Kadner: Battles for mayor form in Crestwood, Oak Lawn
Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-6787 September 6, 2012 5:30PM
Updated: October 9, 2012 2:34PM
Village Trustee John Z. Toscas on Thursday announced his bid to become mayor of Crestwood.
A day earlier, Sandra Bury, an optometrist, revealed she’s running for mayor of Oak Lawn.
Those two campaigns promise to be among the most volatile during the April 13 municipal elections because they threaten longstanding political interests.
Toscas, 55, an attorney with law offices in Palos Heights, wants to replace the Stranczek family that has held the office of mayor in Crestwood for more than 50 years.
One thing seems certain — a Stranczek won’t be elected in next year’s election.
Mayor Robert Stranczek, 47, the son of former Mayor Chester Stranczek, announced in July he would not seek re-election.
It is widely believed that longtime Trustee Louis Presta, a loyal member of the Stranczek political alliance, will run for mayor opposing Toscas.
Toscas, elected to the village board in 2011 in the wake of a water contamination scandal, is planning to use the huge legal costs incurred by Crestwood as a key issue in his campaign.
“This village has spent an enormous amount of money on legal bills, about $3.8 million, in the last two years, largely for nothing because if they hadn’t mixed contaminated well water with Lake Michigan water we would never have had this problem in the first place,” Toscas said.
“But in addition, there has been no transparency at all in this government.
“Since the day I took office as trustee, I’ve asked to see the legal bills and I still haven’t seen one.”
Transparency and costly lawyers’ fees are also at the heart of Bury’s candidacy.
Oak Lawn paid $400,000 for a law firm to inspect the legal fees and relationships behind a former Oak Lawn municipal law firm and Mayor David Heilmann, but the final work product has been hidden from the public as part of a “confidentiality agreement.”
“The people of Oak Lawn, who paid for that report, are entitled to know what’s in it,” said Bury, who filed a freedom of information request to make the document public.
“That’s what pushed me over the edge in my decision to run,” Bury said.
“I think there’s also been too much divisiveness in village government and I put that squarely on the leadership,” she said.
Bury said she had no quarrel with village board members, who have made allegations of unethical and even illegal conduct against one another and the mayor.
“I think they’re good people trying to do their best to represent the people,” she said. “The problem is with Mayor Heilmann.”
Asked about village manager Larry Deetjen, another controversial figure, Bury said, “I just love him.”
“He walks the streets with his dog at night, and if he sees something that’s not right he tries to correct it,” she said.
“He’s done a great job with the new water system.
“What we need is ethical leadership and transparency.”
Toscas also emphasizes transparency as a huge issue in Crestwood.
“After I was elected trustee, I asked to see the minutes of village board and committee meetings and the agendas for those meetings, and I was told the village for 30 or 40 years hadn’t kept meeting minutes or posted agendas, which are required by the Illinois Opening Meetings Act,” he said.
“Most of the village business gets done on Tuesday nights at committee of the whole meetings, where not a single person shows up to sit in the audience, and minutes had never been kept of any of those meetings in the history of the village before I showed up.”
Toscas has formed an entire slate of candidates to run with him in April under the banner of the New Leadership Party.
They include Jill McDonald, a teacher with experience as an office manager and bookkeeper, who will run as village clerk.
Candidates for trustee include Matthew Brady, who is attending the University of Illinois-Chicago and hopes to graduate with a master’s degree in mathematics and education; Gary Carr, a former Willow Springs police officer; and James Jurewicz, former vice president of technology management for UPS who now works for Comcast business class services.
Bury said she is not politically aligned with any of the incumbent trustees and has no plans “at the current time” to run with a slate of candidates.
Toscas, in addition to being a Crestwood trustee, is the Worth Township assessor. He said he plans to run for both elective offices in April.
Oak Lawn and Crestwood have been victimized by poor leadership in recent years.
Residents ought to be motivated to take an active interest in their municipal elections, which are likely to have a greater impact on their lives than anything that happens in November.