A Couple Of Basic Ways To Screen Local Candidates


Nominating petition challenges are a good thing.

They serve as a basic, first-level screening to identify those candidates who are at least competent, committed and conscientious enough to gather sufficient petition signatures so that no reasonable challenge can be posed.

And to identify those who are not.

So when someone like Patrick DeStefano files only the bare minimum 67 petition signatures to get on the 6th Ward aldermanic ballot, and then gets bounced because 17 of them are disqualified by the Cook County Clerk’s office, voters can legitimately wonder whether his candidacy was anything more than a lark, or the product of some late-night gripe session ending with a “Screw this, I’m running for alderman!”

The same can be said for incumbent Maine Twp. High School Dist. 207 Board member Jin Lee, who reportedly filed only 55 signatures – a mere 5 more than the required minimum – and then had to gather several affidavits to prove to the election board that enough live registered voters actually signed his petitions. Instead of owning his ineptitude, however, Lee whined – according to a recent article in the Park Ridge Journal (“Maine High School Candidates Names Will Be Placed On April 4 Ballot,” Jan. 15) – that he “wish[ed] there was more of a way for first-timers to know how to handle objections.”

Here’s a thought: Try getting 25 or 50 signatures more than the bare minimum, so you don’t have to “handle objections.”

That should also be the lesson for Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 candidate Monica Wojnicki, who reportedly has been knocked off that ballot by filing 52 signatures, only 2 above the required minimum, of which 32 were successfully challenged. And a lesson for Park Ridge Park District Board candidates Jennifer Barcal and Carol Becker, whose ballot challenges are still being sorted out.

But getting on the ballot is the bare minimum level of competence, commitment and conscientiousnous. At least one more level of screening is necessary to determining whether a candidate might be worthy of the office.


For example, you can immediately write off any candidate who claims to be running to “give something back to the community.” That’s the default answer for all those empty-suit candidates trying to avoid admitting that they “got nothin’ ” in the way of ideas or agendas. And it’s those kinds of empty suits who end up becoming puppets or stooges for some special interest – assuming they aren’t already some special interest’s puppets or stooges trying to fly below the radar with their “give back” mantra.

If you want to know one reason why the D-64 School Board consistently ends up with so many puppets and/or stooges for the Park Ridge Education Association (the “PREA,” a/k/a the teachers union) and the PREA-beholden administrators, check out the sixth page of the recruiting handout for prospective D-64 Board candidates who attended Supt. Laurie Heinz’s dog-and-pony show last October 12, and you’ll see “give back” as one of the four reasons for Board service.

And if you can stomach wading through the rest of that propaganda piece (on which we detect the fingerprints of D-64 propaganda minister Bernadette Tramm as well as Heinz’s), we dare you to find the words “taxes” or “taxpayers.” That’s because Heinz and her current D-64 Board puppets/stooges don’t want nobody the taxpayers sent – or anybody that’s going to hold all those very well-paid PREA members and those overpaid administrators like Heinz and Tramm accountable for the boatloads of tax dollars being spent on what seems to be, by all objective measures, relatively modest educational quality.

Barely one notch above the empty-suited give-backers are the “teasers.” They’re the candidates who try to win over those clueless and/or stupid voters by teasing and tantalizing them with vague or veiled suggestions about what they might do about some situation or other…if only they were to be elected.

For example, this past Tuesday night mayoral challenger Lucas Fuksa posted news about the closing of the Jos. A. Banks store in Uptown and then (a) suggested there are “real reasons” for that retailer’s closing, which he teasingly chose not to identify; and (b) claimed Park Ridge needs to be made “business friendly” (How?), zoned “appropriately” (How?) and with improvement to “our parking situation” (Like what?).

But since that might not be quite enough teasing for some voters, Fuksa added – in a comment to a comment to his post – that we need “infrastructure improvements [Paid for how?], less restrictions [On what and why?], zoning changes [What kind?], branding [For the City’s cattle?], and long term future planning” [Gee, now that’s original!]. For a candidate who is already viewed as mostly a pawn of certain developers, that’s a whole lot of foam but very little beer.

Our favorite, however, is his teaser claim that he “spoke to Jos. A. banks [sic] so I know what some of those issues are” – presumably related to its closing – but he apparently is keeping those secrets to himself for now.

Doesn’t that just make you tingle with suspense?

It sounds to us like Fuksa is channeling 2013 mayoral challenger Larry Ryles’ business development strategy which – as we wrote about in our 03.19.13 post – consisted in large part of hugs and handshakes. But at least Ryles actually named some of the businesses he wanted to bring to Park Ridge: Urban Outfitters, Forever 21, Ann Tayor, Clarks and GameStop.

As best as we can tell, Fuksa was MIA four years ago during that last mayoral race, so we can understand how he may have missed such a failed campaign strategy and now considers it his original.

Besides, it’s so teasing and tantalizing.

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Hinkley’s High-Priced Out-House


Make no mistake about it: The Park Ridge Park District needs to repair or replace the bathroom building at Hinkley Park.

But at a project cost of $746,000 – $563,000 for an unheated/un-air conditioned, five-stall, 16’ x 30’ out-house, and another $183,000 for an adjacent picnic shelter and rainwater harvesting system?

Why will such a project cost as much or more than most Park Ridge homes? Blame something called the Prevailing Wage Act, another boondoggle perpetuated by the Democrats in Springfield that requires our local governmental bodies to pay what amounts to the highest cost for construction labor – as much as one-third (in the case of the Hinkley bathroom, that’s around $188,000) more than the price private citizens and businesses might pay for the same labor.

But that’s not the whole story.

To compound the problem, the Park District gave a no-bid contract to FGM Architects to design and manage this project. And FGM’s fee will be based, in part, on a percentage of the total cost of the project.

Can you say: “An incentive to maximize costs”? We knew you could.

FGM has a history of feeding – if not gorging – at the public trough. Unfortunately, Park Ridge has become one of its favorite feedlots, with Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 giving FGM virtual carte blanche over its “secured vestibules” project, which is (a) an ill-conceived/unnecessary/stupid and wasteful palliative for those parents who insist on bubble-wrapping their kids at the taxpayers’ expense; and (b) what passes for an “achievement” by Supt. Laurie Heinz and those D-64 administrators and school board members who don’t seem capable of doing their “Job 1”: significantly improving the quality of education and academic performance of the District.

As best as we can tell, that “secured vestibules” project also was no-bid, presumably because D-64 gave FGM a Willy Wonka-style golden ticket over a year ago when it made FGM its “architect of record” – which also gives it the inside track on another $20 million or so of construction projects the District already has queued up. Rumor has it that the Park District gave a similar golden ticket to FGM, thereby making it legal for the District to seek and accept a single, no-bid proposal for the Hinkley project and any other construction projects that come down the pike.

By that measure, that piddly $746,000 for the Park District’s glorified out-house – including FGM’s cut – is chump change. But that doesn’t mean that Park Board members Rick Biagi, Jim O’Brien and Mel Thillens weren’t right in challenging the wisdom of that kind of expenditure at the Board’s meeting on December 15, 2016.

Not surprisingly, Biagi led the charge in demanding that the Board seek input from other architects and construction managers in order to determine whether FGM is on or off the mark with its proposal. The result of Biagi’s diatribe – which you can watch on the meeting video, starting at the 42:20 mark – is that the Board will now hold a hearing on January 26 so that the public can voice its concerns or support for the project, and about the perverted process that birthed this boondoggle.

Biagi, O’Brien and Thillens also were the ones, along with Commissioner Dick Brandt, to vote “no” on adopting the Democrat-dominated Illinois Dept. of Labor’s tricked-up-and-inflated “prevailing wage” schedule at the June 16, 2016 Board meeting. Unfortunately, the District’s panicked general counsel almost immediately was able to scare O’Brien and Brandt into a do-over vote and a flip-flop, with dire warnings of fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, rivers and seas boiling, forty years of darkness, earthquakes, volcanoes, the dead rising from the grave, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together.

And law suits, even though Biagi and Thillens offered to secure pro bono counsel to defend any such suits.

So the District likely will spend that $750,000 or so for that glorified out-house and attendant amenities. And FGM will pick another shrimp or two off the public barbie thanks to the inflated labor costs due to the prevailing wage.

Because that’s the way “Fleece the Taxpayers” is played in our deep blue State of Illinois, Michael J. Madigan proprietor.

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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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