March 4, 2009


In Harwood Heights, Trustee Mark Dobrzycki is hoping voters have a complete memory lapse. Forgetfulness is blessedness. A Democrat, Dobrzycki is running for mayor, promising a "new beginning" and "an end to politics as usual."

Unfortunately for Dobrzycki, incumbent Democratic Mayor Peggy Fuller's term is coming a very "bad ending." Dobrzycki has been her loyal ally and supporter since 2003, which tars him as part of "politics as usual." Both were participants in the "Gang of Four" that toppled Republican Mayor Norb Pabich in 2005. Fuller beat Pabich by 28 votes.

Trustee Arlene Jezierny, the Republican opposing Dobrzycki, rips Fuller as "inept, arrogant, dictatorial" and "a complete failure." Dobrzycki would be "Peggy Fuller, Part Two," she said. Adds Jezierny, a trustee since 1999, if Dobrzycki wins, "The village will go from bad to worse."

Fuller, after one tempestuous term, is retiring -- with good reason: If she ran for re-election, she would lose. Fuller entered office in 2005 with a 5-1 majority among the trustees. Since then two pro-Fuller trustees have been defeated and two more have defected. There is now a 5-1 anti-Fuller majority, with Dobrzycki the only dissident.

Clearly, Fuller's political trajectory has been downward since day one. Politics is predicated on simple addition. A competent office holder uses the powers of incumbency to accumulate support. It takes special stupidity to alienate it. So the question on April 7 is, will Harwood Heights' voters hold Dobrzycki accountable for Fuller's incompetence or will they believe, despite that association, that Dobrzycki can be an "agent of change"?

To craft an analogy, Dobrzycki is the 2009 equivalent of John McCain, tied to the unpopular presidency of George Bush. McCain tried to establish his own identity, but widespread revulsion toward Bush made his task impossible. Given similar anti-Fuller revulsion, Dobrzycki's task looms somewhere between difficult and hopeless.

"(Fuller) has worked hard and has done a lot of good things," Dobrzycki said, adding, however, "I've had differences" with her. He better make "I am not Peggy" the clarion call of his campaign.

"That's not true," rejoins Trustee Jimmy Mougolias, a onetime Fuller supporter who has defected to Jezierny. " (Dobrzycki) is a puppet for Fuller. He never opposed her."

If Dobrzycki wins, "it will be more of the same," Mougolias said. "She didn't work with the trustees, didn't share information, didn't follow ordinances, didn't communicate with anybody, and increased spending."

The village budget is $14 million. When Pabich left office it was $11 million.

Harwood Heights' population in 2000 was 8,297, up from 7,680 in 1990. As in River Grove, there has been a huge influx of Polish Americans, now comprising a third of the village, many of whom are not citizens and so can't vote. The real estate market's paralysis has halted further ethnic growth. The number of registered voters is 4,488, and the turnout in 2005 was 1,969.

Dobrzycki ran for state representative in 2006, losing to Republican incumbent Mike McAuliffe by 18,206-11,930, getting 39.6 percent of the vote. Should he be elected as Harwood Heights mayor, he would be a definite future threat to McAuliffe, and his incumbency would boost Fuller, who may run for state senator in 2010 against Democratic incumbent Jim DeLeo. Since there's a non-aggression pact between the 41st Ward's Republican McAuliffe-Brian Doherty crowd and the 36th Ward's Democratic Bill Banks-DeLeo bunch, a Dobrzycki win is unacceptable to them. A victory by Jezierny will squelch any future candidacy for Fuller or Dobrzycki.

As in many campaigns, the opposition's goal is to move 5 to 10 percent of the vote and the incumbent's is to hold on to what they got. Fuller beat Pabich by 895-857, with 217 votes for former trustee Joe Scott. The Fuller base in 2005 was 45.5 percent, and the anti-Fuller vote was 54.5 percent.

In 2007 the anti-Fuller Republican trustee slate won two of three at-large spots, with Mike Gadzinski, the Republican township committeeman, getting 712 votes and Therese Schuepfer 827; incumbent Dobrzycki led the field with 833. In 2005 incumbent Jezierny finished first with 927 votes, with Mougolias and Les Szlendak, both then pro-Fuller, getting 795 and 790 votes, respectively. Both are now seeking re-election on Jezierny's ticket. In 2003 the Fuller slate swept the trustee spots, with Fuller, Dobrzycki and George Alex beating Pabich's slate with 931, 875 and 819 votes, respectively. In 2001, in a 12-candidate race, Jezierny finished second with 585 votes.

So who's more popular: Jezierny or Dobrzycki? There are only nine precincts in Harwood Heights, barely a sixth of the number in the adjacent 41st Ward (57 precincts) and 36th (55 precincts) Ward. The winner of the election needs 110 votes per precinct. Pabich got an average of 95 votes per precinct in 2005, Jezierny 103 in 2005, and Dobrzycki an average of 95 in 2003 and 2007.

Jezierny expects to benefit from several issues:

*The Lawrence Avenue streetscaping project, extending four blocks west of Harlem, has been a "money pit" and is stalled, she said. Intended to make the area a "downtown," the project has cost $5.5 million, with $2 million in overspending, she said. The village received $1 million in grants and issued a $2.5 million bond.

*Condominium development of the old village hall on Lawrence has flopped. "Residents opposed it," Jezierny said, and now the village is suing the developer for aborting it.

*Flooding is severe in the Oriole-Winnemac area. "We wanted to redevelop the baseball diamond at Union Ridge (high school) and put in a retention pond. (Fuller) opposed it," Jezierny said.

*Attorney fees. Two law firms are reaping $26,000 a month in retainer fees, or $312,000 a year, which is more than 2 percent of the village budget. "It seems like whatever she does, we get sued," Jezierny said. "That must change. Our job is to control spending, not subsidize lawyers."

*Finally, a 2006 village bond issue of $3 million was backed by property taxes, with an annual abatement. "Home owners got $30 back," Jezierny said. "They should have gotten over $100." Jezierny noted that Carson's Ribs, Petco, Value City, Magnum's and ITW have all closed their facilities in the village in the last 4 years.

Dobrzycki, in rebuttal, said that he has worked to "create a new sense of identity" in the village and pledged that he will initiate "open government," with all expenditures available online. "You can't make everybody happy," he said.

 Dobrzycki adds that in 2001 Chicago increased the sewer fee charged the village from $5,500 to $155,000 annually and that the Pabich Administration didn't pay it. That cost the village $1 million, which now is being paid in installments, he said. The village charges $10 per thousand of the price for home sales, and the downturn in the real estate market cost about $250,000 in expected revenue. And, Dobrzycki adds, Jezierny and Szlendak sued Fuller for allegedly calling them corrupt, but the case was dismissed. "They added to the taxpayers' tab," he said.

Dobrzycki emphasized that he opposed the old village hall condominium development, noted that Jezierny voted for the streetscaping funding, and said that she was part of the "failed" Pabich regime. "I'm the new beginning, not her," he said.

"I have multiple workers in every precinct," Jezierny said, adding that he declined help from McAuliffe and Banks. Dobrzycki said he has the support of Norwood Park Township Democratic Committeeman Robert Martwick and that he "will get out his vote." Both candidates are of Polish ancestry, neutralizing the ethnic angle.

Victory in the trustee contests is critical to assembling a governing majority and mandate. Jezierny's slate includes incumbents Szlendak, a securities analyst, and Mougolias, a local businessman, along with newcomer Larry Steiner, a food industry salesman. Tim Pabich, the former mayor's son, was rebuffed when he sought a trustee's spot on Jezierny's ticket, and he is running as an independent.

Dobrzycki's slate includes Mike Ryan, a local businessman, Monika Wozniczka, a law student, and Wayne Rzewnicki, an engineer.

For the clerk's post, which has been vacant since the death of Dianne Larson, deputy clerk Marcia Pollowy is running on the Jezierny slate and Debbie Iaffaldano is running on the Dobryzcki slate.

A historical postscript: Ray Willas, a nominal Democrat, was Harwood Heights' mayor from 1973 to 2001. Government then was calm and nearly invisible, but governing was lucrative. Willas' part-time job paid him $70,000 annually as mayor, liquor commissioner and budget officer. Since Willas' departure, chaos has reigned, with divisive contests in 2001 and 2005 and divisive government.

My prediction: Dobrzycki is popular and charismatic, like McCain, but the "Fuller drag" is lethal. Fuller isn't Bush, but Dobrzycki isn't Obama. In a turnout of 1,800, Jezierny will win by 990-810, with 55 percent of the vote; so will Pollowy, Szlendak and Mougolias. But Pabich will drain enough votes from Steiner to allow a Wozniczka upset. That will give Jezierny a 4-2 majority, but Dobrzycki will still be a trustee, and he and his ally Wozniczka may embark on an obstructionist course.

Don't expect Harwood Heights to return to Willas-like sleepiness anytime soon.