Will Blue Island vote based on lewd party?
Kristen McQueary firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-5972 February 9, 2011 6:34PM
Calumet Township Trustee Carlos Salgado drowned during an after-hours party June 26, 2010, at the Memorial Park pool in Blue Island. | Sun-Times Media file photo
Updated: November 24, 2011 3:34AM
In most communities, publicity of a pool party organized by park district officials that included skinny dipping and excessive alcohol and ended in a mysterious drowning death would result in house cleaning at election time.
But in Blue Island, the April election for two open seats on the park district board includes one candidate, Annie West, who attended the after-hours escapade that ended in the tragic drowning death of Calumet Township Trustee Carlos Salgado.
For the other seat, incumbent Joanne Ring, who did not attend the pool party, is running unopposed after state Rep. Robert Rita (D-Blue Island) helped kick her opponent off the ballot.
Rita’s access to the Democratic Party’s top attorney, Michael Kasper, gave Ring unprecedented advantage against Joshua Tate, a first-time candidate. In fact, Kasper personally handled the case against Tate the same week he was defending Rahm Emanuel’s residency in the Chicago mayoral race, a high-profile case that landed at the Illinois Supreme Court.
The two separate issues — the disturbing swimming pool romp and Rita’s heavy hand in the park board race — combine to make the April election a true test of voter independence in a suburb known for its intimate power circles.
Consider, for example, the fact that West works for Calumet Township, which Rita’s mother, Rose, oversees as supervisor.
Ring also works for the Ritas, both as an aide in Calumet Township and in Robert Rita’s state representative office.
Park board president Fred Bilotto serves as Calumet Township clerk, bringing to three the number of park commissioners — if West wins — who would work for the township.
Bilotto is not up for re-election. He still holds his board presidency, despite allowing the after-hours pool party on park district property June 26. He and others broke many park rules that night, according to police reports that indicate coolers of beer were provided.
West was the park district’s director of recreation until December. She played basketball in the swimming pool, along with Salgado, who was found at the bottom of the deep end the following morning. Salgado could not swim, and it remains unclear how exactly he drowned.
But West said she did not witness the wild events that unfolded that night. At one point, two women removed their bathing suits, and one of them got caught having intercourse in a men’s shower stall with another attendee.
“It was not a party,” West said Wednesday. “That’s the whole thing. Everyone who worked at the event was supposed to jump in the pool to cool off. I was one of the first people to leave.”
West said Salgado’s death continues to impact those who worked with him.
“If you’re from Blue Island, you understand we’re a really tight group,” she said. “The tragedy is affecting all of us.”
She is running for a six-year term against incumbent Raeann Cantelo Zylman, a local teacher, who has been an independent voice on the board, according to her like-minded colleagues.
“I think (Rita) knows he can’t control Raeann, so he wants her out,” park Commissioner John Spizzirri said. “She is born and raised in Blue Island and does this because she loves it. She doesn’t get involved in the politics. She thinks of nothing but the kids.”
West, who grew up in Chicago’s Beverly community, said she wants to beef-up soccer programs in the district. She recoiled at the notion she is beholden to the Ritas through her job in Calumet Township. She previously worked in radio marketing.
“I could easily go back to my old job in a heartbeat,” she said. “This isn’t about wanting to knock anybody out of office.”
Ring is unopposed for a two-year term on the board. She has said she wants to prohibit alcohol at all park events.
As for Rita’s help knocking Tate off the ballot, Ring said Tate didn’t collect enough valid signatures.
“If you can’t follow the rules, then yeah, you’re going to run into a problem,” Ring said.
Tate, a computer analyst whose father served as a longtime school superintendent, did collect the correct number of signatures, and he gathered a second set of signatures to sustain those that Kasper disputed.
The bottom line is that he didn’t properly insulate himself against a ballot challenge by going well above the required amount — a harsh reality of running for office.
“Clearly some of the board members are puppets of Mr. Rita. I hoped to bring another voice and another vote to right that ship,” Tate said.
Rita, however, sees it differently:
“I am the Democratic committeeman, so my role is to be involved in local, state and county elections,” he said from Springfield on Wednesday. “If people are doing a good job and serving their constituents, I don’t know how that could be made into a bad thing.”