April 3, 2013


To analyze political campaigns and elections, one needs to utilize three of the body's tactile sensations: seeing, hearing and smelling. Fortunately, there's no touching.

In the April 9 suburban elections, at least in the northwest area, the nose has it. Stinky and odiferous contests abound. Civility is absent. Mendacity is the rule. In contests where an incumbent is running, it's a referendum. The "Brillo Test" applies, and the non-incumbent must show proof of the incumbent's misdeeds, misfeasance and/or misgovernance.  In contests among non-incumbents, it's pile on the mud. Whoever is least bad wins. Here's the outlook:

Norridge: Halloween has dawned early -- there are ghouls, ghosts and goblins. In the village president's race, incumbent Ron Oppedisano is retiring. The contenders are an unfearsome threesome: Jim Chmura, Norridge's chief financial officer who runs the village in Oppedisano's medical absence and who is the long-dominant Norridge Improvement Party's candidate; deputy Illinois secretary of state Tom Benigno, who earns $156,676 annually, boasts a lot of outside support, especially from the 13th and 36th wards, and promises to serve for free, eschewing the job's $60,000-a year salary; and Riccardo Mora, who styles himself as the "only fiscal conservative" in the race and who rips Norridge's "pay to play" mentality.

The "ghost" is the late Earl Field, who served as mayor from 1998 to 2009. "You can't drive a nail without a code inspector showing up," one village insider said, referring to Field's policies. The inspectors are the "ghouls." He said that they're everywhere intrusive, almost draconian, and hungry to assess fees. "People resent it, and want a change," he added.  Chmura concurs. "We should only use them (code inspectors) for material changes, such as roof, electric or furnace," he said. "I will correct it."

The "goblins" are the armada of outsiders trooping into Norridge from the Secretary of State's Office, Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan's 13th Ward (where one of Madigan's minions is Benigno's campaign manager), and former state senator Jim DeLeo's erstwhile 36th Ward workers. "There are eight to 10 people (for Benigno) standing outside the Village Hall every day and handing out palm cards" for early voting, Chmura said. "They're not from Norridge." Chmura characterizes Benigno's campaign as akin to a hostile takeover.

   Mora said that a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that, of the 1,800 nominating petition signatures filed by Benigno, 23 circulators live outside Norridge and 13 work for the Secretary of State's Office. Benigno admits that he will spend $100,000, his insipid theme is "Moving Norridge Forward," and his 10 mailings trumpet that he has an "improvement agenda." Needless to say, Benigno's rhetoric has not put voters into rapture.

As for Mora, it's a pox on both houses. He says that village pensions are underfunded in the amount of $18.2 million, that debt is $3.2 million, that Chmura got a 50 percent pay hike to $63,000 in his current post, that Chmura, a retired treasury agent, is already collecting his pension, and that Chmura's party has taken $1 million in contributions since 1998, allegedly from local businesses. As for Benigno, Mora notes an April, 2000, Sun-Times quote that he and Jesse White "talk 20 times a day . . . I am in charge of the daily operation of the office." If Benigno remains on the state payroll until 2018, giving him 30 years, he can retire with a $125,000-a-year pension.

"When will (Benigno) have time to be the Norridge president?" asks a Mora flier. Benigno said that he would work evenings and weekends and that he would "find the time" to serve Norridge, extending Village Hall hours. He said that prior village presidents ran businesses and fit Norridge around their schedules. Chmura promises to be a "full-time" president.

Voters often are confronted with unpalatable choices and choose the least bad option. Norridge has had only three presidents since 1951, all from the Norridge Improvement Party and all backed by Norwood Park Township Democratic Committeeman Richard Martwick. This time, Martwick and his son, state representative Rob Martwick (D-19), a former Norridge trustee, are publicly neutral, but they are surreptitiously backing Benigno.

Prediction: Mora is the "outsider outsider," and he is just not credible. Benigno is the "insider outsider," and voters are understandably leery of anybody who wants to serve for free. They wonder: What's in this for him (and his pals)? Chmura is the "insider insider," and he promises more of the same old, same old. "There's nothing wrong with Norridge," insists Chmura, who is the least bad choice.

Norridge has 7,400 registered voters, of whom 1,513 voted for the unopposed Oppedisano in 2009 and 1,947 voted for the unopposed Field in 2005. Turmoil boosts turnout, and it will be close to 4,000, maybe even 4,500, on April 9 -- a 55 percent turnout. "We're getting early voters of 100 a day," Chmura said, equal to 2012, when 40 percent of voters cast early ballots. Are voters more angry with the "ins" or more fearful of the "outs"? Something's up. A survey of Norridge contacts indicates a near-universal consensus that Benigno, with his money, mailings, precinct manpower and signs, will win. He's got 10 workers in each of the 10 precincts, and the 4,900 households are getting two mailers per week, but my hunch is that he's meeting serious resistance. In a turnout of 4,100, it will be 1,900, 1,800 and 400, respectively, for Chmura, Benigno and Mora.

Franklin Park: In this west suburban village of 19,434, with 9,924 registered voters, sticky fingers, sweaty palms and political trade-offs are the norm. Incumbent Barrett Pedersen, the Leyden Township Democratic committeeman, scored a huge upset in 2009, ousting Republican Dan Pritchett, who served from 1996 to 2009. Pedersen got just 38.8 percent of the vote, with 1,482 votes, to 1,322 (34.6 percent) for Pritchett, and 1,020 (26.7 percent) for Bill Ruhl. In 2011 Ruhl was elected trustee as the Tea Party candidate.

Pedersen has a one-sided "nonaggression" pact with Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens, the township's Republican committeeman. Pedersen's Democrats don't contest Stephens' Republicans for township office or in Rosemont, Elmwood Park, Schiller Park and River Grove, and the Republicans let Pedersen be Franklin Park's $90,000-a-year mayor. Pedersen is facing Juan Acevedo, who is backed by the remnants of Pritchett's organization, and Christopher Litwin; both are grossly underfunded, making it the "Battle of the Lightweights." If Pedersen faced just one foe, he could lose; against two, splitting the sizable anti-Pedersen vote, he can't lose. The village is 38 percent Hispanic, but most of those residents aren't citizens.

The issue is Pedersen's stewardship, particularly concerning his evasion of property tax caps through what the Chicago Tribune called a "backdoor tax hike." A new police station was built, part of the $40 million in bonded debt incurred over the past decade for infrastructure. Sales and utility taxes were to be used to retire the debt, but, beginning in 2010, Pedersen told the county assessor to collect more property taxes to pay the loan even though the first payment was due in 2012. The taxpayers' cost, according to the Tribune, was "about 30 percent more . . . than what tax caps should allow."

Prediction: Neither Acevedo nor Litwin are credible alternatives. Pedersen will win with barely 50 percent of the vote.

Elmwood Park: In a village with a population of 24,883 and 12,790 registered voters, few feel sorry for a well connected Republican state representative who ran afoul of Madigan, had $700,000 in "Madigan Money" dumped into his remapped district, and, after losing last December, paid himself $205,458 from his campaign account. Under a law passed in 1998, which benefited Jim Edgar, Ralph Capparelli and other state office holders, campaign money then held was grandfathered in, and it could be legally diverted in the future as taxable income. Skip Saviano, who was elected in 1992, had more than $200,000 in 1998.

Before the 2012 election, Saviano had a choice: spend all he raised, which was $1,021,318 from Jan. 1 to Oct. 31, and maybe win, or stick a bundle of that into his wallet. He chose the latter. Saviano spent $815,860, but he lost to Democrat Kathleen Willis by 13,449-12,127, a margin of 1,322 votes.

However, all's well that end's well. A golden parachute opened, Elmwood Park Village President Pete Silvestri, who was first elected in 1989, retired, and Saviano is gliding effortlessly into Silvestri's job. Prediction: There is voter fatigue with Silvestri, and independent "reformer" Joe Ponzio is waging an it's-time-for-a-change campaign, but the Saviano-for-Silvestri switcheroo burst his bubble. In a turnout of 2,500, least poor Saviano gets 60 percent of the vote.

Schiller Park: Republican Anna Montana, a Stephens ally who was elected in 2001, was re-elected in 2009 with 58.9 percent of the vote over Barb Piltaver, the owner of a community newspaper. Piltaver is the "goody-goody" candidate. She fired her campaign manager after he told her that she would lose unless she raised money and went negative on Montana.

In a village of 11,850, with 4,753 registered voters, "Energizer Barbie" is going nowhere, giving voters no coherent reason to oust Montana. She lost 1,380-962 in 2009, and she will lose 1,500-750 on April 9.