February 16, 2005


It's rare that a political columnist can write about a political contest that involves ghosts and goblins, an "Amiable Dunce," a "Sneaky Supervisor," dastardly deeds, vengeance, Republican recrimination, an "Old Gals' Network," ideological revulsion and unadulterated Democratic joy.

But those characterizations, allusions and sheer hyperbole are applicable in suburban Maine Township, where the Feb. 22 Republican primary for township supervisor between incumbent Bob Dudycz and former incumbent Mark Thompson, the current township Republican committeeman, has aroused much sound and fury, but minimal voter interest. Fewer than 2,500 Republicans will turn out for the primary.

The Dudycz-Thompson contest is about methodology, ideology, geography and ancestry.

The township includes all of Park Ridge and Des Plaines and parts of Niles, Morton Grove and Glenview. Dudycz, of Niles, the older brother of former Northwest Side state senator Wally Dudycz, was elected as one of four Maine Township trustees in 1997. He's the goblin of this story, despised by many as the so-called "Sneaky Supervisor." In November of 1998 state senator Marty Butler, the township's Republican committeeman and Thompson's longtime mentor, died and was replaced by Bill Darr, a veteran political operative who had a state job.

In January of 2001 Darr called the customary quadrennial caucus to select Republican candidates for township office in that year's April election. Thompson, of Des Plaines, who had been a Butler-picked trustee for 12 years, from 1981 to 1993, and a supervisor for 8, from 1993 to 2001, showed up at the caucus with about 50 of his supporters, expecting to be routinely re-slated. Unknown to him, Dudycz and Darr had hatched a conspiracy to dump him, brought in about 250 of their supporters, and Thompson, who is scorned by some of his foes as an "Amiable Dunce" -- a phrase once used to criticize President Ronald Reagan -- lost his job. The caucus chose Dudycz for supervisor by a vote of 251-50.

Thompson's supporters were outraged, and words like sneaky, deceitful and cowardly were directed toward Dudycz and Darr. "It wasn't a fair fight, because we didn't even know there was going to be a fight," said one supporter. Thompson endorsed Democrat Mike Yesner in the April election, but Dudycz demolished him 9,432-6,991, getting 57.3 percent of the votes cast. By comparison, Thompson beat Democrat Joe Annunzio in the 1997 election 12,582-7,466 (62.7 percent), indicating a fairly solid Republican majority in township races. Turnout in the supervisor's race declined from 20,048 in 1997 to 16,423 in 2001 -- possibly attributable to a Thompson voter boycott of Dudycz.

After Thompson's humiliating and unanticipated dumping -- deemed the "dastardly dumping" -- two of his key supporters were appalled: The pro-choice group, led by state Representative Rosemary Mulligan of Des Plaines, and the remnants of the Park Ridge Republican women's group, led by Gerry Butler, Marty Butler's widow. Dudycz, who is pro-life on abortion, suddenly became the "Sneaky Supervisor," and the method of his ascension was deemed repugnant, while Thompson suddenly became a sympathetic, if not heroic, figure. In addition, being from Niles, having an ethnic name and being a social conservative, Dudycz's success prompted a dither among the WASPy geriatric set in Park Ridge, as well as among Mulligan's contingent. He was not one of them! He was not from the "Real Republican" wing of the Maine Township Republican party. "He must not win (in 2005)," Mulligan recently said.

Even his apostasy in backing Yesner didn't damage Thompson, who in 2002 sought a comeback, running for committeeman against Darr. Thompson had two powerful motivators: vengeance and vindication. And in a year when the Republican turnout was high, augmented by the nasty primary for governor between Jim Ryan, Pat O'Malley and Corrine Wood and local races for Cook County commissioner and sub-circuit judge, Thompson scored an upset victory, beating Darr 4,505-4,352, a 153-vote margin in a turnout of 8,857. The turnout in the governor's race was 9,867, with the party-endorsed Ryan getting 4,797 votes, the pro-choice Wood getting 2,584 and the socially conservative/anti-abortion O'Malley getting 2,486.

Thompson won for several reasons. First, having been involved in township government for almost 20 years, he was better known than Darr. Second, his base in Des Plaines, augmented by Mulligan's forces, turned out heavily, and he beat Darr in Des Plaines by about 350 votes. Third, in Park Ridge, the "Ghost of Butler" surfaced, as Gerry Butler's "Old Gal's Network" delivered. Back in the 1970s, when her husband was Park Ridge mayor, Gerry Butler took over the GOP women's group and made it a powerful political entity. By 2000 many of those activists were dead or gone, but for those of the pro-Butler Park Ridge women left, being a Republican was not just an affiliation, but a duty. They want a certain kind of Republican, and so-called sneaks like Dudycz and Darr aren't that kind.

Butler's networking efforts in 2002 limited Darr's Park Ridge margin to about 150 votes, which was not enough to beat Thompson townshipwide. Darr won by about 50 votes in the remaining areas. Can Butler do it again?

After winning in 2001, Dudycz remained as the township's deputy Republican committeeman. In 2002 Thompson fired him from that position but kept him as a precinct captain, and in 2004 Thompson fired Dudycz, along with 22 Dudycz-allied precinct captains, including township Highway Commissioner Bob Provenzano and Clerk Gary Warner. And while the Republicans bickered, Maine Township became increasingly -- albeit narrowly -- Democratic: Al Gore won the township in 2000 by 1,533 votes, getting 51.5 percent of the total, and John Kerry won in 2004 by 3,695 votes, getting 53.5 percent.

Dudycz claims he has compiled a competent record as supervisor. Among his accomplishments: A single hauler to pick up garbage in the unincorporated areas, a requirement that all township welfare recipients work one day a week to beautify the township, town hall renovations and a township Web site, expanded youth and senior services, zoning reforms, procurement of $500,000 in capital development grants for sewer repair and road resurfacing, passport services in the clerk's office and an ombudsman to assist on veterans' claims. In addition, since 2001, Dudycz claims that the township property tax rate has declined by 2.5 percent, that expenditures have declined from $3.129 million to $3.1 million, and that the number of township employees has declined from 58 to 54. "We've kept taxes in check, and delivered services," he said.

Dudycz also knocked Thompson for failing to monitor the township's subsidized taxicab program for seniors and the disabled. Begun in the 1980s, the township would reimburse cab companies or independent operators for part of their fare. In 1993 Thompson tripled the contract's budget, and by 2001 the cost was $70,000 annually. After his election Dudycz called for an audit, which he says revealed fraud, inflated ridership and payments to nonexistent vendors for nonexistent fares. The program's coordinator was fired, and, according to  Dudycz, a criminal investigation is pending. Dudycz recently mailed a piece to local Republicans blasting Thompson's "negligence" in "wasting $500,000 in taxpayer money."

Dudycz also is highlighting the fact that Thompson showed up on Scott Fawell's "priority list" of politicians who sought state jobs when George Ryan was Illinois secretary of state. Thompson was placed on the list by Darr, and he got a contract job with the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation after Ryan became governor. Dudycz also ripped Thompson for "running the (Maine Township Republican) organization into the ground" and noted that the group was fined by the state Board of Elections for faulty disclosure reports.

Thompson has hit back, sending out a mailer accusing Dudycz of being "the subject of a criminal investigation by the Illinois State Police" and blasting Dudycz and his slate of incumbents for having a "record of hiring friends and relatives, taxpayer-paid trips to Europe and Las Vegas, overspending, and a property tax increase to pay for it all."

Dudycz has threatened to sue Thompson for defamation, noting that a Feb. 3, 2005, letter from the Illinois Department of Central Management Services advised Dudycz that the State Police had "officially closed" its investigation. Dudycz, a state employee, was alleged to have used state computers to send e-mails relating to township business.

A final issue: The cost of the primary. The Democrats chose their 2005 slate at a caucus, so the Feb. 22 primary involves only the Republicans. A Jan. 25 letter from the Cook County Clerk's Office to a pro-Dudycz trustee pegs the cost at $178,100, or $1,300 per precinct in the township's 137 precincts. Thompson disagrees with that assertion, stating that the cost will be "around $40,000." Dudycz's last mailing piece will slam Thompson for wasting tax dollars by demanding a primary instead of submitting to a caucus.

My prediction: There are roughly 3,500 Republican-voting households in the township, and according to local Republicans, 45 percent of the Republican turnout comes from Park Ridge and 35 percent comes from Des Plaines. Dudycz concedes he is not well known in Des Plaines, and he has made it a point not to over-hype the campaign. "We know who our voters are," he said, and he claims that he will have more than 60 workers covering the township's 71 polling places.

Park Ridge and the weather are key. Mulligan will tap into her extensive network of pro-choice backers, which is strong in Park Ridge. But will these people make an effort to vote in a Republican primary where abortion is not an issue? Likewise, Gerry Butler will try to reactivate her "Old Gals' Network," and they will do their duty -- unless the weather is inhospitable.

Turnout will be just over 2,000. My hunch is that Dudycz will top Thompson by fewer than 50 votes, but only if Dudycz wins Park Ridge by more than 200 votes; if not, Thompson will pull another upset. If Dudycz triumphs, expect most of the Thompson crowd to support Karen Dimond, the Democratic candidate for supervisor, in the April 5 election.