Mayoral contests highlight local elections
BY STEVE METSCH firstname.lastname@example.org April 7, 2013 11:12PM
Sandra Bury (left) and Dave Heilmann during a Oak Lawn mayoral candidate forum at Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School Tuesday, April 2, 2013. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 9, 2013 6:14AM
They don’t draw the spotlight of a presidential election, but the outcomes of municipal elections such as Tuesday’s have a much greater impact on the day-to-day lives of Southland residents, officials say.
“You are electing local officials who are spending your tax dollars,” Will County Clerk Nancy Schultz Voots said Friday. “You can actually call and talk to these people.”
Tax rates, improvements and services as basic as plowing snow could be impacted by the results after votes are cast.
Some Southland towns have hotly contested mayoral races, with challengers out to replace incumbents — some of whom have been in office for decades.
Oak Lawn and Tinley Park have two of the hottest races for mayor. In Crestwood, residents will have a mayor not named Stranczek for the first time in decades. Crete voters will decide whether to re-elect Mayor Michael Einhorn, who faced backlash when he supported building an immigrant detention center. And in Country Club Hills, the ballot for a slimmed-down city council, from 10 aldermen to five, has incumbents running against one another.
In Oak Lawn, it’s hard to drive down streets and not notice colorful campaign signs on front lawns and at businesses. Lines are clearly drawn between incumbent Mayor David Heilmann and challenger Sandra Bury, who met in a lively debate last week, with each painting different futures for the village.
Bury has emphasized the need for transparency and ethical conduct among village officials, supports term limits and opposed back-room deals. Heilmann said the village must have ambitious growth plans, citing development at 111th Street and Cicero Avenue — which is to include a Mariano’s Fresh Market — as leading to future growth.
A few miles to the south, in Tinley Park, incumbent Ed Zabrocki, in office since 1981, is challenged by attorney Steve Eberhardt. Zabrocki has been mayor so long, a downtown plaza bears his name. And that longevity is the main reason why Eberhardt seeks the office.
It was Eberhardt who beat the drum so loudly for term limits that Zabrocki and the village board were forced to set up a committee to study the idea. Zabrocki often has said term limits are already in place, in the hands of the voters in the form of municipal elections every two years.
Eberhardt said the longevity of Team Tinley, Zabrocki and his running mates, has led to a coziness on the board that hurts the village.
Turnout for Tuesday’s election is not expected to be great. Courtney Greve, spokeswoman for Cook County Clerk David Orr, said turnout for municipal elections in nonpresidential years typically has ranged from 17 percent to 30 percent.
Orr said in communities with contested races, turnout is usually about 50 percent. But 64 percent of the races in Cook County are not contested.
“I love it when everybody votes in every election. But that doesn’t happen,” Orr said.
If that holds, turnout could be better in Alsip, Olympia Fields, Blue Island, Midlothian and Crestwood, which are among the Southland towns where there is a fight for mayor.
Incumbent Alsip Mayor Patrick Kitching is being challenged by James Quinn. Olympia Fields features a three-way race, with Willis Pennington Jr., incumbent Debbie Meyers-Martin, and Kelvin Oliver.
Midlothian Mayor Terry Stephens is being challenged by Sharon Rybak.
In Crestwood, where Mayor Robert Stranczek decided not to run, John Toscas, Lou Presta and Dino Pavoni will vie for his seat. Blue Island Mayor Don Peloquin also isn’t seeking re-election, leaving Randy Heuser, Gonzalo Campos and Mark Potoska on the ballot.
Monee has four mayoral candidates: Jay Farquhar, Daniel Tovo Sr., Nanci Barfoot and William Bailey.
In Will County, Voots is optimistically projecting 18 percent voter turnout.
“That’s pitiful,” she said. “This is the most important election.”
Voots said she tries to get the word out, and even mails a sample ballot to every household and tells would-be voters where the polling places are. She also registers young voters in the high schools.
“There is no reason they should not vote,” she said. “With the economy the way it is right now, you think people would get out and vote. But I don’t see it going over 18 percent.”
By comparison, the last presidential election drew 71 percent, she said.
Early voting, which ended Saturday, has been light, too, Voots said. As of Friday, Romeoville had the most early voters in Will County — 262 — likely attributable to the fact that former Chicago Bear Steve McMichael is running for mayor against John Noak.
Other sites with more early voters were Mokena, with 261 early votes in a contested race for three village trustee seats; and Frankfort Township, with 217 votes.
“Voting is so important,” Voots said.
In various communities, there also are contested park district, school district and township races, along with village boards.
Contributing: Susan DeMar Lafferty