April 1, 2009


From a military perspective, the way to win a battle is to attack the weaker flanks, not the fortified front.

In the April 7 Park Ridge mayoral election, Republican Alderman Dave Schmidt is assaulting Republican Mayor Howard Frimark from the flanks -- appealing to fiscal conservatives by alleging that Frimark is a glutton for spending and appealing to anti-Frimark, anti-development, Democratic liberals by just being the alternative. Frimark's reelection is now very much in doubt.

In northwest suburban Maine Township, encompassing 128 precincts, including 37 in Park Ridge, 46 in Des Plaines, 26 in Niles, 10 in Glenview, seven in Morton Grove and one in Rosemont, the Republicans have controlled township government for 140 years. That's as long as the township has existed. Democrats are mounting a formidable frontal challenge.

In late-breaking mayoral developments, Mark Dobrzycki is collapsing in Harwood Heights, outsider Chris Hanusiak is surging in Niles, and the "Jan/Bob Machine" is worried in Evanston.

Here's an analysis:

Maine Township: "As they say, if it ain't broke, don't fix it," said township Supervisor Carol Teschky. Teschky succeeded Republican Bob Dudycz, who resigned in 2007 in order to maximize his pension. Teschky, a trustee for 18 years, touts her record: The 2008 township tax levy declined from 7.6 percent to 6.5 percent, spending has "only increased" from $3.27 million in 2005 to $3.44 million in 2008, less than the assessor's tax cap, "a tight budget" and a "nonflamboyant style that gets the job done." The job pays $38,000 annually.

"She's a cipher," said Trustee Peter Ryan, a Democrat who was elected in 2005 and who is opposing Teschky. "She shows no leadership. She has no accomplishments. She has an 'entitlement' mentality. One hundred and forty years of Republican rule is enough."

Ryan ripped the Republicans' "pay to play" policies. The township's budget -- town fund, general assistance, and highway and bridge -- is more than $5 million, and since 2005 "more than $50,000 has been contributed by township vendors to the Republicans," Ryan said. "They're feeding at the trough. That will end." Ryan pledged eliminate no-bid contracts under $20,000, making all subject to board approval.

"That's state law," retorted Teschky of the $20,000 threshold. "We did nothing wrong. (Contractors) can support and contribute to who they want."

The weak link on the Republican ticket is road commissioner Bob Provenzano, whose $1.9 million budget maintains 19 miles of roadway and pays seven employees. "He's 'Mr. Pay to Play,'" said Jim Wozny, Provenzano's Democratic foe. "That's an outrageous $100,000 per year per mile. The cement and asphalt contractors all contribute to him. I promise to take no contributions from my employees or contractors."  Wozny lost to Provenzano in 2005 by 9,465-7,195, getting 43.2 percent of the vote.

Provenzano sought to be Republican township committeeman in 2006, losing by 319 votes to incumbent Mark Thompson. He will try again in 2010. Thompson is running for Des Plaines mayor, and his people will back Wozny to preemptively eliminate Provenzano.

Unlike the aggressively conservative Dudycz, Teschky is not a polarizing figure. But she is well known, and she chides Ryan for his "hypocrisy." "As trustee he voted with the (Republican) majority on almost every measure, and now he says he wants 'change,'" she said. "If there was misrule in the last four years, he was part of it." A Ryan victory, Teschky adds, "would bring corrupt Democratic politics to the suburbs."

My prediction: In 2001 Dudycz beat Democrat Mike Yesner by 9,432-6,991, getting 57.4 percent of the vote in a turnout of 16,423. In 2005 Dudycz beat Democrat Karen Dimond by 9,751-6,982, getting 58.2 percent of the vote in a turnout of 16,733. Teschky led the eight-candidate trustee field with 8,928 votes, and Ryan finished fourth with 7,641 votes, 167 votes ahead of the fifth-place Republican. The township is moving Democratic: Al Gore won in 2000 by 1,533 votes, John Kerry won in 2004 by 3,820 votes, and Barack Obama won in 2008 by 10,300 votes in a turnout of 53,671.

Turnout in this election will be over 17,000, spurred by mayoral races in Des Plaines and Park Ridge, but still just a third of the presidential turnout. Although Teschky and Thompson have endorsed each other, Republicans are still divided and more concerned about beating each other than the Democrats. Ryan and Wozny will win in a squeaker.

Park Ridge:  The mayoral race is a referendum on Frimark, who arguably has been an adequate, tolerable, visible or competent mayor. In 2005 Frimark beat Democrat Mike Tinaglia by 4,889-3,224, getting 60.2 percent of the vote in an 8,113 turnout. This time it could hit 9,000, due to two advisory ballot referendums to build a new police station that would either cost more than $16 million or less than $16 million, to be paid by a bond issue.

"Howard's a windsock, but he shrewdly realizes that whatever position he takes (on the police station) will cost him votes," said one admiring Park Ridge observer. Schmidt is emphatically against a new station. "Crime is not high, and we don't need it," he said. Frimark, in a masterstroke of equivocation, said he will "give great weight to the outcome" of the nonbinding referendum "before making any decision."

"(Frimark) has not alienated many people," concedes Tinaglia. But the question is: Has he motivated enough people? He needs at least 4,500 votes to win.

Schmidt, a professed "Reagan Republican," is blasting Frimark for "bungling" the casino license award to Des Plaines by "not demanding a share of the revenue," not getting caps and curfews on O'Hare landings to minimize noise, and the "failure" of the Uptown development project. He's hitting Frimark from both the left (noise, environment) and right (fiscal, spending) flanks. To win, Schmidt needs 90 percent of Tinaglia's vote of 3,224; that's the anti-Frimark base. He must use noise and "casino congestion" to motivate 500-plus angry residents along the Kennedy corridor and Cumberland-Higgins area, and he must use fiscal issues to peel off at least 1,000 conservative Republicans who backed Frimark in 2005. That would generate 4,400 votes.

Frimark says that the O'Hare runway was approved in 1998, before his election, that he has noise monitors and has secured caps and curfews, that the casino's revenue will pay for police and infrastructure expenses, that the city's tax levy has not increased while he was mayor, and that the Uptown project has been "economically successful." The budget is now $51 million. "He's fabricating issues," Frimark said of Schmidt. He also said that his support has increased and that he will get 5,000 votes.

My prediction: In a turnout of 8,500, both police station referendums will lose, but Frimark will win by 4,300-4,200.

Evanston: For generations, this city was a bulwark of anti-machine hostility directed at Chicago Democrats. From the Civil War until 1993, it had a succession of Republican mayors. Also, through 1990, the black population grew, and Lorraine Morton was elected in 1993 as the first black and Democratic mayor. Many saw Evanston with a black majority by 2010. It didn't happen.

Morton is retiring, and four candidates are seeking her $20,000-a-year job: Liz Tisdahl, Barnaby Dinges, Jeanne Lindwall and Stu Opdycke. All are white Democrats. Evanston's black population has declined by 22 percent since 1990, and the white population is rising. The local "Jan/Bob Machine," run by U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky and husband, Bob Creamer, is backing Tisdahl. So here's a safe prediction: There will never again be a black or Republican mayor, and there will be a "machine" mayor.

Tisdahl is a wealthy philanthropist, an alderman and an ally of Schakowsky. She is endorsed by Morton and the city's three black aldermen. Her theme: experience and connections. Dinges, a public relations entrepreneur, is the "change" candidate, ripping Tisdahl as part of the ineffectual "establishment." Lindwall is anti-development, knocking Tisdahl as the "status quo" candidate. Opdycke is a pro-development attorney with ties to the business community.

My prediction: The "Jan/Bob Machine," gearing up to run Schakowsky for U.S. senator in 2010, cannot afford to lose its power base. Dinges' support is growing, but Tisdahl remains the perfectly safe, liberal, politically correct choice. She'll win with 42 percent of the vote, to 28 percent for Dinges, 24 percent for Lindwall and 6 percent for Opdycke.

Harwood Heights: The revelation that Democratic mayoral candidate Mark Dobrzycki took a senior citizen property tax exemption for four years on his real estate tax bill, even though he's not yet age 50, is a death knell for his candidacy. "I tried to get it removed," said Dobrzycki, who has been a trustee since 2003. "It carried over from the prior owner." Voters may doubt his veracity or his tenacity.

Mayor Peggy Fuller, a Dobrzycki ally, is retiring. In 2005 Fuller won by 28 votes. The "tax cheat" charge will assure Republican Arlene Jezierny of a 200-vote win over Dobrzycki.

Niles: The nasty contest between Acting Mayor Bob Callero and Trustee Kim Sychowski Biederman has given an opening to Hanusiak, a Polish American who runs a kitchen remodeling business in a village with a 30 percent Polish population. In a turnout of 6,000, it's possible Hanusiak, with his ethnic base, could pull an upset.