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Rush among local Dems to be re-elected

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

While Donald Trump won the presidential election in a nail-biter early Wednesday morning, one of the few local contested races was in the 1st Congressional District, where Cong. Bobby Rush easily fended off a second challenge from Republican August (O’Neill) Deuser, who also ran against him in 2014.

With 96 percent of the totals in, Rush was elected to his 13th term in Congress with 74 percent of the votes (220,462) to 26 percent (79,171) for Deuser. The heavily Democratic district, which stretches from the South Side of Chicago to Will County, takes in all or parts of Evergreen Park, Oak Lawn, Worth, Palos Heights and Orland Park along the way.

Deuser, a retired teacher from Mokena, said he knew he was in for a difficult fight.

“I was clearly the underdog, but I beat him in Will County,” said Deuser, where unofficial results show he received 67.2 percent of the votes. In the suburban Cook County part of the district, Rush received 53.9 percent of votes (46,752) to 46.1 percent (39,955) for Deuser, who called the district “gerrymandered by Michael Madigan.”

In the 3rd District, incumbent Cong. Dan Lipinski had no challengers listed on the ballot. However, Diane Harris, a Republican, registered as a write-in candidate. But it was no surprise that he won nearly 100 percent of the vote with 212,148. Write-in votes were only tallied in Will County, where 1,417 were recorded.

“I’m honored to be re-elected again, I was out at a lot of polling places today and heard a lot of good comments,” said Lipinski. “It is not a surprise that the Republicans retained control of the House and the Senate, but their majorities will be smaller,” said Lipinski. “We’re a divided nation in many ways and we need to heal,” said Lipinski.

“I’m just going to continue to do what I have been doing for 12 years. I look for issues that I can bring people together get things done.

“We still need to get a funding bill passed to get us through next September. So we have a lot of work ahead of us when we return to Washington,” said Lipinski, who hopes that the new president supports a comprehensive transportation infrastructure bill when the new term starts in January.

“I just hope President Obama does not try to get the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement passed during the lame-duck session,” said Lipinski, an early opponent of the agreement between the United States and several countries in Asia, which he believes would harm U.S. industries.

“I really hope that does not happen, with 50 people leaving Congress. It would really look like the system is rigged.”

Incumbent state Rep. Frances Hurley (D-35th) is the only local state legislator in a contested race this year. The 35th District stretches from Ashland Avenue in Chicago, as far west as Will-Cook Road, taking in parts of Evergreen Park, Oak Lawn, Chicago Ridge, Palos Park, Palos Heights and Orland Park.

And she was victorious in her bid for a third term in office. With 94 percent of ballots counted, she easily beat Republican challenger Victor Horne by a margin of 65 percent (31,488 votes) to 35 percent (17, 249). Horne, an ordained minister and Army veteran of the Vietnam War, also ran against her in 2014.

The local incumbent legislators who ran unopposed for re-election on Tuesday included state. Sen. Michael Hastings (D-19th), whose district includes parts of Orland Park and Orland Township, and state Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-16th). Her district includes parts of Oak Lawn, Hickory Hills and Palos Hills. Other local legislators who were unopposed included state representatives Monique Davis (D-27th), Mary Flowers (D-31st), Andre Thapedi (D-32nd) and Kelly Burke (D-36th). The suburban sections of their districts are divided between Evergreen Park, Oak Lawn, Hickory Hills, Worth, Palos Heights, Palos Hills, Palos Park and Orland Park.

Hastings and Burke both said recently that following the election, their focus would be on resolving the budget impasse in Springfield, which has been going on for two years. Hastings said numerous social service programs have been adversely affected by the inability to approve a budget, and Burke said it has jeopardized public colleges and universities also. They maintain that Gov. Bruce Rauner is making the process more difficult by insisting on making his “turnaround” part of budget negotiations.

Farther down the ballots, three Democrats also were elected to six-year terms on the Cook County Metropolitan Water Reclamation District: incumbents Barbara McGowan and Marijana Spyropoulos, and newcomer Josina Morina. Martin Durkan, another Democrat, also was elected to a two-year term on the MWRD.

Despite all the division among voters in the hard-fought presidential race, it looks like people of all stripes got behind the statewide referendum asking if the state constitution should be amended to require that all transportation-related taxes and fees be used only for roads, bridges, and other transportation-related costs.

Statewide, the binding referendum won with 79 percent (3,690,927) to 21 percent (985,245). In suburban Cook County, with all precincts reporting, the percentages were nearly identical: 79.75 percent for yes (710,358) and 20.25 percent for no (180,355 votes).

Local legislators voice opinions on state budget, minimum wage. term limits and more

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

bill cunningham photo 11-3

 

Photo by  Dermot Connolly

State Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th) makes a point as state Sen. Michael Hasting (D-19th) and state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th) wait their turn during the 11th Annual Breakfast With Your Legislators held last Thursday at St. Xavier University, 3700 W. 103rd St., Chicago.

 

Six elected officials shared insights on local and national issues with residents during St. Xavier University’s 11th annual Breakfast With Your Legislators last Thursday.

Former state Senator Edward Maloney moderated the discussion with Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd), state senators Bill Cunningham (D-18th) and Mike Hastings (D-19th), state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th), Cook County Commissioner John Daley (D-11th) and Chicago Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th), who represents neighborhoods around where SXU is located at 3700 W.103rd St., Chicago.

When asked how the outcome of the presidential race might affect Congress, Lipinski said, “Most polling suggests that Hillary Clinton will be the next president, and the Democrats could retake the House. No one knows about the Senate.” He said that both Clinton and Donald Trump have spoken about the need for a comprehensive infrastructure bill, so he is hopeful that will be passed no matter who wins.

The Transportation Committee member said that because both Republicans and Democrats back an infrastructure bill to fund road and rail improvements nationwide, the divided country might come together over it. But he is still skeptical.

“We thought we saw division before, but this is even worse. It used to be that people would look around after the election and see which party is in control where, and figure out ways to work together. But now, it is what can we do to get control in two years time,” said the congressman.

He said divided government has led to stagnation. “And I don’t like that because I got into politics to get things done,” he said.

The legislators also addressed the pros and cons of a statewide referendum on Nov. 8 ballots asking if the “Safe Roads Amendment” should be added to the Illinois Constitution. It would require all money raised from transportation, such as motor fuel taxes, tolls and airline fees, to only be used for transportation projects. It requires 60 percent approval for passage.

Lipinski didn’t voice an opinion on the state referendum but noted that the federal gas tax hasn’t been raised in 23 years because “people don’t believe it will be used for roads.”

Cunningham said he supports it, because the state hasn’t had a transportation bill since 2009 and “we cannot afford to spend down these transportation funds.”

Hastings, who sits on House appropriation committees, called it a “reactionary measure,” but said he could see its pros and cons. He said it would protect union jobs but “if we start tying monies up, we may not have those resources available” at budget time.

Lipinski also addressed the chronic problem of trains blocking crossings and causing traffic jams in Chicago and suburbs such as Evergreen Park.

“We know there are going to be trains but there is no need to have gates blocking crossings for no reason, or having trains idling behind people’s houses. These are quality of life issues,” said Lipinski. He said the railroads have made some improvements since the federal Surface Transportation Board began working with him, Burke, Cunningham and O’Shea on the issue.

When the state legislators were asked how the election might affect the budget crisis in Springfield, they said the problem was with Gov. Rauner.

“You could take an optimistic view, that the fact we were able to come up with a stopgap budget in June to bring us through the end of the year shows promise. We could do the same in January. Also, if the governor runs again in two years, he will have to have something concrete to show,” said Cunningham.

But considering that Rauner has invested $30 million of his own money to elect allies, Cunningham said “the pessimistic view” of having stopgap budgets until 2018 might be likely.

“We will only have a budget if we only talk about the budget,” said Cunningham, blaming Rauner’s insistence on including his “turnaround agenda” in the budget. He said eliminating the bargaining power of unions and limiting workers compensation would severely hurt the middle class.

“We really are in a difficult time. It is an epic struggle,” agreed Hastings “We have never before had governors hold the budget hostage to get their platform through.”

Hastings said numerous social programs have been slashed, and Burke called Rauner’s actions “an attack on higher education, especially four-year universities.” Citing cuts to Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants for low-income students as an example, she said this past year, the state awarded MAP grants to students but didn’t pay the universities until the money was freed up in April.

The Cook County Board’s Oct. 26 decision to raise the minimum wage outside Chicago to $13 was also discussed. “I think it was the moral thing to do,” said Daley. “There are not too many people who could live on $8.25 an hour.”

Starting in July 2017, the minimum wage countywide will be $10, and will increase by a $1 each following year until 2020. Chicago passed a similar ordinance in 2014, raising the minimum wage to $13 by 2019.

“I feel a lot better about it now than I did last year,” said O’Shea, who was against the city’s ordinance, because no matter how well-intentioned, he said it hurt communities like his that border suburbs.

As for term limits, Burke said, “It sounds good, but what that means is there is no institutional knowledge. It takes time to learn about the budget and how and why things are done.” She said there would be more support for limiting leadership positions. She and Hastings are running unopposed for re-election on Nov. 8, but “if you don’t like me, I can be voted out,” she said.

Brennan Leahy, of Oak Lawn, said he was glad he was able to fit in the meeting around his work schedule.

“As a citizen, I think coming to these types of things is important. People can complain, but they have to meet their representatives and get more active in their communities,” he said.

Four Evergreen Park businesses get licenses

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

Four business regulation certificates were approved at the Evergreen Park Village Board meeting on Monday night, but only after an extensive discussion on the hours of operation and availability of parking spaces at the locations of two of the applicants.

Questioned at length was Karen Bradley-Brown, the owner of the Overflow Salon, also known as Salon Overflow at 3142 W. 92nd St., who stated her hours of operation would be 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Monday; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday; and 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. The salon will be closed on Sunday.

Mayor James Sexton expressed concern about the hours because the salon, which is zoned for commercial use but is basically in a residential area, just east of Kedzie.

“I am not sure who gets their hair done at 6 a.m.,” said Seton, with a laugh.

Bradley-Brown responded that the business is by appointment only and there are only two chairs in the salon, so parking would not be a problem.

Trustee James McQuillan also questioned the hours and availability of parking at the site. Bradley-Brown explained there was ample parking for only two customers at a time. She added that she lived close enough to the site to walk, and would leave her own car at her home.

The business certificate was approved in a 4-1 vote, with McQuillan casting the “no” vote.

Also questioned about parking was the Empire Property Management Solutions, a condominium and property management group seeking approval for the business in office spaces 1 and 2 at 9500 S. Avers Ave. A spokesperson for the group assured the board that there would only be two to three employees located at the site and there would be no foot traffic. Approval was granted with a unanimous vote.

Approval was also granted to IL & IN Restaurant Realty for an IHOP restaurant to be located at 9150 S. Western Ave., and to Magaly Del Valle, a mental health counselor, for office space at 3830 W. 95th St., Suite 103.

On other matters, Sexton recognized Fire Chief Ronald Kleinhaus, who has been named as recipient of the Illinois Fire Inspectors Association Chiefs (IFICA) Award. The award will be presented at the Fire Prevention Week Banquet on Oct. 28 at the Medina Banquet Hall in Addison.

Board action also approved a request for the Public Works Department to issue a request for proposals for construction of a parking lot at 9138 S. Kedzie Ave. The lot will provide additional parking spaces for the fine dining Asian restaurant Thi-Thi’s at 91st and Kedzie.

Sexton also proclaimed the month of October 2016 as “Domestic Violence Awareness Month” and Nov. 16 as “School Board Members Day.”

Trustee Mary Keane was absent with notice.

Oak Lawn crime down, but officials urge vigilance

  • Written by Joe Boyle

det. cronin photo 10-20

Photo by Joe Boyle

Oak Lawn Detective Tom Cronin speaks to residents at a public safety meeting last week at Salem United Church of Christ. He offered advice on how to prevent becoming a victim of crime.

Oak Lawn Trustee Terry Vorderer (4th) assured residents who attended his public safety meeting last week that crime in the village has fluctuated in recent years and has actually decreased since 2014.

“I think the village is just fine,” said Vorderer, before a crowd of about 75 people at Salem United Church of Christ in Oak Lawn. “I know with social media that reports sometimes just get magnified. But crime is no greater than it was five years ago.”

Vorderer, who is completing his first term as trustee and is a former Oak Lawn police officer, said that violent crime was down last year from 2014. Oak Lawn Police Chief Michael Murray told the audience that there were 70 violent crimes in Oak Lawn in 2015, as opposed to 90 in 2014.

Murray said crime figures were higher in 2014 due to a series of incidents involving three perpetrators – an adult and two minors -- who were eventually arrested. But he added the figures were lower in previous years.

“I will let the numbers speak for themselves,” said Murray. “In 2001, we had 187 burglaries. As of this afternoon (Oct. 13), we had 79 this year so far.”

Murray reiterated what Vorderer mentioned earlier that with additional electronic media sources available, the reporting of crimes is often overstated.

“It is a good thing but sometimes it can be overwhelming,” said Murray. “The good thing is the word is getting out.”

The police chief said that if he could offer advice to Oak Lawn residents on how to cut down on crime dramatically, it would be to do one thing.

“Lock your doors,” said Murray. “The vast amount of these crimes is committed because someone did not lock their front doors. And lock the doors of your car. Keep the doors locked and don’t leave valuables on your car seat.”

Murray also mentioned to residents to make sure their home address is clear. After calling 911 and the police arrive at what they believe is a residence, it would make better sense to have the address in an area that is visible. Precious moments are wasted looking for an address that is not visible from the street, Murray said.

“You guy are our eyes and ears,” said Murray. “If you see something that doesn’t look right, call us. Don’t pull out your cellphone and take a picture. Call 911 first if you think the police need to be there.”

Murray talked about home security and offered some suggestions to lessen the chances of becoming a crime victim. He mentioned making a list of what a family needs to do be safe, such as making sure the front door area is well lit.

“It may cost you a little more,” said Murray. “But criminals don’t like the light.”

Overgrown bushes in front of the home should be trimmed, according to Murray. He said a criminal could utilize the bushes as a means to hide and enter the home. Murray said residents should think like a burglar. If a door is locked, criminals will go to the next house, he said.

Murray said Oak Lawn has 109 police officers and added that they are as highly staffed as they have ever been.

Detective Tom Cronin told the crowd that they should be nosy neighbors. Residents who go on vacation should mention to neighbors to pick up the mail and newspapers. He mentioned that residents who are going to be away for some time can contact the police, who will also come by to monitor the home.

“These are common sense things,” said Cronin. “These are crimes of opportunities. We live in an extremely safe community. Don’t make it easy for them. We call it situational awareness. Just be aware. If it doesn’t look right, like someone you have never seen before sitting in a car, call the police.”

Cronin said a lot of crimes are committed in the daytime. If they don’t get a response at the front door, they will go to the back. Cronin said that dogs can be a deterrent.

Scams are more prevalent due to technological advances. Cronin warned residents about IRS scams in which a caller will state that they need to pay a certain fine or they will be arrested. Cronin assured residents that the IRS never makes such calls. He also suggests having caller ID on their phones. If the caller is anonymous, don’t answer it, said Cronin. It could be a scam or at the least, a telemarketer.

Cronin also warned of ruse burglaries, scam artists who posed as legitimate workers who will talk their way into the victims’ homes. Some are opportunists who just happen to spot an easy target, such as the elderly, or an open door or window.

The Oak Lawn detective also mentioned the “grandfather” or “grandmother” scam in which someone calls stating they are a nephew who got into serious trouble in Canada or some other foreign country and don’t want their parents to know. They plead for money to be sent to them and unfortunately the startled caller sometimes does just that. Caller ID would eliminate the annoying calls, Cronin said.

Murray added that anyone seeking donations from organizations should have a permit. The lone exceptions, he said, would be politicians or religious groups.

“Technology is making our job very difficult,” said Murray. Even caller ID is not enough because someone can use technology to insert a familiar phone number into your phone caller ID, he added.

Murray said that the Oak Lawn police force is sympathetic to victims of crime.

“This is the worst day in these people’s lives,” said Murray. “They are now on information overload.”

And that is why Murray continues to tell residents on how to reduce crime.

“The fastest way to get a hold of us is calling 911,” he added.

Construction underway for Hickory Hills park district projects

  • Written by Joe Boyle

splash pad photo 10-6

Photo by Joe Boyle

The splash pad at Kasey Meadow Park in Hickory Hills has been dug up and will be replaced by a new concrete surface after state grant restrictions were lifted following Gov. Rauner signing a bill this summer.

 

The stopgap budget that was signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner in July provides a reprieve for a variety of state institutions until January when legislators have to come up with an agreement to avert another shutdown.

However, Jennifer Fullerton, executive director of the Hickory Hills Park District, is concerned with the present. With the governor’s signature in July, funding for a series of projects that had been suspended for the Kasey Meadow Park District is being worked on again.

During the budget stalemate, Rauner had frozen grant money for park district projects in January 2015. Park district officials from across the state lobbied Springfield by writing, calling and visiting with elected officials to pressure them to reverse the governor’s decision.

Fullerton was one of those park district officials who wrote letters to the governor. Rauner signed into law a stopgap budget that would free up to $26 million in grant funding for 75 projects across the state. The money is part of the state’s Open Space Land and Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) program.

The Hickory Hills Park District director said that when the governor froze the grant funding, it prevented construction of playground equipment in March 2015. The Hickory Hills Park District playground and splash pad equipment that was supposed to be sent on three semi-trucks for construction of the Kasey Meadow Park OSLAD project had to be sent elsewhere. Before the governor signed the bill this summer, the equipment had to be stored on a farm in Central Illinois but was still in the elements and often facing bad weather.

But in the last week, the splash pad has been dug up to install new concrete for a complete upgrade. Dirt has already been dug up to install a walkway surrounding the baseball fields and softball fields. An area that will be set aside to allow the disabled or people who lack mobility an opportunity sit safely to watch ballgames.

An outdoor fitness station will also be constructed in a location near 91st Street and 82nd Avenue.

“We didn’t want to put in the outdoor fitness station along with the walking path because people have told us they didn’t want to stop while they are walking,” said Fullerton. “They wanted an area where they could have for just working out. So that’s why we set it up this way.”

But the fact that ground is being dug up for the walkway and outdoor fitness station pleases Fulllerton. An upgrade for the new splash pad was necessary because of the budget stalemate, said Fullerton.

In the letter she had addressed to the governor in October 2015, Fullerton told him that she worried every day what was going to happen to the equipment for Kasey Meadow Park if a state budget is not passed.

“There is $400,000 of equipment just sitting on this farm because that is the only type of storage that we could afford,” wrote Fullerton.

Fullerton received the good news after the bill was signed in a letter from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, stating that the restrictions on funding have been lifted. She said that the Hickory Hills Park District will be receiving $390,000 from the IDR for the overall $908,000 project.

“Without the funding it would have been really challenging,” said Fullerton. “We would have had to take out the money from our recreation department fund.”

Fullerton added that without the state grant, aging vehicles could not be replaced, along with upgrades to the playground equipment. She reminded the governor that the Hickory Hills Park District is a small park district with little funding for capital projects.

“This was the first grant the Hickory Hills Park District was awarded other than a very small joint project with the City of Hickory Hills 14 years ago,” wrote Fullerton. “We spent three years writing the grant, hosting many focus groups with the community and working with several groups of children to select the ideal playground.”

But Fullerton said the projects that have been discussed for several years will become a reality.

“We are moving right along,” she said. “It’s very exciting. We are hoping to be done by mid-November, if the weather holds up. If not, it will be completed in the spring.”