March 2, 2005


In meteorology, the lull precedes the storm. In upper-crusty north suburban Lincolnwood, however, the political storm precedes the lull.

After 8 tumultuous years (from 1985 to 1993), which was labeled the "Era of the Lincolnwood Loonies," the village has reverted to norm and continues to blissfully snooze through what is known as the "Era of the Lincolnwood Lull."

"There are no major controversies," said Trustee Jerry Turry, who is running for village president in the April 5 election.

"There's an arrogance of power," counters Turry's opponent, Bertha Gimbel, the former village clerk. "It's like primogeniture. They (the Alliance Party) seem to pick the longest-serving male trustee (to run for village mayor.) That's not right. It's time for a change."

Lincolnwood, consisting which covers 2 1/2 square miles bordered roughly by Devon, McCormick, Niles Center Road and Touhy, has a population of 12,359, an increase of 8.7 percent since 1990. Property values rank in the top 10 percent in Cook County and, due to a sizable industrial and commercial tax base, residential property taxes are not egregious when compared to towns like Park Ridge.

What is egregious, if not outrageous, according to Gimbel, is the one-party control -- she calls it a "clique of insiders" -- of village government, extending all the way back to 1931, when Henry Proesel became village president, or mayor. He founded the Administration Party and served as mayor for 46 years, usually running unopposed for re-election.

Proesel retired in 1977 and was replaced by John Porcelli, who retired in 1985 and was replaced by Frank Chulay. But Chulay proved to be politically inept, made controversial decisions, awakened the opposition, got re-elected in 1989 by just 144 votes, and destroyed the Administration Party. By 1993 anti-Chulay trustees, led by Lydia Cohan, dominated the six-member village board, and every board meeting was a zoo.

But then the remnants of the Administration Party -- or the Proesel-Porcelli machine -- reincarnated themselves in 1993 as the Alliance Party, ran library board president Madeleine Grant for mayor, and trounced the opposition. Grant got 1,722 votes, far eclipsing Cohan (881) and Chulay (703), as well as independent (and 1989 loser) Bob Nussbaum (699). The pro-Grant candidates for three trustee spots also won. In 1995 Cohan and her allies got bounced as trustees, with Turry and Peter Moy among the Alliance Party replacements, thereby giving the party control of all six trustee seats. Gimbel, who had been elected in 1989 from Nussbaum's slate, retired in 1997, and the Alliance Party won that spot and controlled everything.

In 1997 Grant beat Glenn Udell 1,713-1,068. She died in 2000 and was replaced by Moy, the senior Alliance Party trustee. In 2001 Moy beat Mike Kolar 1,526-541. Moy is leaving the $25,000-a-year job this year, and the Alliance Party candidate is Turry, age 60, the senior trustee and the former athletic director at Niles West High School.

Lincolnwood has a village manager system, so the village president does not involve himself in day-to-day operations. But, said Turry, "people understand what's going on," and they "are happy with their government and community." Wrapping himself in the cloak of the Alliance Party, Turry takes credit for the resurfacing and renovation of streets, installation of medians on Lincoln Avenue, new equipment and plantings at parks and the renovation of the pool at Proesel Park. He noted that, in the past 4 years, a Lowe's store opened and Dominick's and the Loeber auto dealership expanded. "We're broadening the commercial tax base to keep a lid on property taxes," he said. The village budget is $13 million. Turry anticipates that the village, to generate more revenue, will raise the local sales tax by a quarter cent next year.

Turry said that only 11 percent of the revenue generated by the local residential property tax is allocated to municipal government, with the bulk going to schools. "That's the lowest cost (for government) of any north suburb," he said. Turry promised to be a full-time mayor, to continue to beautify the village, to keep a lid on spending, and to create a village Web site on which fees could be paid; he also wants to broadcast board meetings on cable TV. Lincolnwood does not have an identifiable downtown commercial area, and Turry said that Lincoln Avenue should be developed over time as the village's "downtown."

But Gimbel, age 82, running as the Allied Party candidate, has a different take. "They've raised too many fees, and hired too many consultants," she said, referring to the Moy Administration.

Gimbel promised if elected to "put a cap" on fees and give senior citizens a 50 percent discount on village fees. She also pledged to roll back the village's 5.25 percent utility bill tax, which was enacted in 1991. "It was supposed to be temporary, not permanent," Gimbel said. And she will stop the "plethora of consulting contracts" which she called "out of control and unnecessary." "We don't need a consultant for every decision or problem," she said

Retorted Turry: "Fees in Lincolnwood are no higher than in any other surrounding community."

Gimbel also criticized Turry for opposing the bulk size ordinance, which passed in 2004, capping new home construction square footage. It was designed to stop tear-downs of existing residences and their replacement by gigantic, lot line-to-lot line monstrosities. Many newly built homes in Lincolnwood are being sold for $1.2 million and up, and the median price of existing stock is well over $700,000. "We must preserve the character of our community," Gimbel said. But Turry sees it differently: "(The ordinance) hurts those living in east Lincolnwood (where lot sizes are smaller and home prices lower) and will cause (property price) stagnation. They should have the right to sell for the maximum price."

And finally, Gimbel is attempting to play the "diversity" card. According to the 2000 census, Lincolnwood's population is 74.5 percent white, 4.1 percent Hispanic, 0.3 percent black and 21.1 percent Asian, including Indians, Pakistanis, Koreans, Filipinos, Vietnamese and Chinese. The village's Jewish population is around 25 percent.

"They don't reflect the community," Gimbel said of the Alliance Party. "It's the same old bunch." The Alliance slate includes four men and one woman: Turry, Larry Elster, Larry Froman and Tom Heidtke for trustee, and Beryl Herman for clerk. The Allied slate includes three women and two men, including one Asian: Gimbel, Sirtaj Ahmed, Aileen Keating and Jerry Sargent for trustee, and Judy Penzel for clerk. Gimbel said that she tried to include a Korean and an Orthodox Jew on her slate, but that they were unable to run due to business commitments. One sitting Alliance Party trustee, Yehuda Lebovits (who ran on Cohan's slate in 1993 and lost, but then switched) is an Orthodox Jew.

For most of Lincolnwood residents, the Turry-Gimbel race is an irrelevant distraction. Incumbent administrations or parties lose only when there is scandal, stupidity, cupidity or corruption. None of those characterizations apply to the Moy Administration, Turry or the Alliance Party. So the suspense on April 5 is limited: How big will Turry's margin of victory be? And how embarrassingly small will Lincolnwood's voter turnout be?

Turnout in the epic 1993 election was 4,005; in 1997 it dropped to 2,781, and in 2001 it fell to 2,067. Turry got 1,337 votes for trustee in 1995, 1,015 in 1999 and 1,736 in 2003. Gimbel got 2,169 votes for clerk in 1989, and she won with 1,351 in 1993.

The outlook: Gimbel has been out of office for 8 years, and she does not have the physical capacity to wage a door-to-door campaign. She said she will "not go negative" on Turry, and her campaign will consist of some mailed brochures and of friend-to-friend contacts.

Turry will work precincts and will have the might of the Alliance Party establishment, run by Irv Blackman and zoning board chairman Paul Eisterhold, behind him. That means adequate money and manpower.

My prediction: Nestled securely in their "Lincolnwood Lull," voters have no compelling reason to vote against Turry and the Alliance Party, or even to vote. Gimbel will do better than Kolar's 541 votes in 2001, but not by much. The Alliance slate's base vote is around 1,500, and that will likely decline to about 1,300 this year for Turry. Gimbel will amass about 850 votes. And the "Lull" will persist for another 4 years.