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Trustee Brannigan says ‘I am sorry’

  • Written by By Anthony Caciopo

 

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Photo by Anthony Caciopo

Sharon Brannigan of the Palos Township Board of Trustees listens to public testimony at the board’s Sept. 11 meeting.

 

“I am not anti-Arab. I am not anti-Muslim. I am not anti-immigrant. I apologize to anyone who felt offense at my words”

Embattled Palos Township Trustee Sharon Brannigan has broken a long public silence regarding controversy that has embroiled her for months regarding social media postings she made that many consider offensive to Muslims and other people of Middle Eastern heritage.

“I want to issue a clarification of my statement to Arabs, Muslims and people from the Middle East of our community who took offense to comments I posted on my Facebook Page,” she said this week in a statement.

“Although my comments were not intended as being anti-Arab or anti-Muslim, I acknowledge that some residents felt they were and for that I am sorry. After deep reflection, I can honestly say that my words were poorly crafted and my feelings were inadequately expressed. Racism and discrimination is not my intent and is not in my heart,” Brannigan’s statement continued.

“I apologize to anyone who felt offense from my words. I failed to properly express myself.”

Response to Brannigan’s statement was swift from the ad-hoc coalition leading the call, and exerting the pressure, for her resignation or removal from the township board.

“Palos Township Arabs and Muslims remain firm in (their) demand for Brannigan’s resignation,” said Bassem Kawar, advocacy specialist for The Campaign To TAKE ON HATE as part of his own organization’s statement.

The community coalition insists that her apology is “too little, too late.”

“We asked for this apology months ago when it became clear that Brannigan had written racist social media posts attacking the township’s Arabs and Muslims, as well as its Middle East [sic] students,” said Kawar. “She refused back then to apologize, and is only doing this now to try to salvage her political career.  We won’t accept it.”

Brannigan’s postings that have sparked the controversy include now-deleted messages in which she questioned the intentions of Middle Easterners entering the U.S., questioned the documentation status of children entering local schools, and compared First Lady Melania Trump with Muslim women who wear headscarves.

“WE AMERICAN WOMEN ARE REPRESENTED WITH DIGNITY,” she posted in upper-case letters, referring to a visit in May by the Trumps to the Middle East.

Beginning July 10, more than 100 protestors packed Palos Township headquarters, as they would for two more monthly meetings. They also held rallies in the parking lot at 10802 S. Roberts Road. Palos Hills.

The seating capacity of the meeting room is 42 and the crowd on July 10 could not be accommodated, resulting in many of those present being forced to wait in a vestibule or outside the building. The overflow situation prompted concern of fire code violation and possible violation of the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

At that meeting, Brannigan read from a prepared statement which included a partial quote of the First Amendment, her insistence that the comments she made fell under her First Amendment rights, and “My published words on this platform (Facebook) regarding the taxes are for the sole purpose of bringing awareness to the property taxpayers occurring within our township.”

The August meeting, on the 14th of the month, was held at the same location and a similar-sized crowd arrived. Moments before the scheduled start of the meeting, it was cancelled by Township Supervisor Colleen Schumann, citing the lack of accommodation.

This month’s meeting was held on the 11th, also at the same location. At that meeting, a public-address loudspeaker was installed to enable people outside the room to hear the proceedings.

Talk has occasionally surfaced about the potential viability of a mea culpa from Brannigan.

“She needs to immediately start working toward some sort of apology,” said Oliver Kolb, who attended the July 10 meeting.

“It’s what’s right. I do believe she should probably step down, but regardless, an apology is always a first step,” he said.

In this week’s response to Brannigan from The Campaign To TAKE ON HATE, organizers said “Even though Brannigan’s apology letter states that she believes the ‘issues have been distorted’, the coalition remains firm in continuing to call for her resignation as trustee.

 “She also states that she is ‘willing to meet with any Arabs or Muslims in Palos Township’ but she had every opportunity to extend her hand after the statements were discovered, and never did,” said Kawar in the statement.

“In fact, she did the opposite, insisting that she had every right to say whatever she wants. This apology now is insincere and clearly an example of political expediency, and the coalition rejects it.” 

The ad-hoc coalition leading the effort to force Brannigan to resign includes the aforementioned Campaign To TAKE ON HATE, National Network for Arab American Communities, Arab American Action Network, Arab American Family Services, Arab American Democratic Club, AMVOTE PAC, Kiswani Law, P.C., Law Offices of Reem Odeh and individual community residents and activists, according to the coalition’s organizers.

The protestors say they will be present at the next township meeting Oct. 6.

Many are sour on ‘sweet tax'

  • Written by By Joan Hadac

 

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Photo by Mary Hadac

Two-liter bottles of soda sit on shelves at Pete’s Fresh Market, 10280 S. Harlem, Bridgeview.

 

By Joan Hadac

A proposed repeal of the Cook County Sweetened Beverage Tax has been postponed until next month, but not before a few prominent southwest suburban political and business leaders weighed in on the controversial matter at a public showdown last week.

The proposed repeal was referred to the Board’s Finance Committee at a downtown meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners on Sept. 13. The move was made by its sponsor, Commissioner Sean Morrison (R-17th), who saw that the votes to repeal were not there.

The 17th District includes all or parts of Palos Hills, Hickory Hills, Worth and other communities.

“Ultimately, nobody wanted an ‘up and down’ vote today more than myself, with the exception of nearly 90 percent of the constituents who oppose this regressive tax,” Morrison said at the meeting. “I recognize that there is no political will here today to take up a ‘repeal’ vote; and out of respect for the process and to ensure that this board does vote on this repeal ordinance, which will be on Oct. 11, I’m going to refer this matter to the Finance Committee for full adjudication.”

The penny-an-ounce Sweetened Beverage Tax was approved late last year after a divided County Board vote in which President Toni Preckwinkle cast the deciding vote. The tax went into effect last month.

Implementation of the new tax has caused confusion and outrage among a number of retailers. It also has angered a number of Cook County residents, many of whom are traveling to stores in other counties to buy groceries. Locally, retailers in the Will County communities of Mokena, Lockport and Homer Glen have anecdotally reported sharp spikes in sales of regular and diet soda, sports drinks, lemonade and other sweetened beverages.

Morrison has called the new tax “an absolute disaster” that has had “a devastating impact” on Cook County businesses and consumers.

            Mayor wants repeal

His opinion was echoed by Worth Village President Mary Werner, who said that residents of her town “are being hurt by this tax every day.”

She noted that Worth “has no industry, no manufacturing and no big-box stores. We rely on a Fairplay grocer, a Family Dollar, a CVS and Walgreens for sales tax revenue that provides essential services like the police and fire protection.

“I have in my possession 23 pages of angry comments and copies of dozens of receipts from my residents who are now shopping outside the Village of Worth,” Werner added. “It would be bad enough if people were leaving Worth just to buy their [sweetened] beverages. But they are so mad, and they are so angry, and they are so fed up with the taxes in Cook County, they are doing all of their [grocery] shopping [outside Cook County]; and while they’re there, they’re buying their gas, as well.”

She added that a Fairplay employee told her that soda sales are already down 80 percent since the tax was implemented.

“I am a mother, I am a grandmother, I am a wife. I don’t believe that it is the government’s business to tell me…if I have my grandchildren come over for a sleepover, I shouldn’t buy Hawaiian Punch.”

Business leaders see ‘disdain’

Stephanie Dremonas, a member of the family that owns and operates 12 Pete’s Fresh Markets — including stores in Evergreen Park and Bridgeview — said there is “a huge amount of distrust and disdain for this tax.”

She said Pete’s Fresh 11 stores in Cook County have seen a 15 percent decline in sales. Their DuPage County store has seen an increase in sales, presumably from an influx of new customers from Cook County.

“The next five stores we open will not be in Cook County,” Dremonas added. “From Gatorade to [products with] zero percent sugar…we’re getting dinged everywhere…we’re not working on jewelry store margins, we’re working on 2-3 percent [profit] at the end of the day.”

Jim Garrett, president and CEO of the Chicago Southland Convention & Visitors Bureau said, “Not a single mayor I’ve spoken with” supports the new tax.

The Bureau represents convention and tourism interests for 62 suburban towns, 60 of which are in Cook County.

Garrett added that he recently met with a group of restaurant owners and “not a single one” supports the new tax. “Please repeal this. It’s not good for business, it’s not good for visitors.”

Speaking against a possible repeal of the tax last at last week’s County Board meeting were an assortment of health and human services professionals who talked about the severe costs — human and financial — of widespread childhood obesity caused in part of overconsumption of sweetened beverages.

They were joined by a handful of evangelical Protestant preachers who made emotional appeals about the welfare of children in the county, particularly in African American communities. Others speaking against a repeal were representatives of several public-sector unions who argued that elimination of the tax would lead to layoffs of government workers.

Cook County Board commissioners who are supporting the tax are John P. Daley (D-11th) and Edward M. Moody (D-6th). The 11th District includes parts of Oak Lawn, Evergreen Park and other communities. Moody’s district includes parts of Chicago Ridge, Oak Lawn, Worth and other communities.

Many business reps at Burke's meeting are critical of tax

  • Written by Joe Boyle

 

 

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Photo by Joe Boyle

State Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th) listens to a question about the beverage tax during a “Meet and Greet” session at the Green Hills Library in Palos Hills.

 

An overflow crowd attended the “Meet and Greet” local legislators meeting on Sept 13 at the Green Hills Library in Palos Hills with one issue on their minds – the Cook County beverage tax.

State Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th) is usually accompanied at these gatherings by state Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th), who was unable to attend. Burke told the packed house in the library conference room that she will talk about a variety of issues and would field any questions they have.

And those questions focused on the beverage tax. Officials and representatives from various beverage industries were in attendance and sounded off about the ambiguity of the tax and how it is hurting local convenience and grocery stores.

“From what I have seen, the store owners are getting more and more information that their businesses and other businesses are being hurt by the beverage tax,” Burke told the audience. “This is true especially if you live in an area like Homewood, which is near the Indiana border.  I have heard that a store owner said residents are not shopping at his store and are going to Indiana to not only get soda but groceries, too.”

Burke and state Rep. Frances Hurley (D-35th) are two local legislators who are co-sponsoring a House bill that would repeal the Cook County beverage tax.

“This tax is not only affecting local shoppers who are not buying beverages, but they are also buying food elsewhere,” added Burke, whose district includes Evergreen Park and portions of Oak Lawn, Palos Hills and Worth.

Some of the beverage industry representatives who attended the Green Hills Library meeting that evening were speaking out on the issue earlier that day at a Cook County Board of Commissioners hearing. The beverage industry representatives said they oppose Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s call for the penny per ounce tax on sodas and other sugared drinks. Preckwinkle provided the tie-breaking vote to end an 8-8 deadlock by the Cook County Commissioners last November. The tax went into effect last month.

Worth Mayor Mary Werner also spoke out against the tax during the Cook County Board hearing, stating that the tax has resulted in a major financial loss for stores along 111th Street. Other local mayors oppose the tax to varying degrees. Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton says time will tell what will happen with the tax.

“People are concerned, of course,” Sexton said. “I have heard from people about it and I can tell you, they are not happy. Hopefully, they (Cook County Board) can figure this out. Hopefully, they can take care of their business and I will take care of Evergreen Park.”

The county’s tax raises the average cost of a 2-liter soda by 67 percent. The average cost of a bottle of fruit juice or ice tea has risen by 43 percent. Preckwinkle has said that by raising the price on soda, certain coffees and teas, juices, flavored waters and sports drinks at one cent per ounce will help cut down on childhood obesity, diabetes and other diseases that can effect children. Critics of the tax said it was passed solely because the county needs more revenue.

One representative from Dr. Pepper and 7-Up said that they have “1,050 employees and we have not laid anyone off yet, but we are getting close. It’s a money grab, and it’s on our backs.”

Proponents of the tax point to a similar law in Philadelphia they claim is successful. But the beverage representatives at the Burke meeting said that is not correct. They state the city has gone through a rough period due to the penny and half once tax.

“When they passed this thing, I don’t know what they were thinking,” one resident said during the meeting.

Burke said that ultimately the Cook County Board will have to deal with this issue. Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison (R-17th) is leading the opposition to the tax. Local Cook County Board Commissioners John Daley (D-11th) and Edward Moody (D-6th) voted for the tax. The next Cook County Board of Commissioners hearing is Wednesday, Oct. 11.

Burke did mention that the Preckwinkle and the Cook County Board have introduced programs and upgraded county property to the benefit of residents.

“The county has done some good things and provided some great services,” Burke said. “Just look at Swallow Cliffs and what they have done there. There are hundreds of people there every day.”

But Burke added that the Cook County Board may have to make some difficult choices in the future regarding the tax.

“They will have to figure this out,” Burke said. “It’s not having the effect they anticipated.”

 

 

Sully Shuffle’s return is ‘just perfect’

  • Written by Joe Boyle

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Photo by Joe Boyle

The runners take off from the starting line during the eighth annual Sully Shuffle 5K Run and 3K Walk in Oak Lawn Sunday morning.

 

The Sully Shuffle 5K Run and 3K Walk picked up where it left after a year’s absence. Clear skies and sunny weather provided a perfect backdrop to take part in or watch the annual event.

“It is a great day, just perfect,” said Skip “Sully” Sullivan before the race and walk began.

Sullivan is a lifelong resident of Oak Lawn and a graduate of Oak Lawn Community High School, where he starred in several sports. He later returned to his alma mater to teach and coach. He served as the varsity baseball coach for many years at the school and most recently was an assistant varsity girls basketball coach there. He has also served as an assistant football and golf coach at Oak Lawn.

Sullivan has been battling Parkinson’s disease for the past 13 years. The race and run is held in his name with funds raised from the event going to the American Parkinson Disease Association Midwest Chapter.

Friends, relatives and colleagues say that Sullivan’s optimism is the reason why they come to support the cause each year.

“I feel very good,” said Sullivan, who greets runners and walkers as they cross the finish line. “I keep busy. I play basketball twice a week.”

The annual run and walk is a neighborhood event. The race and run begins and finishes near 94th and Austin Avenue alongside Oak Lawn Community High School. The runners and walkers follow different paths but can be seen along neighborhood streets in Oak Lawn.

Janet Haubenreiser Meyers, president of the Sully Shuffle Foundation, has been the chief organizer of the event, which is now in its eighth year. The Sully Shuffle was not held last year due to a personal tragedy in Meyers’ life. Her sister died last year, leaving behind 8-year-old twins that Meyers and her husband have taken guardianship of. She also has a 1-year-old and 4-year-old. Her responsibilities now included making a home for her sister’s kids, and she could not commit to organizing the Sully Shuffle.

Participants and alumni wanted to see the Sully Shuffle come back. Dana Annel, Sullivan’s daughter, wanted the local race to return and took over the leadership. She is an Oak Lawn Community High School graduate and currently a teacher at Kolb Elementary School in Oak Lawn.

Doreen Piro, an Oak Lawn Community High School physical education teacher, is in charge of the volunteers. Meyers said that she has been in charge of the volunteers at all eight Sully Shuffles. Students from her PE leaders class volunteer to help on the day of the event. Photography students volunteer to take photos, students from the choir sing the national anthem, and members of the boys cross country team help with the timing clock, Meyers said.

“I think Dana did a great job taking over this year,” Myers said. “Our numbers were down a little from previous years, which is still impressive considering we took a year off. We hope to increase those numbers next year. Oak Lawn Community High School, the Village of Oak Lawn, and the Oak Lawn police and fire (departments) are very supportive of this event. We are lucky to live in a community that supports its community members and alumni.”

The winner of this year’s Sully Shuffle was Thomas Zero, an Oak Lawn Community High School graduate. He finished in 20:20, a 6:33 pace. Maureen Bartosik, a 1991 Oak Lawn High School graduate, finished first among the female runners with a time of 23:43 for a 7:38 pace.

The winners were honored with medals, but all participants received honors after the race. A post-party is always held at the Homestead Barr in Oak Lawn. While the number of runners may have been down, Meyers said they had more sponsors than at any time in the past. She said it will take about a week to figure out the final totals. She added that the Sully Shuffle has raised a total of $163,000 for Parkinson’s disease research.

While organizing the event is often a daunting task, Meyers, who has previously served as the head varsity girls basketball coach and is now the technology coach at Oak Lawn High, said the reason for all the hard work is because of Sullivan.

“We can all learn from his eternal optimism and the strength he has showed battling Parkinson’s,” Meyers said. “I think the event is also a reflection on his life. As a teacher and a coach, he had a positive impact on so many people. Those people come back to help plan the event and participate in the event.

“It’s wonderful to see how excited some runners are when they earn a medal and stand on the platform with Sully.”

Shepard JROTC students receive lessions on 9/11 attacks 16 years ago

  • Written by Joe Boyle

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Photo by Joe Boyle

Members of the Shepard High School JROTC program salute in unison at the beginning of the 9-11 ceremony held Monday at the Palos Heights school.

Chris Saberniak, master staff sergeant for the USAF JROTC program at Shepard High, remembers all too well the chain of events that gripped this nation on Sept. 11, 2001.

“I was stationed in Florida and we were told to stay indoors,” Saberniak recalls. “We saw the footage of the attacks but we didn’t know what was happening. It was frightening.”

Saberniak said those memories will last a lifetime and that it why it is essentially important to instruct the Shepard JROTC and the rest of the student body that everyone needs to remember what took place on 9-11.

The second annual 9-11 ceremony was held along the track at the Palos Heights school. Over 120 students in the program participated in the event Monday morning to mark the 16th anniversary of the 9-11 attack.

“Part of the reason we do this is because many of these students were not even born when 9-11 occurred,” Saberniak said. “They don’t understand what happened and we have to teach them. By holding this ceremony, they have a better understanding. We want them to remember.”

The U.S. was the victim of a terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001 that killed nearly 3,000 people when two planes crashed through the two World Trade Center buildings in New York City. Another aircraft also deliberately crashed into the Pentagon. Another plane crashed and killed all the passengers in Shanksville, Pa., 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

The magnitude of the attack stunned the nation. It was the first time an attack occurred on the continental United States. Saberniak said that the horror of the day is conveyed to the students.

“After it happened, we just had no idea of who was attacking us, and if was going to continue,” added Saberniak.

The program is under the guidance of Saberniak and Major Dan Johnson, who also helps to direct the ceremony. The day begins with students from the program signing up to participate in walking 56 laps around the track in the football stadium. The national anthem is played before the walk begins. The 56 laps equal 14 miles. Saberniak said the students take a break for lunch before resuming the walk.

The money raised from the walk goes to the Heart of A Marine Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides financial and educational support to improve the lives of military personnel in all the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Throughout the day students took turns at a podium on the field reciting names of people who died in the 9-11 attacks. The list of 3,000 names was obtained by the cadets through the website, 911memorial.org.

“I think by participating in this event, the students have a better idea of what happened on 9-11,” Saberniak said.

The 14 miles the students walk mirrors the Bataan Death March, which was the forcible transfer by the Japanese Army of 60,000 to 80,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war during World War II, according to Saberniak.

Saberniak said that the students in the program remember 9-11 through the ceremony. They also receive service hours for their participation in the ceremony and other activities during the course of the school year.

“We used to just have a flag ceremony,” Saberniak said. “But I think reciting the names of people who died and walking around the track has more meaning.”

The day of remembrance concluded with a ceremony near the American flag at the south end of the football field. The flag was at half-mast, a reminder of what happened in this country 16 years ago.