February 2, 2005


Residents of northwest suburban Park Ridge in general, and Republicans in particular, will soon discover that a process of political evaporation does not necessarily foster a political revolution.

In a historical context, Park Ridge has been a bastion of Republicanism, and "good-government" type Republicans have long governed the city. From 1973 to 2003, the Homeowners' Party, the pseudonym adopted by the local Republicans, had an iron lock on local government.

But, in an implosion of remarkable brevity, the Homeowners' Party has evaporated, and the Republican-backed candidate for mayor -- Howard Frimark -- can't even assemble a 2005 slate of aldermanic candidates backing his candidacy in the city's seven wards. However, a Democratic takeover -- albeit under the pretext of various "independent" candidacies -- is not imminent. Noting the demographic evolution of such suburban cities as Evanston and Oak Park, where an influx of younger, independent-voting couples undermined the Republicans' dominance, Park Ridge definitely is in political transition, but it is not yet a Democratic town.

"I couldn't find quality people" to run for alderman, moans Frimark, a 62-year-old insurance agent and a first-term Park Ridge alderman. "There's a lot of apathy in this town." Frimark, elected as alderman from the 4th Ward in 2003 as a Homeowners' Party candidate, has opted to run for the $12,000-a-year mayor's post as an independent in the April 5 election. An avowed Republican, Frimark was the campaign manager for state Representative Rosemary Mulligan (R-65) in several of her previous races. And Frimark's  "Mulligan connection" may or not be helpful, since Mulligan, an outspoken champion of abortion rights, is detested by socially conservative Republicans.

Frimark's opponent will be Alderman Mike Tinaglia, age 52, who also was elected as a Homeowners' Party candidate (in 1999) and who also is running for mayor as an independent. Local Democrats, who chose not to run an identifiable Democratic candidate for mayor, are coalescing behind Tinaglia.

Four of the aldermanic races are uncontested, and in the three contested races, no candidate is running in tandem with Frimark, while three are running with Tinaglia.

Aldermen in Park Ridge, who are paid a measly $100 per month, serve 4-year terms, and each of the seven wards has two aldermen, with one elected every 2 years. Until the 2003 election, 12 of the 14 aldermen were aligned with the Homeowners' Party, meaning that they supposedly were Republicans. The late Marty Butler, who founded the party in 1973, was mayor from 1973 until 1991, when he was appointed to the Illinois Senate and was replaced as mayor by a loyalist, Ron Wietecha.

Butler was elected township Republican committeeman in 1990, and Wietecha, as the Homeowners' Party candidate, was elected mayor without opposition in 1993 (getting 4,087 votes), in 1997 (getting 8,453 votes) and in 2001 (getting 4,443 votes) -- putting him on a popularity par with Butler, who died in 1998. But the seemingly invincible Wietecha resigned abruptly in September of 2003.

The reason for Wietecha's resignation: the collapse of his council majority. In the 2003 election, Democrats running as independents beat the pro-Wietecha/Homeowners' Party candidates in five of six contested races; only Frimark triumphed. The key to the "Independent Five's" success was precinct organization -- they identified their voters and got them to the polls.

In the southernmost ward, which is in Norwood Park Township, Democratic Committeeman Robert Martwick dispatched dozens of his organization workers into the 7th Ward to elect his son-in-law, Jeff Cox. In other wards, volunteers allied with the political operation of U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-9) canvassed on behalf of upset winners Mark Anderson, Rex Parker and Don Crampton. All these so-called independents were careful to avoid being tagged as Democrats, and all scored points by attacking the allegedly "unresponsive" Wietecha regime and his Homeowners' Party aldermanic allies. However, turnout in the six contested wards was anemic -- just 6,316 in a city with a 2000 census population of 37,755.

Complacent and unprepared, the Republicans got creamed. Thereafter, facing a fractious and contentious council, Wietecha resigned, and he was replaced as interim mayor by Mike MaRous, who had been elected as a Homeowners' Party alderman. The aldermanic vote to elect MaRous was 8-6, reflective of the partisan divide. Joining the "Independent Five" to elect MaRous (who voted for himself) were Tinaglia and Larry Friel, who also were elected aldermen as Homeowners' Party candidates. In the council vote, MaRous defeated Sue Bell, a longtime alderman and a prominent Republican, who was backed by the remaining Homeowners' Party aldermen.

For 2005, the Homeowners' Party has simply evaporated. There is no party slate. Deducing that voters now want "independent" candidates, there are no parties listed on the ballot. Everybody's listed as an independent, and all seven of the 2001 Homeowners' Party winners, including Tinaglia, Bell and MaRous, are retiring. In Frimark's 4th Ward, Jim Radermacher, whom Frimark beat for alderman in 2003, is running unopposed and is allied with Tinaglia. In the 5th Ward, Bruce Gilpin, who was the township coordinator for Democrat Barack Obama's Senate campaign, likely will beat the Frimark-backed Joe Baldi. In the 6th Ward, Democrat Mary Wynn Ryan, whose husband, Peter, is running for township trustee, likely will beat the Frimark-backed Marc Mazzuca. In Tinaglia's 1st Ward, his ally, John Iberl, will keep that seat.

There has no city budget crisis, and emotions about O'Hare Airport expansion and noise pollution -- issues long championed by Butler -- have cooled. Despite the city's population of 37,755, fewer than 8,000 likely will vote in the mayoral race. So it will be a classic friends-and-neighbors campaign, with each candidate enticing his supporters to turn out, and not a referendum on some tumultuous dispute. Persuading voters won't be critical; getting them to vote will.

The bottom line: If Tinaglia wins, he will have a City Council majority of at least 9-5; if Frimark wins, he will have to resign his aldermanic seat, and he could govern with a 10-4 council minority. Frimark has been involved in politics longer than Tinaglia, has more business contacts, and will raise and spend more money, but Tinaglia has more energy and more workers. Make Tinaglia a slight favorite to win -- and expect township Democrats, out-of-township Democrats and Schakowsky forces to pour money and manpower into Park Ridge to elect him. If victorious, Tinaglia won't be an open Democrat, but he'll certainly do nothing to help the Republicans.

Maine Township Supervisor: The Republicans' potential debacle in Park Ridge will have a huge impact in the contest for township supervisor, where Democrat Karen Jane Dimond, on April 5, will face the winner of the Feb. 22 Republican primary between incumbent Bob Dudycz and township Republican Committeeman Mark Thompson.

"It's a historical anomaly," observed Thompson, who lost to Dudycz in the 2001 Republican caucus, ending 8 years as supervisor. "There's never been a township primary before. Nobody knows how many (Republicans) will vote."

In races for office in Cook County's 30 townships, the parties usually opt for a caucus to select their nominees. In the January 2001 Republican caucus, Dudycz, then a township trustee, brought in 251 supporters and out-voted Thompson 251-50 to win the nomination for supervisor. Thompson said that he did not expect opposition, and that was why he was "blindsided" by the allies of Dudycz and then-Committeeman Bill Darr. In the ensuing election, Thompson endorsed Democrat Mike Yesner for supervisor, but Dudycz beat him 9,545-7,075.

Thompson made a comeback in 2002, when he beat Darr for committeeman by 153 votes, 4,505-4,352.

While between 8,000 and 10,000 Republicans customarily vote in Maine Township presidential and mid-term primaries, the Feb. 22 Republican primary may draw as few as 2,500 participants.

There is a clear ideological, geographic and socioeconomic distinction between the combatants: Thompson, of Des Plaines, who is pro-choice, is allied with the forces of Mulligan and has the backing of Gerry Butler, Marty's beloved widow. He also claims to be endorsed by Frimark, although Dudycz asserts that Frimark is neutral. Dudycz, of Niles, the brother of former Northwest Side state senator Wally Dudycz, is a social conservative and has the power of the township government behind him. He also is backed by the remnants of Darr's organization, including many precinct captains purged by Thompson.

After losing to Dudycz in 2001, Thompson, an attorney working for the state, filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Darr and Dudycz conspired to get him transferred to Springfield from Chicago. The suit was dismissed. Thompson will try to highlight the fact that Dudycz, who was a facility manager for the state at the former Maine North High School building, was investigated by the Illinois State Police for allegedly using state computers to send e-mails on township business. That investigation was concluded, with no charges leveled against Dudycz.

The goal of both Thompson and Dudycz is to get 1,500 supporters to vote on Feb. 22. Negative mailings won't be effective. This race is below radar. The township has 137 precincts, which means that, to win, a candidate must find an average of just 15 votes per precinct.

Dudycz has more workers, and such township officials as Clerk Gary Warner and Highway Commissioner Bob Provenzano can bring in more than 100 votes in their precincts. Thompson is relying on volunteers, garnered mainly from the Mulligan operation, as well as his Des Plaines home base.

My prediction: In a turnout of 2,600, Dudycz will win by 300 votes. Dudycz simply has more precinct workers, and they will bring out a larger vote. If that occurs, there will, of course, be bitterness, and Thompson may endorse Democrat Dimond. But unless Thompson or Dimond finds some silver bullet to use against Dudycz, demonstrating malfeasance or misfeasance as supervisor, he will keep his job.