has formed a committee to study the issue and make recommendations and Bury responding that a mayor shouldn’t wait for an election year to address the issue of crime.

Heilmann and Bury agreed that the number of establishments licensed for legalized video gambling ought to be limited. Sixteen establishments currently feature such machines and Bury said one is not a restaurant or a bar “but a video gambling cafe.”

The debate was filmed by a public-access cable channel in Oak Lawn.

The crowd was respectful and well-behaved.

Oak Lawn residents deserve as much from their elected leaders.



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