Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
While voters will weigh on a wide variety of issues and pick from a dizzying array of candidates Tuesday, SouthtownStar readers know a handful of candidates and issues have dominated the headlines in the past year.
Our editorial board today weighs in on some of those races.
Chicago Heights: One of the liveliest — and nastiest — mayoral races in suburban Cook County this year takes place in Chicago Heights, where voters will chose a successor to the late Alex Lopez, who became the city’s first minority mayor when he was appointed in 2009. Allegations of mob connections and drug dealing at city hall kept the race between David Gonzalez and Ald. Joe Faso in the headlines. Gonzalez is a coalition-builder who clearly knows how the city works. We are troubled by some of his past business dealings but we expect he is smart enough to know right from wrong, legal from illegal. We know people, including us, will closely watch his administration. We call on him to do good things. Chicago Heights deserves clean aggressive government. We think Gonzalez can get the job done.
Homer Glen: Mayor Jim Daley has impressed us in his first term as an aggressive voice and strong leader. He’s fought for his community and is willing to stand firm on what he thinks is right. But sometimes such a firm hand means residents don’t get heard. We think it’s time to make room for more voices. Homer Glen should continue on the principles on which it was founded — as a grass roots community that allows residents to be part of the government, and not just be governed.
We are impressed with the coalition built by Trustee Laurel Ward, and we endorse her. Her intelligence and leadership have gained her the backing of the entire board of trustees. We think she will push for more open government and resident input while maintaining a tight financial ship. We believe she will be an ethical and honest voice that seeks to bring in more of the same.
Park Forest: Mayor John Ostenburg is seeking a fifth term in office, and we think he’s the better choice in the two-man race.
Ostenburg has worked to get Park Forest its share of grant money to pay for village improvements. He’s been a proponent of a major economic development project for the Southland while serving as vice chairman of the Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission.
We’re a bit fuzzy, however, about NFL Hall of Famer Richard Dent’s plans for some sort of energy technology initiative in the village that Ostenburg has been touting. He is endorsed, but we will be closely following this plan.
Crestwood: For Crestwood voters who’ve grown tired of being kept in the dark, Tuesday is their chance to shine a bright light on how their village government operates.
For years, the mayor and trustees have honed obfuscation to an art form, keeping the process of operating village government as secretive as they possibly can. When major issues such as the village’s alleged use of a contaminated well come to light, they circle the wagons and blame the media for blowing things out of proportion and refusing to come clean with the folks who put them in office.
Making government more transparent is a key goal of two candidates for trustee who earn our endorsement: Patricia Theresa Flynn and John Toscas.
Flynn’s a first-time candidate who hopes to increase transparency in village government and help the village navigate lawsuits filed after some village leaders allowed residents to drink water drawn from a contaminated well for more than 20 years. Crestwood’s handling of the well issue prompted her to run.
Toscas, a Crestwood police officer in the early 1980s, is an attorney in Palos Heights and assessor in Worth Township. He also is worried the possible exposure to those lawsuits could bankrupt the village.
Orland Park: Voters enjoy a choice of nine candidates for three seats on the village board. Overall, it’s a good crop of candidates, many of whom likely would serve Orland Park well. We endorse newcomers Steven Williams and John Brudnak, both of whom offer a unique perspective on pressing village matters. Brudnak has a proven community track record as a respected school board member and brings healthy — and needed — skepticism to the village’s beleaguered Metra Triangle project. Williams hopes to eliminate no-bid contracts and increase transparency by publishing all spending transactions online. In addition, he earns our respect for refusing campaign contributions from those who seek or execute city business. Also endorsed is incumbent Edward G. Schussler, who offers a deep background in service to Orland Park and heads its finance committee. Schussler’s knowledge of financial matters and dedication to fiscal restraint make him a valuable asset to the board.
Consolidated High School District 230: Voters in District 230 have their choice of eight candidates who are running for three seats. We endorse incumbents Patrick O’Sullivan and Kathleen Quilty, along with newcomer Rick Nogal.
The current board has shown itself to be fiscally responsible. To make it easier for District 230 taxpayers to follow where their money is going, the district has been posting its bills online.
O’Sullivan, the current board president, was first elected in 2007 while Quilty is seeking her third term. Nogal, whose father was a longtime Orland Park trustee, has served on the board of Palos Community District 118, including the past two years as board president. He spent a decade as board chairman of Palos Community Hospital.
Rich Township High School District 227: The dysfunction on the District 227 board means change must happen now. We believe some candidates are ready to make it happen.
When she worked as a manufacturing planning specialist at Ford Motor Co., Cheryl Coleman’s job was to find out what wasn’t working and fix it. In running for a seat on the District 227 board, Coleman said she wants to apply her engineering skills to the Herculean task of repairing the district’s troubled schools.
We think she’s a good choice for the job and are endorsing her, as well as Shelia Hester-Whorton and Delores Woods. The women have knocked on doors throughout the district and are hearing the same thing over and over: Residents feel shut out by a school board that’s inept, secretive and poisoning the futures of thousands of students.
Blue Island Park District: There has been no change to the leadership of this board despite the June 2010 death of Carlos Salgado, a Calumet Township trustee who died in a park district pool during a late night party organized by the park district president. Voters must unite and restore respectability to this notorious board. Endorsed is incumbent Raeann Cantelo Zylman, who is running for a six-year term. Zylman did not attend the party and is passionate about healthy eating and exercise. Also endorsed is write-in candidate Josh Tate, who seeks a two-year term. Tate vows to fire the current board president if elected, and we wholeheartedly support him in that endeavor.
Orland Fire Protection District: This district’s tax rate is the highest among fire protection districts in the Southland. Its $30.1 million budget for 2011 also dwarfs those of surrounding districts, so it’s no surprise its two candidates vying to fill three open seats made the tax rate their main complaint in running for the five-member board. But only one candidate, Christopher G. Evoy, offers concrete ideas and vows to increase transparency at the district. His plan to open the bid process and post winning bids on the district’s website is a welcome change. He is endorsed.
Lockport Township High School District 205 finally has found a way to get its high school built. A plan to finance a new school without raising taxes gives this community its best shot to relieve overcrowding.
We remain concerned, however, about other school districts that are turning to voters to pay more in taxes because the state is late on its payments. That strikes us as a tyrannical form of double taxation. Residents of Homewood District 153, Mokena District 159 and Arbor Park District 145: Take your fight to state leadership. This economy is too tough. People are hurting. It’s time for reform, not more taxes.