March 31, 2021


Persistence is an admirable characteristic. But being obsessively persistent can be borderline insane - you know, pathologically doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

Illinois Deputy Secretary of State Tom Benigno is running for Village of Norridge president seat for the third time. That's the epitome of persistence. He lost 1,722-1,206 in 2013 and 1,747-1,155 in 2017 to James Chmura and his Norridge Improvement Party (NIP). His 2013 vote total declined by 51 in 2017, even though Marty Quinn and Mike Madigan's 13th Ward minions flooded Norridge's 9 precincts. Madigan's ward has 48 precincts, and is in lockdown. And they couldn't lockdown 9 precincts?

The reason is that Norridge's 14,800 residents spread over 2 square miles don't like outsiders meddling in their village, where services are excellent and property taxes are low.

"Most of our (village) revenue comes from retail sales taxes (like Harlem-Irving Plaza), not property taxes," said incumbent president Dan Tannhauser, who replaced Chmura in July 2019.
Why would Benigno give up his $188,000-a year state job? He's really not. Jesse White, Benigno's boss, is age 86, and has announced his retirement at the end of his current term, which is Dec. 2022. That means Benigno will be history. But Benigno has been working for him since 1999, so he is eligible for a Tier-One state pension, which is 85 percent of his salary on retirement, which computes to $159,800-a year for life, or $13,300-a month, with a 3 percent annual increase. And who said that "public service" isn't "rewarding"?

"I will serve full-time (as village president) if elected," said Benigno, age 64, "and retire" from his state job. When I interviewed him in 2017 he said he could multi-task and do both jobs.

But given the fact that Norridge's president earns $50,000-a year, Benigno will have to make do on $209,800 a year. Can you say golden parachute?

"It's different this time," insists Benigno, who is running as an independent. How so? First, Benigno has a different opponent in Tannhauser. Second, Benigno has more money. As of March 1 Benigno had raised $147,623 according to disclosures, with various contributors disclosed on A1 forms.

Tannhauser expects to raise and spend $60,000 for the NIP slate. "He (Benigno) is paying (his workers) $100 per day," said Tannhauser. Third, Benigno has had 15 mailings with more to come, clogging the mailboxes of 5,727 households. NIP has had 3 mailings. Democrat Benigno's theme is that Tannhauser is generally viewed as a Republican because he has endorsed state Representative Brad Stephens in 2020 but is really a liberal that wants to "defund the police" and that Norridge's economy is on the rocks. Both claims are complete fabrications. And fourth, Benigno claims he has an active, indigenous volunteer operation.

Convolution is defined as a situation that is extremely involved, complicated and/or intricate. That currently describes Norwood Park Township (NPT), encompassing 1.8 square miles including Harwood Heights, Norridge, a sliver of Park Ridge and some areas south of Higgins. It runs from Harlem to East River Road, between Higgins and Irving Park. There are 17 precincts - 8 in Norridge, 5 in Harwood Heights, one in Park Ridge and 3 in the unincorporated areas.

Here's a synopsis: The NWSGOP, a northwest area grassroots Republican organization, is running Norridge cop Anthony Beckman for township supervisor on the Law-and-Order Party ticket against 20-year Democratic incumbent Tom Lupo, who is the "NPT Improvement Party" candidate. The part-time job pays $32,000-a year. As an aside, the township office is open 15 hours per week and there are two 2-hour evening meetings per month. Two part-time staffers make a combined $118,000 for a combined 312 hours per year, or about $189-per hour. Presuming Lupo "works" 19 hours per month, he's making $44-per hour. The four township trustees get $1,000-per month, or about $250-per hour. The Road Commissioner, who maintains 2.1 miles of tarmac outside the municipalities, gets $22,000, as does the assessor. The township's budget is $550-600,000, of which half is for salaries. "It's obscene," said Beckman, "a cesspool of insiders rewarding themselves and their friends at taxpayers' expense." He said that there is an existing $300,000 "surplus" which he will rebate to taxpayers if he wins.

State Senator Rob Martwick (D-10) disagrees.

"The township has not raised its tax rate, not increased salaries, and has no pensions," he said. Doing nothing is doing something.

Beckman was the 2020 Republican candidate for state senator against incumbent Rob Martwick (D), whose dad was NPT Democratic committeeman from 1962 to 2018. Beckman lost 53,351-45,814, but won NPT 5,349-4,384, carrying 11 of 17 precincts. The expectation is that Beckman will rematch Martwick in 2022. "It depends on the remap," Beckman said.

The NWSGOP and Beckman are supporting Benigno, and Benigno has endorsed Beckman. Tannhauser has endorsed Lupo and one of the 3 NIP trustee candidates in Frank Avino, the anointed choice for Democratic committeeman in 2018.

In 2017 the elder Martwick backed Benigno. The younger Martwick said he is "staying out" of the 2021 races, since he has moved out of Norridge and resides in Portage Park in the 38th Ward, where he is now Democratic committeeperson.

My feeling is that Martwick wants Lupo and Tannhauser to win. "Bring it on," chuckled Martwick of Beckman. If Beckman beats Lupo the senator's chuckling may change.

Benigno's charge that Tannhauser and the NIP "defunded" the police is based on the fact that Norridge had 30 "auxiliary" officers, which includes school crossing guards and traffic controllers in front of the Harlem Irving Plaza and funeral homes.

"The schools were closed, businesses were closed, so we furloughed 17 of them, saving $130,000," said Tannhauser. The Norridge budget is $7.8 million, and no employee gets an IMRF pension unless they work for a decade. Tannhauser scoffs at Benigno's charge about economic development.

"COVID shut a lot (of retail) businesses down. But we are reopening," said Tannhauser. Tannhauser added that Benigno is getting money from pay-to-play entities, like car dealerships outside Norridge like Al Piemonte and others. A check of his disclosures a good chunk of money coming in from January through March.

In the Feb. 23 NIP primary, Dan Donnelly got 616 votes for trustee, a job which pays $16,000 and requires attendance at one meeting per month. The NIP slate was incumbent Andy Ronstadt, Frank Avino, and clerk Debbie Budnik, who got 736, 744 and 816 votes, respectively. There are 17,959 registered voters in Norridge. Donnelly ran against Avino in 2018, and is aligned with NWSGOP, which fielded a village slate that got knocked off the ballot because its nominating petitions, requiring 500-plus-signatures, were not "properly binded."

"They were bound with a paper clasp, not a paper clip, which conveniently disappeared," said Adam Chudziak, who is now running as a write-in candidate. The Norridge electoral board, chaired by Tannhauser, ruled he and his NWSGOP slate off the ballot. "I didn't have the money to appeal it" to the Circuit Court, said Chudzik.

Benigno was a longtime precinct captain in George Dunne's 42nd Ward, where Jesse White was the area's state representative and was elected recorder in 1992. White launched a long shot bid for secretary of state in 1997, in mid-term. The presumptive frontrunner, a Downstate female state senator, died of cancer, so it was White versus Tim McCarthy, Orland Park's police chief who took a bullet in 1981 as a secret service agent in President Reagan's attempted assassination. McCarthy's campaign fizzled and White beat him by 100,195 votes. In the election White faced Al Salvi (R), who lost to Dick Durbin in 1996 amid "extremist" charges, and won 1,874,626-1,437,420, a margin of 437,206-votes. White was re-elected 5 times.

The township has a large ethnic population of Polish- and Italian-Americans, and English is the second-language in many of the households.

Outlook: The rap against Benigno, who moved to Norridge in 1995, is that he is not "engaged" in community events. But he has established a zone of voter comfort. In a turnout of 3,100, Benigno will likely beat Tannhauser by 300 votes, and Lupo will eke out a 100-vote win over Beckman.

Maine Township (Park Ridge, Des Plaines and part of Elk Grove): Republicans have forever dominated township government, and that is about to end. Char Foss-Eggeman is the Republican committeeman, and she is fiercely conservative and pro-Trump. The Republicans' December caucus dumped incumbent supervisor Laura Morask and replaced her with Earl Wilson. The caucus was held in the parking lot of the shuttered VFW Hall at Canfield-Higgins. State Senator Laura Murphy, the township Democratic committeeman filed a challenge claiming that the caucus was held outside the township, as the VFW property is actually in NPT, and an electoral board chaired sustained the objection.

The case was appealed to Circuit Court and reversed. Wilson faces Karen Dimond (D) in a township Trump lost 37,884-27,310 in November. Outlook: Edge to Dimond.