Kadner: In Tinley Park, he’s known as ‘Mayor Ed’
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org March 27, 2013 10:46PM
Updated: April 29, 2013 11:47AM
Ed Zabrocki exhales in exasperation when I tell him about a phone call from a Tinley Park resident who’s concerned about corruption in the village after getting campaign literature in the mail.
“That’s what this campaign has done to people,” said Zabrocki, who has been mayor of Tinley Park for 32 years. “You know what I do when people call saying they know about corruption in this town ...”
With that Zabrocki pulls out a piece of paper containing the names and phone numbers of just about every news organization in Chicago.
“I tell them to call these people. I have no fear of reporters seeking out the facts. If there’s corruption, let them write about it and report it,” he said.
Zabrocki, 71, a former guidance counselor at Brother Rice High School, is facing an energetic foe in the April 9 village election.
Steve Eberhardt, 59, a Tinley Park attorney, contends that Zabrocki has created a political dynasty in Tinley Park and the village needs new leadership.
In one of life’s ironies, Zabrocki was Eberhardt’s guidance counselor at Brother Rice.
Few southwest suburbs have seen the economic and population growth experienced by Tinley Park over the past three decades.
From a population of 12,000 in 1970, the village boomed to 18,000 in 1981 when Zabrocki became mayor and is close to 60,000 today.
While much of that could be attributed to migration from Chicago to the suburbs, the village has built a giant convention center, two new Metra stations, developed a shopping mall 191st Street and Harlem Avenue, seen the construction of an outdoor concert venue on Ridgeland Avenue — all while maintaining a quaint, small-town feel downtown along Oak Park Avenue.
But ask Zabrocki what he’s most proud of, and he’ll tell you it’s BusinessWeek’s designation of the village as The Best Place To Raise Kids.
“Because that’s comprehensive,” he said. “It’s schools, parks, housing, safety. What makes this village great is that it’s a community effort. It’s the people who live here working together because this is our community.”
I’ve long admired Zabrocki’s willingness to take political risk for the benefit of those who could offer little in the way of political reward.
For example, when the Crisis Center for South Suburbia, a domestic violence shelter for women and children, was being forced out of Palos Hills, Zabrocki urged them to build a new shelter in Tinley Park.
In Palos Hills, there was fear that the shelter would be a magnet for crime, attracting angry men seeking to harm spouses who had left them and anyone else who got in their way.
“I just felt that helping people in trouble is what a community is supposed to do,” Zabrocki said about his outreach to the Crisis Center. “Taking responsibility for people in need is a civic duty.”
Zabrocki also made sure that Together We Cope, a social service organization for the needy, found a home in Tinley Park “for the same reasons.”
He has actively supported both organizations by offering his personal time when needed and purchasing tickets to annual fundraising events.
Eberhardt has stressed that while Zabrocki looks like a hero to people for buying a table at their charity events, he’s using village money to do it,
“We have a $12,000 expense account for eight village officials,” Zabrocki replied when asked about that criticism. “Sure, I purchase those tickets and represent the village.
“When anybody representing a company goes to an event, they would do the same thing. I never use that expense money to purchase tickets to political events.”
Eberhardt implies that every event where the mayor appears boosts his reputation in the community and therefore is a political event.
He’s also critical of salary increases given to the village manager and other key employees, which range from $20,000 to $35,000 a year.
“We conduct studies of other nearby suburbs and offer competitive salaries to keep our employees,” Zabrocki said.
He shoots back at Eberhardt for filing for bankruptcy and then failing to accurately report all of his income.
I have had differences with Zabrocki over the years, but Tinley Park is clearly one of the best-run municipalities in the Southland.
Eberhardt’s challenge, I believe, is a good thing because longtime officeholders should be forced to publicly defend their records.
It’s unfortunate that Zabrocki has refused to debate his opponent because I believe he could clearly demonstrate a mastery of government, and voters deserve an opportunity to compare candidates side by side. Zabrocki told me he refused to debate because Eberhardt makes stuff up and twists the facts.
That said, residents of Tinley Park ought to be able to see the results of Zabrocki’s leadership all around them.
The complaint I’ve heard most often from Tinley Park residents is that their taxes have increased.
They’re almost always referring to their property tax, over which the village has little control. Typically, more than 60 percent of the property tax bill is paid to school districts. The village portion is usually less than 15 percent.
If you’re going to blame the mayor for something, at least hold him accountable for an issue that is his responsibility,
I asked Zabrocki, who’s likely nearing the end of his political career even if he wins the election, how he would like to be remembered.
He didn’t mention any of his achievements or the village’s growth from a farm town into a modern suburb.
“I would hope people would say, ‘They called him Mayor Ed,’” Zabrocki said, “Because I never held myself over anyone else and always talked to people — at the grocery store or the Tin Fish (restaurant) or Holstein’s (saloon).
“I was just Mayor Ed.”