Worth trustee candidates hope to relieve economic headaches

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Worth Trustee Mary Rhein didn’t hesitate Thursday night when asked about the village’s most significant priority.


“Besides economic development, what issue do we have? We need tax revenue,” Rhein said during a candidate forum hosted by the Chicago Ridge Worth Chamber of Commerce.


The other candidates at the forum, which was held at Worth Village Hall, did not disagree.


In fact, economic development and improving the business climate were the issues most frequently brought up at the 90-minute forum, which attracted about 40 people.


Six candidates are running for three seats on the village board.


Incumbents Rhein, Pete Kats and Warren Soldan are joined on the April 7 ballot by challengers Kevin Ryan, Bruce LeBeau and Forrest Tucker. Tucker did not attend Thursday’s forum.


The incumbents pointed to their experience as the primary reason to return them to the board.


“The key is to listen, learn and lead,” said Rhein, a trustee since 2001.


She recalled the financial crisis the village faced in 2009. The board was forced to make significant, unpopular cuts to restore the village’s cash reserve to 90 days, Rhein said.


“Just because it’s in the budget doesn’t mean you have to spend it,” she said.


Soldan, a lifelong resident of the village, was appointed to the board two years ago to fill Mayor Mary Warner’s trustee seat. He has served as the liaison to the police department during a time of transition in the department.


“I think the biggest thing we’ve done is the new police chief we have,” Soldan said.


Kats, also a Worth native, has served two terms on the board and stressed the amount of work that accompanies the job.


“It’s just a huge responsibility,” Kats said. “It’s an honor.”


He added that voters should assess village progress over the past few years. If they’re not satisfied, they should not return him to office


The two challengers who attended the forum both have records of community involvement.


Ryan has lived in Worth for about a decade and first got involved during the financial crisis. He is a member of the library board as well as the village’s economic development commission.


“We need to work together for what is in the best interests of the village,” Ryan said.


LeBeau has lived in Worth for 25 years and also served a stint on the library board, which he described as a “hands on” job.


“They were days of blood sweat and tears,” LeBeau said.


LeBeau said the village must work harder to invigorate the business community by involving more residents.


“To me, it’s getting the word out. Let’s get everyone involved. You’ve got to go out and grab people. We have to get 111th Street going with the businesses we have,” LeBeau said. “You’ve got to get creative. We have to bring this town into the next 100 years. It’s a sleepy town. We need to wake it up a little bit.”


Rhein said such initiatives are not always successful. She said hundreds of emails were sent out to encourage people to attend the candidate forum and only a small number attended.


“It’s not easy. It ‘s hard to rally people,” Rhein said. “We try our hardest.”


LeBeau also disagreed with the other candidates on the presence of a medical marijuana dispensary on Harlem Avenue.


“I think we can find better ways to bring business to the village,” he said.


Other candidates said the clinic would benefit both patients and the community.


“It definitely will benefit the people who need it the most,” Rhein said. “It will be beneficial to our town.”


Ryan also supported the decision.


“It will bring in some revenue to town,” he said.


“I think it’s a great idea,” said Katz, who initially had concerns about the proposal.


The future of Water’s Edge Golf Club was briefly discussed, and Rhein and Katz agreed that the village is doing all it can to make the course more profitable.


“We are working diligently to make it work,” Katz said.


“Unfortunately, the golf industry has gone down,” said Rhein, who added that the course faces significant competition from other municipal golf courses in the area.


She added that the new company the village hired to manage the course has improved the situation, but nothing can change the fact that the village owes $6.1 in bond payments for the development of Water’s Edge.


“It’s here to stay,” she said.


Evergreen Park bank robbed

  • Written by Bob Rakow

The FBI continues to investigate a robbery last Friday of an Evergreen Park bank.

The incident occurred at about 3 p.m. when a man in his late 20s or early 30s robbed the BMO Harris Bank branch at 9950 S. Kedzie Ave., according to the FBI's BanditTrackerChicago website.

The man was described as black, 6-foot to 6-foot-1, with a thin build and a birthmark on his forehead above his right eye. He was wearing a black or burgundy jacket and a black skullcap when he robbed the bank, according to the FBI.

The FBI does not believe the robbery is connected to an attempted bank robbery that took place about 30 minutes earlier at Suburban Bank & Trust, 9901 Western Ave., which is about a mile away.

The Evergreen Park robbery comes about two months after an attempted robbery Jan. 13 of the Evergreen branch of U.S. Bank at 2917 W. 95th St., which also remains under investigation by the FBI.

Anyone with information about any of the incidents is asked to call the Chicago office of the FBI at 312-421-6700.


Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: Chuy literally running for mayor of Chicago

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

This Chuy guy was like mercury at the Chicago South Side Irish Parade on Sunday – he was hard to catch.

He may be about 10 percentage ticks behind Rahm Emmanuel in the poll for mayor of Chicago, but he is making up for it in Tasmanian Devil-like energy.

Jesus “Chuy” Garcia probably should have run in the mile race that took place on Western Avenue an hour before the step off of Sunday’s parade. He might have given some of the top 10 finishers a run for their money.

The parade started at 103rd and Western and that was Chuy’s starting block as he ran and jogged the 12 blocks, zig-zagging between the east and west sides of Western, shaking hands with members of the crowd, hugging other members, yelling, pointing and giving the thumb-ups.  He was passing other floats and marchers.

His people were able to get parts of the crowd to chant “Chu-eee, Chu-eee.”  The last time I heard those words together so much was in the late 1960s on my transistor radio thanks to a group called the Ohio Express.

He was a photographer’s dream – when he stopped to shake hands and pose. But he was a nightmare when he would zip off and us pitiful paparazzi goofs had to run after him. I got some clear shots of him. I got some blurry shots of him.

Garcia and his Celtic Boxing group was the 92nd entrant in the 103-entry parade. For those who were getting bored with the show, he gave it a nice shot of energy toward the end.

Way earlier, Emmanuel was in the front of the parade with the Irish American Labor Council and he was also making nice with the members of the crowd but wasn’t as animated at Chuy.

On this day, Chuy reminded me of former Cubs manager Mike Quade. When Quade was a third-base coach, I talked to him during his first spring training about how hyper and excited he was about his  job and his response was “I make coffee nervous.’’

Chuy could be viewed the same way. I don’t know how many votes that will translate to, but give him credit for the effort.

Selfie-made man

Gov. Bruce Rauner was on hand at the parade and, like Chuy, was having fun with the crowd shaking hands and taking selfies with his adoring public.

He got a lot of cheers although he wasn’t popular with everyone. Someone held up a sign that said “Ruck Fauner.”

Despite that, Rauner was having a blast in the infancy of his new job.

We’ll see if that enthusiasm lasts in a couple of years.

Right on the Money

The WeishFest group was at the parade and announced recently that the 2015 lineup will include Eddie Money and Warrant.

This year’s fest will take place from noon to midnight July 18 at Standard Bank Stadium in Crestwood. The fest is in honor of Andrew Weishar, a Brother Rice student who died of cancer in 2012. The Andrew Weishar Foundation benefits families with kids or young adults battling cancer.

Tickets start at $25. For more information, visit


Tears for peers: Worth mayor gets emotional in speech when talking about her fellow residents

  • Written by Bob Rakow



Photo by Jeff Vorva


Here is something you don't usually don't see from a mayor at a state-of-the-village address.


When it comes to talking about the residents of Worth, Mayor Mary Werner can't help it.

Werner choked up briefly during her state of the village address March 9 at Jenny’s Steakhouse as she talked about the folks who live the town she’s led for the past two years.

“We have a great community filled with caring residents,” Werner said during her speech, which was given at the Worth Chicago Ridge Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

The willingness of residents to support one another and their community is one of the first things Werner noticed after being elected, she said.

“As I speak about the residents of this village, it’s very emotional,” Werner said about her speech. “It was very difficult to talk about the residents of this community without getting emotional.”

Specifically, Werner has been impressed with the way residents respond to fundraisers and others efforts for neighbors who are in need. Additionally, she said, residents wholeheartedly supported the village’s yearlong centennial celebration.

“It’s just amazing,” she said.

Werner’s emotions impressed Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar, who also gave his state of the village address at the chamber luncheon.

“I loved your passion at the end,” Tokar told Werner.

Werner’s had plenty else to stay during her remarks, including the economic boost the village is likely to receive when a medical marijuana dispensary opens on Harlem Avenue.

The village board in September unanimously approved the Windy City Cannabis Club’s request for a special-use permit and location for a marijuana dispensary at 11425 S. Harlem Ave.

The WCCC in February was granted a medical marijuana dispensary license.

The Harlem Avenue location is one of only a few in Worth that meets the state’s zoning requirements that prohibits clinics from locating within 1,000 feet of a school or daycare center.

WCCC’s Worth clinic would be the sole dispensary for a region of the state that includes Worth, Calumet and Stickney townships.

“You would have hundreds or thousands of people who’ve never had to come to the village before,” Werner said. “Anything we can do to draw more people to the village has got to be a good thing.”

The clinic isn’t expected to open for several months, but WCCC is already paying rent on the Harlem Avenue property in order to secure the space, Werner said.

“It’s many months away,” Werner said.

The state’s medical cannabis act took effect on Jan. 1. The law allows the use of marijuana by individuals who have a medical need and a permit.

Qualifying patients must be diagnosed by a physician as having a debilitating medical condition. A qualifying patient with a state card can purchase 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks.

Steve Weisman, head of the WCCC ownership group, detailed the dispensary’s security plan, which will include 38 cameras and a two-door entry system. Cashiers will sit behind secure teller window and delivery of the medical marijuana and the transport of cash will be handled by an armored truck.

Werner described her state of the village address as “a chance to brag.”

She gave a recap of the centennial celebration and said the village is looking forward to the May 17 unveiling of the centennial memorial, a 4-by-8 foot mural created by local artist Mark Vancura that will be located at village hall.

Werner also touched on the village’s new website, which she described as “a better and more convenient way to communicate with residents.”

The past year featured the approval of a contract between the village the union representing the police officers. Additionally, the village named a a new police chief--Mark Micetich—following the retirement of Martin Knolmayer, who stepped down in October.


Finally, the village is working to extend its agreement with the North Palos Fire Protection District, spent $500,000 on streets and sidewalks, purchased two police squad cars and a bucket truck for the public works department, Werner said.




EP mayor says new Plaza deal is a 'grand slam'

  • Written by Bob Rakow

The wrecking ball is finally ready to swing at the Plaza.


After several failed attempts, plans to raze and rebuild the iconic Evergreen Park mall are in motion after the village trustees Monday approved a development agreement for the shopping center.


“It’s finally right at our fingertips,” Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton said. “We’re a huge step closer to getting the Plaza done. It will be a grand slam, not a home run.”


Despite an ongoing series of setbacks, the mayor expressed confidence that a deal eventually would be struck to redevelop the Plaza, which has largely been vacant since 2013.


“Sometimes you got to put on the full court press,” Sexton said. “All the stars aligned on this.”


Trustees unanimously approved a 45-day memo of understanding with Evergreen Park Developers, a partnership between DeBartolo Development and Lormax Stern Development Co. of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., which has a contract to purchase the mall.


“We think now it’s finally time,” said Daniel Stern, owner of Lormax Stern, a firm with a history of redeveloping failed shopping malls. “We think this project is more exciting than any of the others (we’ve done).”


Plans call for the Plaza, located at 95th Street and Western Avenue, to be razed, possibly as soon as this summer, Stern said. The new mall—Evergreen Park Marketplace—could open within 18 months, Sexton said.


Demolition costs are estimated at $10 million.


Planet Fitness and Applebee’s will remain at the new mall, Stern said. Carson’s has expressed an interest in locating in the new mall, he said.


The new outdoor mall will feature between 30 and 40 stores, the majority of them national retailers, Stern said.


He said interest in the mall is already very high.


“People want to come into your village,” said Stern, adding that a gourmet grocery store such as Whole Foods could be in the mix. “There’s more tenants than there is space.”


Stern added that the region’s demographic, the amount of traffic and the lack of major retailers in area will make the mall a success. He said the mall would draw most of its customers from a three-mile radius, which would include the Evergreen Park, Oak Lawn and Chicago’s Beverly, Morgan Park, Mt. Greenwood and Wrightwood communities.


Monday’s announcement is a significant achievement for Sexton, who’s made the Plaza’s rebirth a primary goal.


At his December State of the Village address, Sexton hinted at plans to redevelop the mall. But days later, reality hit the mayor and the village hard as Crains Chicago business reported that a potential deal with the Tampa-based DeBartelo group collapsed and the foreclosure process has restarted.

That news didn’t deter Sexton, who insisted a deal was still in the works and Crain’s report was inaccurate.

“This isn’t an Evergreen Park thing, it’s a South Side thing,” Sexton said.

He added that the success of Wal-Mart, Meijer, Menard’s and other retailers on Western Avenue coupled with Mariano’s decision to bring a store to Evergreen Park, made the village an appealing location for other major retailers.

Built in 1952, the Plaza was identified as one of the first modern American shopping malls and was a template for others built around the country. It features 1.2 million square feet of retail floor area and at one time had approximately 120 stores and a food court.