Hello, 2017 – A Critical Local Election Year (Updated)


As we sail into 2017 with some people predicting Armageddon and others hoping for Greatness, we’ll assume – as history has tended to prove – that both will be equally wrong.

Meanwhile, back here is sleepy ol’ Park Ridge (or “Pleasantville” if you prefer) 2017 is shaping up to be an interesting year, primarily because of local elections that are already producing enough sparks to suggest that some real fireworks aren’t far behind.

The main event is the mayoral race, where Acting Mayor and 7th Ward Ald. Marty Maloney is seeking to retain the seat his fellow alderman voted him upon the death of Mayor Dave Schmidt in March 2015. His challenger is political rookie Lucas Fuksa, grabbing for the brass ring on his very first carousel ride.

Although only three aldermanic seats were scheduled for races in 2017, a fourth became so with the death of 3d Ward Ald. Bob Wilkening in August 2015, just four months into his first term of office. Of those four races, only 2d Ward Ald. Nick Milissis lacks an opponent. Milissis has indicated, however, that he will be an active participant on the campaign trail, something to which we look forward.

Amazingly enough, the 3d Ward – Park Ridge’s political land that time forgot which, in 2011, elected the first aldermanic write-in candidate in decades when no other ballot-worthy candidate stepped forward – has FOUR candidates trying to finish the last two years of Wilkening’s term: current Ald. Rick Van Roeyen, who lost to Wilkening in 2015 but was appointed by the Council to fill his seat; Wilkening’s widow, Gail, who served two terms (1997-2005) on the Park Ridge Park District Board; Vicki Lee, who spent the past four years on the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board; and Pasquale Laudando, rumored to be running as part of an unofficial Fuksa “ticket.”

Incumbent 4th Ward Ald. Roger Shubert faces Jack Barnette, seeking to return to the Council after a 30-year absence.

And in the 6th Ward, Incumbent Ald. Marc Mazzuca is being challenged – at least for the time being – by Patrick DeStefano, another rumored member of the Fuksa “ticket.” Mazzuca is challenging 22 of DeStefano’s bare-minimum 67 nominating petition signatures, however, so the disqualification of just one signature will sack DeStefano’s candidacy.

The signatures need to be verified by the Cook County Clerk’s office as belonging to duly qualified, registered and legal voters of the 6th ward, with the results of that verification scheduled to be heard by the City’s electoral board – comprised of Acting Mayor Maloney, City Clerk Betty Henneman and 4th Ward Ald. Roger Shubert – on January 9.

Meanwhile, the race for the four available Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 board seats has received the most attention to date, if only because three of the eight candidates – Gregory Bublitz, Norman Dziedzic and Michael Schaab – are married to D-64 teachers and, therefore, have potential conflicts of interest on a number of issues that could greatly limit the votes they can lawfully and/or ethically cast if elected. Other candidates include current two-term Park Ridge Park District Board member Rick Biagi; Biagi’s fellow Park Ridge Holiday Lights Committee member Alfred Sanchez; 2013 mayoral candidate Larry Ryles; Willowbrook H.S. teacher Eastman Tiu; and Monica Wojnicki.

This race has long-term importance because the successful candidates this year will be members of the Board when the next teachers contract is up for negotiation in 2020 – a fact apparently not lost on the Park Ridge Education Association, a/k/a the teachers union, who reportedly are backing (quietly, of course) the three teacher spouses and at least one other candidate (we’re betting on Tiu, or maybe Ryles) in the hope of locking-down the necessary four-seat majority of accommodating ankle-grabbers for those 2020 negotiations.

At Maine Township School District 207, incumbents Carla Owen and Jin Lee are vying with former Park Ridge Planning & Zoning Board member Aurora Austriaco, current P&Z member Linda Coyle, and recent state representative candidate Dan Gott, for the four available board seats.

And at the Park Ridge Park District, there’s a virtual jail break with incumbents Joan Bende and Jim Philips being challenged by Jennifer Barcal, Carol E. Becker, Harmony Harrington, Jim Janak, H. Robert Leach, Laurie (Pegler) Mallin and 2012 state senate candidate Jim O’Donnell for the four available seats on that seven-member board.

Meanwhile, another task confronting the City Council within the next several weeks is filling the seat of 5th Ward Ald. Dan Knight until the 2019 election. Acting Mayor Maloney has indicated that he will follow the recent practice for filling aldermanic vacancies by forming a committee of 5th Ward residents to interview prospective appointees and then recommend Knight’s successor to Maloney and the Council.

While there’s a lot more going on in local government, expect these races to (as the pundits on “Morning Joe” are fond of saying) “suck up all the oxygen in the room” for the next three months. And if that ends up being the case, it’s up to all of us taxpaying voters to pay attention and make darn sure the winners truly EARN their seats.

So here’s hoping for three months of spirited, issue-oriented campaigning.

UPDATE (01.09.17):  This morning the City of Park Ridge Electoral Board – Acting Mayor Marty Maloney, City Clerk Betty Henneman and 4th Ward Ald. Roger Shubert – ruled in favor of the challenge by 6th Ward Ald. Marc Mazzuca to candidate petition signatures of challenger Patrick DeStefano, who filed the bare minimum 67 signatures.

Mazzuca challenged a number of the petition signatures as being inconsistent with those on file with the County Clerk’s office, or of people not registered at the addresses placed on the petitions.

With this successful challenge, it appears that the only alternative for DeStefano is a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Cook County. But because DeStefano would have to pitch a perfect game in any court case in order to stay on the ballot, it’s hard to imagine him or his backer(s) spending the money on that kind of windmill tilt.

The lesson, campers, is: If you want to run for something higher than homeroom rep to the student council, get a whole lot more nominating petition signatures than the bare minimum.

Because if you don’t, your petitions likely will be challenged and you will be thrown off the ballot.

And you’ll also end up looking like someone who wasn’t really a serious candidate. Or a mope.

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