March 16, 2005


The Park Ridge mayoral election on April 5 will test anew the viability and credibility of two political maxims: The "Hate Factor" and the "Fear Factor."

The "Hate Factor" essentially decrees that it is easier to persuade voters to hate a candidate than it is to persuade them to love a candidate. The "Fear Factor" essentially decrees that voters resist and often detest change.

Only two candidates are running in 2005 for mayor, both as independents: Alderman Howard Frimark's campaign is all about stability, while Alderman Mike Tinaglia's campaign is all about change. Frimark thinks that Tinaglia and his aldermanic allies are "obsessed with power," while Tinaglia thinks that Frimark wants to "turn back the clock." Frimark brands Tinaglia a "political opportunist" who is "on a power trip," while Tinaglia brands Frimark a "contrarian" and "a clone of (former mayor) Ron Wietecha," who resigned in 2003.

Frimark, an insurance agent, promises to be a "bridge builder" between the warring factions in the City Council, to be a "24/7 mayor" with office hours every morning at City Hall, to "provide leadership" and to focus on economic development. Tinaglia, an attorney, promises to bring "diversity" to government, to be a "nonpartisan" mayor, to "bring unity" and to create an economic development department within city government.

Tinaglia, age 52, an alderman for 8 years, claims that he can be trusted and that he would not be "subject to outside influences" while asserting that Frimark "sells insurance to a lot businesses and insures a lot of buildings" and thereby would "raise an appearance of impropriety" in many of his mayoral decisions. Frimark, age 62, an alderman for 2 years, has been the president of many civic organizations, which he says demonstrates leadership, and he retorts that he insures only one Park Ridge restaurant - and that he would recuse himself on any liquor license issues. "He's running to generate more (insurance) business," Tinaglia said. "I'm running to serve the community."

Even though Frimark ran for alderman as an independent in 2003, Tinaglia rips his opponent as a "relic of the failed and discredited Homeowners Party." That party, founded in 1973, dominated city government for 30 years, under mayors Marty Butler (1973 to 1991) and Ron Wietecha (1991 to 2003). Frimark dismisses that charge as "utter hypocrisy."

"He was elected as an alderman on the Homeowners Party ticket in 1997 and 2001, and now he's trying to claim that I'm a member of his old party," Frimark said. "That's nonsense."

After Homeowners Party candidates were beaten in five of six contested aldermanic races in 2003, and after the new council voted to end the city's fiscal contribution to the Suburban O'Hare Commission, which fights O'Hare Airport expansion, Wietecha abruptly resigned and was replaced by Alderman Mike MaRous, who became acting mayor and who is not seeking a full term.

And, in perhaps the most stinging of the mudslings, Frimark charged that Tinaglia is a Democrat, and Tinaglia responded that Frimark is a Republican.

Thus, Frimark is using the "Fear Factor" against Tinaglia, who is the advocate of change.

But that, dear readers, does not constitute all the gems of verbal vitriol unleashed thus far in the campaign. The most devastating verbiage emanates not from the mouths of the candidates, but rather from the February, 2000, decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals in the case of "Cleveland Hair Clinic v. Puig." The appeal upheld a federal judge's ruling that Tinaglia had "engaged in sanctionable conduct" and fined him $185,143.53 for his "failure to be truthful and candid." The opinion stated that Tinaglia's "elastic definition" of whom he was representing "tests the limits of brazenness" and that Tinaglia's "duty to protect client confidentiality does not come before the duty to be honest with the court."

And now, the "Hate Factor" arises. Will Tinaglia's legal problem cause voters to vote for Frimark in order to vote against him?

Park Ridge has not had a truly contested mayoral race since 1973, and the genteel citizenry are not accustomed to vile and vicious campaigns. Will Tinaglia's legal "problem," which arose in 1996, be the kind of character issue that could implode his candidacy? Jack Ryan's divorce records, detailing sex club visits, sank his U.S. Senate bid in 2004. Or, perhaps like Bill Clinton and his dalliance with his intern, voters could deem the legal problem not to be relevant to Tinaglia's ability to govern Park Ridge and be forgiving.

Negativity in any campaign, especially in a place like Park Ridge, foments a reaction against the originator of that negativity. Frimark had no comment on the story, which broke in a local newspaper on March 10.

Park Ridge had a 2000 population of 37,775, of which 95.3 percent of residents were white, 2.9 percent Hispanic and 0.2 percent black. Because of a minimal industrial base, Park Ridge is renowned for high residential property taxes - and also for outstanding schools, low crime, high property values and good city services.

Extending from Higgins to Church, between Canfield and I-294, the city has seven wards, each of which has two aldermen, one of whom is elected every 2 years and who are paid $100 a month. The mayor is paid $12,000 annually, but the city has a $46 million annual budget and is run by an appointed city manager and a professional bureaucracy. Hence, the mayor cannot build a political patronage machine, and the aldermen have neither a staff, nor office, nor city phone number. They meet once per month.

On O'Hare, the candidates do not differ. Both voted against additional SOC funding. "We want less noise, clean air and modernization (at O'Hare), not necessarily Peotone," Frimark said. Both candidates support redevelopment of the Uptown area around Busse and Touhy, with Tinaglia saying that it is his "first priority." Frimark noted that the voters rejected a new $20 million library in a 2002 referendum but says that now "Tinaglia and his City Council allies want to spend $12 million to buy and convert the Pickwick Theater into a cultural center," which he opposes. Tinaglia denies the claim. Neither candidate raises any objection to teardowns of homes and the construction of new $1 million-plus residences.

Tinaglia's base is in his home 1st Ward, around the Park Ridge County Club, north of Touhy. Frimark's base in the 3rd Ward, which includes the gated Boardwalk and Park Lane townhouse communities off Talcott north of Touhy and his central Park Ridge home 4th Ward. Frimark expects to lose the 7th Ward (which runs from Albion to Higgins, east of Cumberland), an area with a large ethnic population, by at least 60-40 percent but to carry the 4th Ward 80-20 and the 3rd Ward 60-40. He expects to lose Tinaglia's 1st Ward by 60-40 but carry the 6th Ward (west of Cumberland near Mary Seat of Wisdom) by 60-40, the 2nd Ward (around Lutheran General Hospital) by 55-45, and the 5th Ward (downtown Park Ridge) by 60-40. Frimark projects a turnout of 8,400 and a victory by 1,000 votes.

"He's dreaming," said Tinaglia, dismissing those projections. He noted that there are 24,000 registered voters in Park Ridge and that a 25 percent turnout would mean 6,000 votes. "The higher the turnout, the greater will be my margin," he said. "The people want change."

My prediction: The candidates are evenly matched. They have roughly equal name identification and funding and comparable vote bases. But Tinaglia has the greater baggage: the Puig lawsuit. And voter revulsion could be enough to tip the race to Frimark.

In the lawsuit, Tinaglia represented a group of physicians who worked for a hair transplant facility in Rosemont but then quit to establish their own practice. CHC, an Ohio corporation and the owner of the facility, sued the doctors for breach of contract. Tinaglia, representing Puig and the other doctors, then went into federal court on a motion to get an order to secure all the patients' medical records. That was denied. Tinaglia then prepared a state court lawsuit, in the name of another lawyer, with another doctor as plaintiff and with CHC's Rosemont office manager as defendant, and filed it, hoping to get access to the medical records in state court. On the date of filing, Tinaglia participated in a status conference with a federal judge and denied any knowledge of any state court action.

"It was a disclosure issue," Tinaglia said. "I did not have an obligation to tell. The judge came to a different conclusion, which was wrong. Given the same facts and circumstances, I would do it again. I was zealously representing my client."

The bottom line: Was Tinaglia foolishly zealous? Or purposefully deceitful?

Park Ridge voters will render their decision on April 5. Expect Frimark to win.