February 9, 2005


The voters in the suburban municipalities surrounding Chicago are no different than their urban brethren. If there's action -- such as a serious political controversy, a major fiscal crisis or a gaggle of candidates -- they turn out. If not, they ignore the election.

Chicago, according to the 2000 census, had a population of 2,896,016. In the 2003 mayoral election, when Mayor Rich Daley faced desultory opposition, only 442,782 voters -- just 15.2 percent of the population and about 27 percent of the registered voter pool -- participated in the nonpartisan mayoral election. That is a decline from 524,778 in 1999, 596,516 in 1995, 633,148 in 1991 and 1,006,174 in 1989, when Daley first won. As Daley consolidated his grip on City Hall, and as his opposition looked increasingly lame, voters perceived the obvious: He's the winner. So why bother to vote?

However, back when racial politics dominated Chicago, turnout peaked at 1,156,707 in 1983. If Daley, who will be completing 18 years as mayor when his term expires in 2007, should decide to retire, a crowded election would surely ensue, featuring a plethora of white, black and Hispanic contenders. Turnout would certainly soar to over one million.

Here's a look at some 2005 suburban contests:

Niles: Daley's father, Richard J. Daley, served as mayor for 21 years, and the mayor could surpass that longevity record if he wins another term in 2007 and serves through 2011. But both pale in comparison to Nick Blase, the mayor of Niles, who was first elected in 1961 and who is concluding 44 years in that post. Blase, a political icon, is unopposed in the April 5 election.

Blase, age 76, is poised to surpass the longevity record of former Lincolnwood mayor Henry Proesel, who served from 1931 to 1977, as well as that of former Norridge mayor Joe Sieb, who served for just slightly more than 46 years, from 1952 to 1998. The local record holder is Rosemont's 49-year mayor Don Stephens, who was first elected in 1956 and who is unopposed this year.

In the 2001 election Blase demolished Len Reinebach, backed by the local Republicans, by 3,707-610, getting 85.8 percent of the vote. He was unopposed in 1997 and got 3,199 votes. The population of Niles is slightly over 30,000, and it has been undergoing a major demographic change, as many non-citizens, particularly Poles, buy property in the town. Niles is less pricey than Park Ridge, as well as Edison Park and Norwood Park.

Blase is a Democrat, and he served as Maine Township committeeman for over 20 years. His successor as committeeman was Andy Przybylo, a Niles trustee and Blase's presumed successor as mayor. Przybylo quit as committeeman in 2002. Blase's ticket in the 2005 election is running on the Present Leaders for Future Security slate, with Trustees Przybylo and Bob Callero running for re-election to 4-year terms and Kim Sychowski Biedermann seeking a 2-year term. Joe LoVerde is running for one of the 4-year terms as a Democrat, and Ray Czarnik and Rich Harczak are both running for the 2-year term as independents.

The 2005 election is all about "The Succession" -- who will succeed Blase in 2009. According to village sources, Harczak and LoVerde could be future mayoral candidates, and Przybylo's prospects would take a knock if he fails to win convincingly and would crumble totally if he loses.

Norwood Park Township (Norridge and Harwood Heights): Contrary to the ancient proverb of one step forward, two steps back, Republicans in the township took one step forward in 2001, and now they have been pounded back at least 10 steps -- and almost into oblivion.

In 2001 Republican township Committeeman John Beniaris decided the time was ripe for a Republican takeover. In 1998 Beniaris ousted the longtime Republican committeeman, Bill Dammeier, who also was the elected township supervisor and who had cut a power-sharing deal with Democratic township Committeeman Robert Martwick which allocated two township offices to the Republicans and the rest to the Democrats. That deal lasted for over two decades. In 1997 Beniaris ran for supervisor against Dammeier, who was backed by Martwick, and lost 2,470-1,828.

In 2001 Beniaris, in what was thought at the time to be a political masterstroke, filed a township slate of Republicans, and Dammeier retired. Facing the Martwick-backed Tom Lupo, running as the Township Unity Party candidate, Beniaris looked like the favorite. But Martwick, a long-ago law school classmate of Rich Daley, called in all his markers and raised plenty of money, and Lupo thumped Beniaris 3,129-2,151.

Shortly thereafter, Beniaris resigned as Republican committeeman, to be replaced by Mike Glaub. The party has all but evaporated, and it is not even fielding a slate against Lupo and the rest of the Martwick-backed slate, which is running as the Township Economy Party. The only wrinkle for Martwick is the independent candidacy of Mike Gadzinski for one of the four trustee posts. And the Republicans, instead of having at least a few crumbs at the table during the Dammeier era, now have none -- and have virtually vanished as a political force.

Harwood Heights: Democrat Ray Willas, a Martwick ally, was the town's mayor for 28 years, from 1973 to 2001. Until 1999 Willas was earning a salary of $70,000, which included $34,000 as mayor, $18,400 as liquor commissioner and $17,600 as budget officer, but in 2000 the village trustees slashed his total salary to $35,000 and Willas retired.

Norb Pabich triumphed in the ensuing contest for succession, which was both tumultuous and testy, getting 596 votes, to Don McCormick's 521, Mike McGough's 509 and George Alex's 272. In a town of 8,297, turnout in the mayor's race was 1,898, or just 22.8 percent of the population. Political affiliation in that race was rather hazy, but it has since been clarified: Pabich apparently leans Republican, having supported Republican state Representative Mike McAuliffe in 2004. However, Pabich has not solidified his hold on the town. Like 2001, this year's municipal elections will be a zoo.

 Trustee Marge Fuller, a Democrat who aspires to challenge McAuliffe in 2006, is running for mayor against Pabich. Fuller and her so-called "Gang of Four" (trustees) have stymied Pabich at every turn, and the town is in political gridlock. Also running for mayor is Joe Scott, a former trustee once allied with Pabich.

Harwood Heights has just 14 precincts, and the battle for dominance is under way. Fuller is depending on Martwick's organization, coupled with her personal supporters. Pabich has assembled an eclectic array of backers, including McAuliffe workers, former backers of former state senator Wally Dudycz, local Republicans, allies of Democratic Metropolitan Water Reclamation Commissioner Frank Avila (including his son, Frank Avila Jr., and controversial political operative Dominc Longo), and Chicago Republicans such as 38th Ward Committeeman Chester Hornowski. Unlike in a Chicago ward, which has upwards of 60 precincts, canvassing in Harwood Heights is child's play -- 30 to 40 workers can saturate the town's 14 precincts, identify favorable voters, communicate their message, and get out their vote.

Scott's candidacy complicates any prognostications. Does he drain votes from Pabich? Or does he split the anti-Pabich vote?

Scott was instrumental in putting a referendum on the ballot in 2004 to change Harwood Heights' election system. Instead of electing three trustees every 2 years at-large, Scott wanted to elect a trustee every 2 years, one each from three wards. The referendum lost overwhelmingly.

My prediction: McAuliffe beat Democrat and fellow incumbent Ralph Capparelli in 2004, allegedly with the support of 36th Ward Democratic Committeeman and Alderman Bill Banks and of state Senator Jim DeLeo. Will Banks send his workers to aid Pabich? If Fuller beats Pabich, she'll be the proverbial bull in the china shop, and she will be primed to run against McAuliffe in 2006. There are a lot of politicians who want Fuller to lose and Pabich to win.

Lincolnwood: As elsewhere, succession is not always seamless and unanimous. When Proesel retired in 1977, he was succeeded by John Porcelli, who served until 1985, when he retired just before filing and was succeeded by Frank Chulay. Unlike Porcelli, Chulay did not consolidate his base, and he was re-elected in 1989 by just 144 votes.

By 1993 the town's voters had had enough of gridlock and of the so-called "Lincolnwood Loonies," who bickered and fought incessantly. The most exuberant anti-Chulay trustee, Democrat Lydia Cohan, ran for mayor against Chulay, and she was backed by the Niles Township Democrats. Madeleine Grant, then the library board president and an erstwhile Chulay ally, also ran for mayor, and she won a resounding victory, with 42.9 percent of the vote to Cohan's 22 percent and Chulay's 17.5 percent, with the balance to Bob Nussbaum, who had lost to Chulay in 1989.

In the 1995 election Grant's Alliance Party swept most of the town offices, ousting Cohan and electing both Peter Moy and Gerald Turry as trustees. Grant was unopposed in 1999, and Moy and Turry were re-elected as trustees. Grant retired in 2003, and Moy was unopposed to replace her.

Moy now is retiring, and Turry is running as the Alliance Party candidate for mayor. He is opposed by Bertha Gimble, the former village clerk who retired in 1997, who lost a bid for trustee in 2003, and who was once part of the Porcelli-Chulay machine. My prediction: Turry will win easily.

Des Plaines: After the death of Mayor Paul Jung in 1999, Tony Arredia was elected to succeed him, winning 6,653-3,700 over Eldon Burk in 2001. Arredia is unopposed this year, as is Laura Murphy for one of the eight aldermanic seats; Murphy succeeded Przybylo as the Maine Township Democratic committeeman. Much like Norwood Park Township, Republicans in Des Plaines have also thrown in the proverbial towel and are not contesting the Democrats.