The six candidates running for three trustee seats in the April 4 election in Chicago Ridge batted a few accusations around while fielding questions from residents during a March 15 forum.
The Chicago Ridge-Worth Chamber of Commerce hosted the event in the Chicago Ridge Village Hall, with Vice President Christopher Lisek asking questions submitted by audience members. Much of the discussion focused on the importance of attracting new businesses, as well as contentious issues such as pension spikes, and outside campaign influences.
The three trustee candidates on the Results Now ticket led by mayoral candidate Fran Coglianese are incumbents Bruce Quintos and Amanda Cardin, and newcomer Scott Schaal, a retired Chicago Ridge police officer now handling security at Palos Hospital.
Quintos retired from the Cook County Sheriff’s Police as field operations commander in 2003, the day before he was elected to the village board. Cardin, running for her second and, she said, last term, works with children with special needs, and the Professional Development Advisory Council.
Facing off against them were current Village Treasurer Deb Pyznarski and Ed Kowalski, both running informally with incumbent Mayor Chuck Tokar on the Taxpayers First slate. Independent Lisel Kwartnik, a grant administrator with the Chicago Association for Research and Education in Science, is also running
Besides being village treasurer, Pyznarski is senior general manager of Lincoln Property Co., while Kowalski is business development manager of ServPro in Evergreen Park. Pyznarski’s husband, Rob, is the Chicago Ridge chief of police, and she said she would recuse herself from votes involving her husband’s job.
While all six candidates agreed that bringing new businesses and their tax revenue is important to the village, the Results Now team wants to focus on businesses without video gaming.
“Chicago Ridge is a great place to live and grow, but many people I have spoken to are concerned about the number of vacant storefronts and vacant lots,” said Kwartnik.
Pyznarski and Kowalski said the opposition to video gaming on the village board has resulted in lost revenue when several prospective businesses were turned away because they wanted gaming. She said that preventing it could pose a problem when trying to attract restaurants and entertainment to the vacant Yellow Freight property on Harlem.
“What I am against is the gambling cafes. The more we have, the more they change the look of the village,” said Cardin. “We also need to build public-private partnerships in order to turn some of the apartments in the village into senior housing.”
The Results Now slate support term limits, which perhaps could be decided by referendum.
Cardin said a second term would be her last, and Schaal said he isn’t thinking beyond the first term yet. Quintos, who is running in his fifth election, said this would be his last campaign. His first term was for two years, followed by three four-year terms.
“We already have term limits, called elections,” said Pyznarski. Kowalski said term limits are “a buzz word” used without putting thought into how it would work.
Kwartnik noted that term limits would have prevented the late Eugene Siegel from accomplishing as much as he did as mayor for 34 years.
Schaal said he was the whistleblower on the employee pension spikes, which came to a head in 2010 when Police Chief Tim Baldermann and Deputy Chief Dennis Kapelinski retired. Under a 2005 village ordinance that offered police administrators a buyout, they were given a 20 percent salary increase on their last day to boost their pensions. Pension spikes are no longer allowed and the pensions were recalculated following an Illinois Appellate Court ruling in 2015. But the issue was raised in the campaign, in part because Pyznarski was the treasurer at the time.
When she was asked at the forum why she signed village documents related to the police officials’ pensions, she said it was done “under duress.” She explained that she felt pressured by the police officials, since her husband was an officer at the time, and thought both their jobs may be on the line.
Quintos was the only current trustee in office at the time, and was criticized for his vote approving the spikes. He said he regrets that vote, but felt the pension board received bad advice from the law firm of Odelson and Sterk during that period.
The issue came to the forefront again when Tokar appointed Burt Odelson as village attorney, against the will of five trustees, including Quintos, Cardin and Coglianese. Although Odelson & Sterk settled a claim about the issue, Tokar pointed out that Illinois Department of Insurance has found the firm did nothing wrong. A ruling is thought to be imminent on a lawsuit filed by Tokar against the trustees to determine whether the mayor has the authority to appoint the attorney without board approval.
The alleged involvement of Cook County Commissioner Ed Moody in the Results Now campaign was also questioned at the forum. All the candidates were asked if Moody, who lives in Chicago Ridge, was contributing to their campaign.
Kowalski and Pyznarski asserted that Moody visited their neighbors, and pressured them to post Results Now signs rather than their own.
“This is a great place. It always has been. Chicago Ridge is not a ward of Chicago,” said Kowalski, referring to Moody’s ties to House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-22nd). Moody, who is stepping down as Worth Township Highway Commissioner, grew up in Madigan’s 13th Ward base in Chicago.
Kowalski described himself as “a common-sense person” without political ties or allegiance to anyone. “I don’t believe in pitting neighbor against neighbor.”
“He supports our campaign. I don’t see anything wrong with that,” said Schaal about Moody. “He is not affiliated with us but he does support us.”
Cardin said Moody is her neighbor, and having a Cook County commissioner in the village could helpful.
“I am friends with Ed. I haven’t taken any funds from Ed. He is a friend to all of us,” said Quintos.