April 16, 2008


It's not quite time for the 2009 suburban municipal elections, but "time" is a critical factor in their outcome.

In Niles, the timely question is whether 47-year Democratic Mayor Nick Blase will be doing time. Niles' political future will be determined by Sept. 8 or soon after. Blase was indicted in October of 2006 on multiple federal counts relative to $420,000 in alleged bribes from insurance agents and subsequent mail fraud and tax fraud. He has adamantly refused to plea bargain, and his trial will begin on Sept. 8. A conviction will cost him the mayoralty and his law license.

Blase, age 80, is a much beloved figure in Niles, especially among seniors and longtime residents. He has a deserved reputation for providing services. If found not guilty, he will easily win an astounding 13th term in 2009, which if completed would mean 52 years as mayor. That would eclipse the longevity record of 51 years set by the late Rosemont Mayor Don Stephens, who died in 2007, having first been elected in 1956 when Rosemont was created.

If Blase is found guilty, a new mayor would be chosen by the six village trustees, all Democrats and allies. They would select a trustee to serve as interim mayor until 2009. The contenders would be Andy Przybylo and Joe LoVerde.

Przybylo is the better known, having served as a trustee since 1989 and as the co-owner and manager of the White Eagle Banquets and Restaurant on Milwaukee Avenue. LoVerde ran against the Blase slate in 2005, lost, joined the team, and was elected trustee in 2007.

In an open 2009 election, Democrats Przybylo, LoVerde and Niles village attorney Joe Annunzio certainly would run, as might former Maine Township supervisor Bob Dudycz, a Republican. Blase never ran as a Democrat, always using an innocuous party moniker such as the Present Leaders for Financial Security Party in 2005. If candidates seek to be on the ballot as a Democrat or Republican, there must be a party caucus or a primary. Or everybody could run on their own party slate.

If he is serving as the appointed mayor, insider Przybylo would be favored, but if Blase suffers through a messy trial that highlights endemic corruption in Niles, then an outsider like LoVerde or Dudycz could pull an upset.

In Park Ridge, Republican Mayor Howard Frimark is holding back the hands of time, cementing Republican control of city government despite the fact that the northwest suburbs are inexorably trending Democratic. Frimark controls the City Council with a 6-1 majority. Democrats have no presence in city politics, and they have evaporated as a factor in city government.

Back in 2003 a Democratic-backed slate of "independents" won five of six contested aldermanic elections, with Frimark the only victor for the Homeowners Party, which was the Republican-backed slate. There were 14 aldermen then, and the "Independent Five" soon became, with two defections, the "Independent Seven." City government was gridlocked, and Republican Mayor Ron Wietecha quit in disgust. Republican Alderman Mike MaRous then cut a deal with the Democrats and was elected interim mayor.

The 2005 election was supposed to have been a Democratic coronation; instead it was a catastrophe. Frimark, a longtime local insurance broker, ran for mayor as an independent and trounced Democrat-backed Alderman Mike Tinaglia by 4,889-3,224, with 60.2 percent of the vote. The Democrats retained their council majority, and they foolishly voted to strip Frimark of his appointive powers. "It was a turning point," Frimark said. "People were enraged and outraged. Some tied purple ribbons on their trees." But the bottom line, Frimark said, was that city residents wanted competent government, not bickering politicians.

Frimark's supporters got a referendum on the November 2006 ballot to reduce the size of the City Council from 14 to seven. It carried 3,669-3,211, with a 53.3 percent majority. In 2007 10 of the 14 aldermen retired, including six anti-Frimark Democrats. Of the seven aldermen elected in 2007, six are pro-Frimark and the seventh is an independent not aligned with the Democrats.

"My primary focus is on downtown redevelopment," Frimark said. Under construction is a multi-story commercial-residential building on Northwest Highway at Prospect Avenue, with 114 condominium units. At Busse Highway and Touhy Avenue, 28 townhomes were built. "There are no factions anymore" in the council, said Frimark, who characterized himself as a "consensus builder." The mayor is a prohibitive favorite to win a second term in 2009.

In Harwood Heights, there's no consensus, just perpetual infighting and political warfare. The inept and increasingly unpopular Democratic Mayor Peggy Fuller is living on borrowed time. Fuller beat Republican incumbent Norb Pabich in 2005 by just 28 votes, getting 895 votes (45.4 percent of the total) in a turnout of 1,969. Pabich finished second with 857 votes, and Joe Scott had 217 votes. Given her propensity for making enemies, due to her my-way-or-get-out-of-the-way attitude, Fuller's political fortunes have dramatically deteriorated. Fuller's Democrats had a 5-1 majority among the village trustees after 2005, which dwindled to a 3-3 standoff in 2007, with Fuller, as mayor, providing the tie-breaking vote.

Fuller will face popular -- and noncontroversial -- Republican Trustee Arlene Jezierny in 2009. In 2005 Jezierny ran first in a nine-candidate field for trustee, getting 927 votes; Fuller-backed Les Szlendak (790 votes) and Demetrios Mougolias (795 votes) also won. In 2007 anti-Fuller trustee candidates Mike Gadzinski, the Republican township committeeman (712 votes), and Therese Schuepfer (827 votes) won, and pro-Fuller Democratic incumbent Mark Dobrzycki (833 votes) was re-elected.

Rumors persist that Pabich's son, Norb Jr., will run in 2009. Republicans are trying to channel him into the trustee contest, where Jezierny is retiring. Democrats Szlendak and Mougolias also are up for re-election. A 2009 Republican sweep would result in a 5-1 majority.

There are only 10 precincts in the village, so an army of door-to-door workers can have an effect. And that army is assembling. Jezierny has long been allied with the Republican political organization headed by Alderman Brian Doherty, state Representative Mike McAuliffe and county Commissioner Pete Silvestri, who, in turn, have a nonaggression pact with the Democratic "36th Ward Machine," headed by Alderman and Committeeman Bill Banks and state Senator Jim DeLeo. Like Genghis Khan and the Mongol hordes, they will invade Harwood Heights in 2009.

In 2006 Fuller backed Dobrzycki's bid for state representative against McAuliffe, which he lost with 39.6 percent of the vote. She also considered a primary challenge to DeLeo in 2006, and she may run against Silvestri in 2010. In short, a lot of powerful politicians want to take her out in 2009.

There is no runoff provision, so if a candidate does not receive a majority, a plurality prevails. If the anti-Fuller vote is split, Fuller wins. Otherwise Jezierny triumphs. If Fuller retires, Dobrzycki would run, and the resultant race against Jezierny would be a toss-up.

In Leyden Township, Democratic Committeeman Barrett Pedersen is working double time. Containing the blue collar villages of Rosemont, Schiller Park, Franklin Park, Elmwood Park, River Grove and Northlake, the township is less upscale, and more conservative and Republican, than Maine Township (Park Ridge, Des Plaines, Mount Prospect) to the northwest. There are Republican mayors in Rosemont, Elmwood Park, Schiller Park and Franklin Park, and Republicans control township government.

At the behest of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, the ambitious Pedersen has committed a monumental blunder: He agreed fill a vacancy as the Democratic candidate for state representative against the popular, well connected incumbent Republican, Skip Saviano. Saviano, of Elmwood Park, is the chairman of the Illinois House Republican Campaign Committee, a prolific fund-raiser and a crony of House Republican leader Tom Cross, and he has $536,391 in his campaign account.

But, more importantly, Saviano was an aide back in the 1980s to DeLeo, then a state representative. Saviano is part of the machine headed by his ally, Elmwood Park Republican Mayor Pete Silvestri, the area's county commissioner.

By sticking his nose where it shouldn't be, Madigan is fomenting enormous hostility. He thinks that Cross and Saviano are too palsy with Governor Rod Blagojevich, his archenemy. If Pedersen stays in the race, there will be consequences: DeLeo has been a consistent supporter of Blagojevich, and he actually has gotten state patronage. The members of the "Banks/DeLeo Machine" will do their utmost to re-elect Saviano in 2008, and in retaliation they will do their utmost in 2010 to defeat Lisa Madigan, the state attorney general and the speaker's daughter, if she runs for governor.

As for Pedersen, who finished eighth in a field of nine as a slated candidate in the 2006 Democratic primary for Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, and who is exploring a 2010 bid for county commissioner against Republican incumbent Tony Peraica, a loss to Saviano would be a career ender. Don't be surprised if he quits the race.