Tinley Park mayoral candidate Steve Eberhardt (left) pretends to be debating with a mannequin depicting Mayor Ed Zabrocki after a village board meeting Tuesday at the village hall. | Steve Metsch~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 27, 2013 6:04AM
After 32 years as mayor of Tinley Park, Ed Zabrocki is in the fight of his political career.
While he is optimistic he will prevail in the April 9 election, Zabrocki, 71, takes nothing for granted. That’s why he and his Team Tinley running mates — trustees Dave Seaman, T.J. Grady and Brian Maher — have been out shaking hands at the train stations and distributing pamphlets touting their accomplishments.
“Why am I running again? I enjoy the job and working with people. I’m proud of Tinley Park and the board I’m with. We work together and that makes the difference,” Zabrocki said.
His opponent, Steve Eberhardt, 59, is an attorney in Tinley Park who for the past couple of years has been a burr in the side of the current administration.
Eberhardt and his running mates — trustee candidates Karen Weigand, Andy DeLuca and Nancy Petro — attend village board meetings, often asking questions in the public portion. Eberhardt also has kept village staff busy by often submitting Freedom of Information Act requests on a wide range of topics, from phone call records to use of village-owned vehicles. The village says his requests have cost Tinley Park thousands of dollars in labor.
Eberhardt decided to run for mayor after he and some neighbors rallied and prevented Thomas Place, a proposed senior residency building, from being built in town. Last year, while collecting signatures on petitions for an advisory referendum about mandatory term limits, he heard from many residents who he says are frustrated with the administration.
That convinced him to run for mayor.
“I want to be mayor because I want the people of Tinley Park to be coming first again instead of machine politicians running everything. Machine politics has taken over the country and the state and, quite frankly, is taking over Tinley Park,” Eberhardt said.
“What I mean by that is a system that helps the politicians running the system to benefit themselves, and the interests of the residents comes second. Employees and some political appointees keep the machine going year after year.”
Zabrocki insisted there’s no machine, but a village board that sometimes has heated discussions over topics in committee meetings before coming to a consensus.
“Our arguments are philosophical, not political. It doesn’t get personal,” Zabrocki said. “How many village managers have we had in the last 32 years? Three. That’s almost unheard of.
“The only issues I’ve heard from my opponent are personal issues. How’s he going to improve the town? He’s going to improve the town by getting rid of Zabrocki,” the mayor said.
Eberhardt said the “vast majority of residents are (mad) and they want some kind of change.
“I think (Zabrocki) is running scared,” he said.
Zabrocki said he’s not, and said residents who want change get the opportunity every two years via municipal elections, not term limits.
“It’s up to the folks to re-elect or get rid of them,” he said.
Zabrocki thinks Eberhardt has an ax to grind because he wasn’t hired as the village hearing officer several years ago.
“The simple answer to that is, ‘No, that’s not the reason,’ ” Eberhardt said. “I’m running because of what I learned once we started the campaign against Thomas Place. We were inundated with complaints, and not only from residents who were fed up but from some village employees.”
If he is elected, Eberhardt said, “there will be changes” such as not allowing village employees, except for police, to have personal use of village vehicles, and clamping down on excess spending.
Zabrocki and Eberhardt have another connection: In the 1970s, Zabrocki was Eberhardt’s guidance counselor at Brother Rice High School.
Zabrocki declined repeated requests from Eberhardt to have a debate. Zabrocki also noted a bankruptcy filing by Eberhardt, which the mayor said casts into doubt the ability to lead a village. Eberhardt acknowledged his bankruptcy, which he said resulted in part from a divorce. He said he’s paying his debts on a regular schedule.