Chicago Ridge man claims he cured self of brain cancer
By Kelly White Correspondent
A Chicago Ridge man who survived cancer after he shunned conventional modern medicine has dedicated himself to educating others about how he overcame the illness with diet and exercise.
Rod Czlonka was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2003, and doctors told him at the time he had six months to live. He underwent brain surgery and months of treatment including radiation and chemotherapy – then, depressed and defeated, stopped.
Stepping away from traditional medicine may, however, have helped save Czlonka’s life. Six years after stepping away from doctors and conventional medicine he has been declared cured of cancer. He has written two books about his ordeal, “A State of Being: Healing Your Body and Your Life,” published in 2006, and his follow-up, “Decide to Live,” published in 2010.
Czlonka, 51, shared his story March 17 at the Chicago Ridge Public Library, and explained how believes he survived cancer because he took the time to learn about the disease.
Prior to being diagnosed with cancer 10 years ago at 41 years old, Czlonka’s life was on the fast track, he said. He earned a six-figure income and worked in a corner office. He had been granted a generous expense account, a personal secretary and executive parking privileges.
“I thought all those things were my life, but they were just that -- things,” Czlonka said. “My life was really about the people who were in it. Cancer affects more than just the patient, cancer changes the scope of everyone and the meaning of everything in your life.”
Czlonka was a “very heavy cell phone user” before being diagnosed with cancer, and he believes his use of cell phones caused his disease. The microwaves used by cell phones may disrupt melatonin production in the brain, affecting one’s sleep and wake cycles, he explained. When melatonin production is decreased and sleep is interrupted, the immune system is weakened, he added.
“My brain tumor was on the left side of my head, the side I plastered my cell phone next to, day in and day out,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those people totally against cell phones, in fact, I still have one, but I only use it on speaker phone and, you can ask my daughter, but she is still not allowed to have one.”
Czlonka underwent a craniotomy to remove the brain tumor on Aug. 21, 2003, and followed that with 31 visits to various doctors and 19 sessions of radiation treatment. He then underwent three months of chemotherapy, taking 25 capsules per month at a cost of $5,200.
“I finally pulled the plug and said ‘enough,’” Czlonka recalled. “My hair was gone, my vision was failing and my skin was turning grey, but worse than all those I was becoming depressed and negative. This is the real world of cancer therapy and it is the biggest scam every perpetrated upon mankind. This does not work; if it did cancer would not be the biggest killer on the planet.”
Cancer unofficially killed 574,743 an Americans in 2011, representing the second leading cause of death in the country after heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Upon Czlonka abating his cancer treatment, one oncologist told him he would be dead by the time his daughter graduated eighth grade. That was six years ago; his daughter is now a sophomore in college.
Czlonka believes spending more money does not equate more effective treatment or better doctors.
“No matter what hospital you go to in the United States, when you have cancer they are going to perform the same treatments on you regardless,” he said, adding that idea of performing such therapies on someone with an already compromised immune system staggers him.
Chemotherapy flushes the body with toxic chemicals in an attempt to destroy cancer cells, but does not discriminate and destroys healthy cells as well. The treatment suppresses the immune system, opening the door to the patient being infected by pathogens that are typically easily defeated by the body’s defenses.
The human body does not heal by repairing damaged cells, but by making new, healthy cells, Czlonka explained. With the body regenerating 86.4 trillion cells each day, nutrition rather than medication can play a big factor in creating a perfect cell, he added.
“There are many FDA approved medications out there that have caused numerous deaths or other diseases that could of otherwise been avoided,” he said, citing Vioxx, an anti-inflammatory arthritis medication that was discontinued after being linked to heart attack, stroke and sudden cardiac arrest.
Czlonka believes vitamin supplements are more beneficial than prescription drugs.
“Diseases develop from malnutrition, and you can beat disease with proper nutrition,” he said, noting anemia can be treated with iron supplementation and hypertension can be eased by increased consumption of magnesium. “And all of these vitamins can be bought right at your local drug store for a fraction of the price that you would pay a doctor for a high-blood-pressure medication, ect.”
Czlonka recommends avoiding sugar, carbohydrates and smoking, along with consuming the proper amount of fruits and vegetables and maintaining a diet that promotes alkalinity in the body. Certain foods can affect the acidity of bodily fluids, including the urine or blood, and can therefore be used to treat or prevent diseases, he added.
Exercise goes hand-in-hand with Czlonka’s nutrition guide.
“I am a firm believer in moderate exercise,” he said. “If you have the option to go for an hour walk or to go run on a treadmill at the gym for 20 minutes, go for the walk.”
Exercising outdoors, rather than in an enclosed building, is healthier and more sanitary, he believes.
“There’s nothing better than fresh air, and you can’t get that in any gym,” he added.
Czlonka also recommended people use home water filters instead of purchasing bottled water.
“Bottled water, on average, sits on docks for at least a year before it is brought to stores and purchased by a consumer,” he claimed. “It is not healthy for anyone to be consuming those toxins and the plastic isn’t healthy for the environment.”
Proper nutrition is only one factor in Czlonka’s cancer survival guide, avoiding stress is also key, he said.
“Stress causes more health problems than DNA or genetics,” he explained. “We live in a world where we are constantly under stress, whether we are conscious or unconscious of it.”
Czlonka’s simple message to avoid stress is “be happy.” The mind controls the body, and a positive attitude and outlook on life will produce a healthy state within the body, he said.
“Everyone has something to be happy about,” he continued. “I don’t care who you are, or how bad you think your life is. Take that one thing, whether it’s just looking forward to your television program being on later tonight, and be happy about that thing all day long. There are plenty of things in life that can make you depressed. Be different. Focus on the things that make you happy instead.”
Fear, hatred, worry and judgment produce unhealthy stress responses in the body, and people with a higher stress level are more prone to sickness and disease, even if it’s just the common cold, he added.
“If I’m in a house and I see a ‘live, laugh, love’ sign, it may be cheesy, but subconsciously it will remind you to do so.”
Ten candidates are seeking four trustee seats up for election on the Oak Lawn Village Board.
Oak Lawn voters on April 9 will select their choices for trustee in four representative districts, including District 1, which is typically only voted on during even-numbered years. The seat is up for election because Trustee Cynthia Trautsch was appointed to fill an open seat less than two years ago following the resignation of Jerry Hurckes.
Trautsch is running for election for the first time. She was appointed in August 2011 after Hurckes resigned. Trautsch is running as a member of incumbent Oak Lawn Mayor Dave Heilmann’s Mayor’s Independence Party against Oak Lawn First Party candidate Timothy Desmond. The Oak Lawn First Party is headed by mayoral challenger Sandra Bury.
Trautsch, 55, is a lifelong resident of Oak Lawn. She owns a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Saint Xavier University and works as a sales tax accountant for the California Board of Equalization. Trautsch serves on the Village Board’s public works committee and as the board’s police department liaison.
“I’m running because my constituents said I was doing a good job,” Trautsch said. “I’m trying to do what is best for the village of Oak Lawn. I am not working with an adversarial board, I am working with the village of Oak Lawn. I want to know what the village needs and how we are going to get it. I want to make Oak Lawn prosperous. I don’t want my own little corner of the world, I just want to be in Oak Lawn.”
The biggest issue for Trautsch is the village’s infrastructure.
“We need to get our infrastructure taken care of, and get funding for to keep the streets moving along,” Trautsch said. “The district’s streets are bad, and need help. We have to look at all six districts, and get funding every year so we can do the streets. It sounds stupid, but if you have streets that crack, now you have a community in disarray. Why do you want to live in a community where the streets have potholes? If people don’t live here, we don’t have businesses. It is a circle.”
Bringing development into the village is something else Trautsch wants to work on if she is elected to the village board.
“We have the Mariano’s [grocery store to be built at 111th Street and Cicero Avenue], and I want to work on bringing in businesses that generate sales tax into the village, so we do not constantly have to raise the sales tax,” Trautsch said. “That will probably never happen, but it is a goal. In order to do that, we need good infrastructure.”
Trautsch envisions a village with a lot of different businesses to bring people into the village.
“We need a good mix of things,” Trautsch said. “There are a lot of places that have one dollar store at the end of town, but we have five or six. We have TGI Friday’s, but we need a couple higher end restaurants to bring in more people.”
Desmond, 47, has lived in Oak Lawn for 27 years. A native of County Cork, Ireland, he moved to the United States in 1986. He is the owner of Jack Desmond’s Irish Pub in Chicago Ridge and a stationary engineer with Local 399, and is working toward a facilities degree at Triton College.
As a business owner, Desmond says he has ideas to bring business development to Oak Lawn.
“One of the things I want to do is introduce a program where we can offer incentives to businesses that want to move here and existing businesses, so they will hire Oak Lawn High School seniors and graduates and train them in a career.”
Desmond said his idea extends beyond seasonal employment for those in high school.
“I want all businesses to hire our students and train them in a career that will keep them in Oak Lawn,” Desmond said. “Hawkinson Ford can hire students to be mechanics and finance managers for kids that will not be going to college. It would give t hem a start in Oak Lawn.”
Desmond would also like to developers hire Oak Lawn contractors for new construction in the village.
Desmond said raising six children has helped him learn to compromise, a skill that will be valuable on the board.
“The art of politics is compromise, and as a family man, I have had to learn to work with people every day,” Desmond said. “I can bring it real world experience. We have a board right now that spends most of their time bickering back and forth, and there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot being achieved.”
Incumbent trustee Alex Olejniczak is running as a member of the Oak Lawn First Party. His challenger, Julie Misner, is running as a member of the Mayor’s Independence Party.
Olejniczak, 47, has lived in Oak Lawn for 40 years. He graduated from Oak Lawn High School. He works as vice president of operations for Dearborn Wholesale Grocers in Chicago. He is a member of the technology and quality control committees, and served on the public works committee and as the police liaison for seven years.
Olejniczak was elected for the first time in 2005 and was re-elected in 2009, both times as a member of Heilmann’s ticket. The two have since parted ways.
“I’m running because we need to continue addressing the issues the residents have brought forward and improve the quality of life in the village of Oak Lawn, whether that is our infrastructure, streets, water, or alleys.”
Safety is a huge issue in Oak Lawn, Olejniczak said.
“People talk about safety in our village, but we have to go from talking to doing, and put together a plan,” Olejniczak said. “We need to get manpower up in the police department, and continue to look to advance the gang and tactical unit. The people that are doing crimes will think twice if they know the police department has the tools and weapons necessary to fight crime.”
Olejniczak said he does not think of Oak Lawn as unsafe, and says there have been gangs in the village since the 1980s.
“My mother, she’s 87, she was mugged coming out of her doctor’s office,” Olejniczak said. “It has nothing to do with the neighborhood we live in. I have been to every neighborhood safety meeting, and I commend the mayor for doing it.”
Unoccupied homes are also a concern because of the issues can arise, like tenants in pre-foreclosure not cutting their grass or not maintaining swimming pools in the backyard. Olejniczak said the village’s responsible landlord tenant ordinance is important, to make sure people who are renting are conducting themselves well.
Olejniczak also wants to improve safety at the village’s schools.
“We need to bring in more advanced cameras, and bring in a centralized monitoring system to protect our schools.”
The role of the board is to be active in the community and listen to the needs of the constituents, Olejniczak said.
“We can’t be financially irresponsible,” Olejniczak said. “I think we as a board have done a good job of towing the line. The proposals being talked about are concerning to me. Using $1 million to update the Village Green, that is financially irresponsible to me. I would like to see that money go to infrastructure projects, like streets and sewers.
Olejniczak also wants to see more development come to the village.
“The Mariano’s development has been a long time coming,” Olejniczak said. “I would love to see some more businesses that the residents have said they want to see. The village deserves to have a Trader Joe’s somewhere in it. I want to see more variety in our restaurants. I do not want to see the continued advancement of gambling parlors. They are using the ability to get a liquor license to have gambling, and then saying they are going to have food. If we ask if the business can exist on food sales alone, and they say they need gambling, I don’t want to see that. I want to see businesses that will bring a positive change to the village.”
Olejniczak said programs he has implemented, like the green team and the senior snow shoveling program show that he has worked hard for the village of Oak Lawn.
“It would be an honor for the residents to vote me in as trustee for another term,” Olejniczak said.
Julie Misner, 46, is the Mayor’s Independence Party candidate for trustee in District 2. Misner is a lifelong resident of Oak Lawn. She attended Oak Lawn Community High School and works as an administrative assistant for an accountant. She has been on the Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123 board of education for four years, and currently serves as the board secretary.
“I’m running because I think it is important that the village maintains a positive direction and I want to be a part of that,” Misner said. “I want to give back to the community that I have grown up in and raised my family in.”
Misner believes her experience on the board will help her serve the village as a trustee.
“I believe that the four years I have served on the school board have given me a great understanding of how boards work and how boards should work. I have learned a lot, and I think the board can use a little collaboration.”
Misner said the board’s role is to govern, and that she believes the current board may have lost sight of that.
“I don’t know that the role is always clear, and I have a very good understanding of the expectations of a good board member. The expectations are to listen, to understand that it is not about power and ego, it is about the people and what is in the best interest of the community. That has to be your priority.”
One of the important issues in Oak Lawn learning what residents need in the village, Misner said.
“There are residents that may not want to run for office that have great ideas to share,” Misner said. “I want to create a format that allows people to share ideas, whether that is a committee or a roundtable discussion that allows people to bring their input and let people know we value what they say. In my district alone, there are 9,000 residents. One representative cannot see through every resident’s eyes without hearing from them. It is important to hear from your people because people have so much to offer.”
Keeping businesses in town is another important concern.
“People are concerned with the economic state of the village and with foreclosures,” Misner said. “People are concerned with all the business comings and goings.”
Misner believes she would make a good trustee because she will focus on the residents.
“I have always put people ahead of myself,” Misner said. “I work on a board, and we agree to disagree. In the end, we focus on the community and while we might offer our personal opinions, that doesn’t impact our final vote.”
Incumbent trustee Tom Duhig, a member of the Oak Lawn First Party; Tim Reilly, running as a member of the Mayor’s Independence Party; and Terry Vorderer, who is running as an independent candidate are in the race for District 4 trustee.
Duhig, 69, has lived in Oak Lawn for 40 years. He works as the administrative assistant to the chief of court services for the Cook County Sheriff’s Department. He has been a trustee since 2009.
“I am running for reelection because I think I can make a difference,” Duhig said. “My record has shown that. I have pretty much been an independent since I started serving. I bring a lot of common sense to the board. I like to work behind the scenes. I’m quiet, but I like to get things done.”
Duhig said the role of the board is to monitor the issues going on in the village that the board is supposed to vote on.
“You have to do your homework and use common sense,” Duhig said. “You have to listen to the residents and listen to what they are asking. If something is good for my district, it is probably good for all of Oak Lawn; but just because something is good for Oak Lawn doesn’t mean it is good for my district. That is how I have guided my term in office.”
Finances are a big issue in the village, Duhig said.
“One of the big issues is going to be pension funds,” Duhig said. “It if wasn’t for [Trustee] Tom Phelan several years ago, who guided our pension funds to get us out of the stock market, we would be $35 million under water. Our debt is a big issue, but it is no different than the federal or state debt, it is just down to the local level. We have to manage our money wisely.”
Duhig wants to see the village maintain its character while adding new development.
“We have big box and mom and pop stores here,” Duhig said. “It holds the village together. We have a lot of businesses where people do not have to travel far. The key thing to attract new businesses, the problem with that, is that property taxes are so high. If we get a little shoe store or a tailor, everyone wants to be on 95th Street or Cicero, and they just can’t afford it.”
Duhig would like to see the village develop the Southwest Highway corridor, from Southwest Highway between 95th and 99th streets.
“That hospital is not going to stop growing,” Duhig said. “We will get banks and doctor’s offices, which have no retail sales tax. What we need to do is create a corridor on Southwest Highway, and put banks and doctor’s offices there. We want to keep them off of 95th Street so more retail can go there. The hospital has big expansion plans. It will bring in retail stores and restaurants, because people will be going there on their lunch hour. A combination of small and big stores is the key to a healthy community.”
Tim Reilly, 45, has lived in Oak Lawn for 14 years. He owns a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from St. Xavier University. He owns a steel company. Reilly has been a member of the Oak Lawn Planning and Development Commission for five years.
“I am running because I think residents of the fourth district are not having their voices heard,” Reilly said. “I think the current trustee is an absentee trustee, and I want to change that.”
Reilly claims Duhig held one meeting about the expansion of Advocate Christ Medical Center, but did not invite residents that live south of 95th Street, which included Reilly and his neighbors.
“I think I will make a good trustee because I communicate well with people, and I have been involved in different organizations, like St. Germaine Church and Oak Lawn Baseball.”
The board should work to give direction to move the village forward, Reilly said.
“A lot of times, the trustees overstep their bounds,” Reilly said. “We have to get past the infighting and lack of governing. It is all political. I am levelheaded.”
One of the biggest issues in the village is safety, Reilly said.
“There have been safety issues, some at Chuck E. Cheese’s, and then there was an armed robbery a couple of blocks away from my house,” Reilly said. “I think it is always the fringe of Chicago coming to Oak Lawn.”
Vacant businesses are another one of Reilly’s concerns.
“We have to help small businesses move into Oak Lawn by offering incentives,” Reilly said. “If you move in, Oak Lawn will pay a month or two of your rent, something like that, or a reduced cost for garbage disposal, or offer small business loans for people that want to move into Oak Lawn. There are plenty of ways to help. Mariano’s is a great start, but we need to focus on filling up the storefronts that are vacant.”
If he is elected, he will focus on resident input, Reilly said.
“I will communicate with residents via email,” Reilly said. “I will hold quarterly or monthly meetings with residents, and I would be available for people to talk to.”
Terry Vorderer is an independent candidate running for trustee in the fourth district. Vorderer, 66, is a lifelong resident of Oak Lawn. He served as an infantryman in the U.S. Marines. He earned an applied sciences degree from Moraine Valley Community College, took classes at Governors State University, and attended the Northwestern University Staff and Command School. He served as a police officer in Oak Lawn for 34 years, and retired in 2003 as the chief of patrol. He was an Oak Lawn Park District Commissioner for six years, and served as the president and vice president of the park district board.
“Oak Lawn has given me so much over the years,” Vorderer said. “I have the energy, knowledge, and desire to serve the village.”
Vorderer believes the board serves as a liaison between the residents and the village, and sets the direction and financial obligations of the village.
Vorderer believes some of the issues that need to be addressed are political attacks between village trustees, finances, and safety.
“Political attacks are hurting Oak Lawn, and they are unprofessional,” Vorderer said. “I have spent most of my career as a police officer working in adversarial environments. I can work with whoever gets elected to present a more positive image of the village.”
Vorderer wants village trustees to be vigilant of property taxes.
“Many residents are taxed to their maximum,” Vorderer said. “We need to be financially sensitive of that and use the limited dollars we have to deliver services. People are attracted to Oak Lawn because of the good schools and good public services, like the police department.”
Safety is another important issue.
“An armed robbery occurred directly across the street from my house,” Vorderer said. “I believe that the fourth district is uniquely affected by the population that Christ Hospital brings. It is world-class and we are lucky to have it, but I think we do pay an additional price for that. As a result, I think village services, especially the police, need to pay special attention to this district.”
Vorderer wants the village and the hospital to work together on a partnership to address safety and quality of life issues.
“I will not be a part-time politician,” Vorderer said. “I see myself as a public servant. I want to run because I love this place. It’s been my home since the day I was born, and I want to be part of its future.”
Three people are running for the trustee seat in District 6. Incumbent trustee Tom Phelan is not seeking reelection. Carol Sheahan is running as a member of the Mayor’s Independence Party. Joseph Sorrentino is running as an independent candidate. Michael Carberry is running as the District 6 candidate with the Oak Lawn First Party. Carberry did not return several phone calls seeking comment for this story.
Sheahan, 43, is a lifelong resident of Oak Lawn. She owns a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northern Illinois University. She is a stay at home mom who volunteers with the Oak Lawn Green Team, Oak Lawn Baseball, and the Oak Lawn Lions Club.
“I decided to run because I wanted to be involved,” Sheahan said. “I’ve always volunteered or contributed to my neighborhood in Oak Lawn. I have the same concerns other people do. I want to keep my taxes low, keep the streets safe, and do what is best for Oak Lawn.”
One of the biggest issues is business development.
“I want to involve residents’ input regarding stores that are going into their neighborhood,” Sheahan said. “The 111th and Cicero development is practically in my backyard, and I will be doing a lot of shopping there. We also need to address vacancies and draw in small businesses. I want to get ideas from residents on what they would like to see.”
Safety is another concern for Sheahan.
“Having grown up here, I am from the era where you left your back door open, and you can’t do that anymore,” Sheahan said. “I want to keep the neighborhood as safe as I can. I am on the team to kickstart a neighborhood watch program, and have residents be the eyes for the police department. People will walk through neighborhoods and see graffiti, beer cans, or if you see unruly kids in a park and it’s past 11 p.m., let them know it is time to leave.”
Sheahan also wants the board to work together.
“The board working together is what is going to carry the board forward,” Sheahan said. “They are not working together right now. Everything is at a stop point. If you don’t like my idea, it just gets squashed. Everything should be able to have input and work it out amicably.”
Sorrentino, 48, has lived in Oak Lawn for 41 years. He holds a business administration degree from St. Xavier University. He is the owner of the Step Up Logistics company, which sells transportation services. He is the current president of Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123 board of education.
“I’m running because I think it is time for a positive change,” Sorrentino said. “I think I have the qualifications. I am a successful business owner. I am the president of the largest school district in Illinois, and I am an independent candidate.”
Sorrentino said the role of the board is to set the vision for the village, support the growth of the village, improve public safety and manage key development projects. The board is also in charge of making sure residents have basic services, like police, fire, and garbage pickup.
He is concerned about the public fighting amongst Village Board members.
“We have to make good decisions for the residents,” Sorrentino said. “The divisiveness is not a way to run a government. People should not be so committed to whatever his or her beliefs are. You have to understand what the residents feel. There are a lot of good, smart people in Oak Lawn and they need to be listened to. Everybody is disgusted by what is going on.”
Sorrentino said residents have gotten more and more concerned about public safety.
“One of the things that is a hot topic is making sure our kids are safe when they are at school,” Sorrentino said. “One person or one district cannot do that. what Oak Lawn has been about since I was a little kid living here is everyone working together. Now, everyone is working to appease a political party.”
Sorrentino said his experience on the school board has given him the tools to restore order on the board and help trustees develop a sense of respect with one another.
“Having the business background that I have, I have experience and am objective,” Sorrentino said. “I can analyze data and make the best decision. My credibility and my sense of ethics is how I grew my business. My business experience will help me ensure financial progress in the village. We have to get back to basics, restore order on the board, and debate issues in a healthy forum.”
The mother of a 14-year-old Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School student who was fatally struck by a truck while crossing Southwest Highway near Cicero Avenue last May made an impassioned plea Tuesday for Oak Lawn’s village government to help speed up the proposed safety improvements at the intersection.
The Village Board has been looking at an Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) plan that would upgrade the intersection of Southwest Highway and Cicero Avenue with repainted crosswalks, “pork chop” islands, pedestrian signals with countdown timers, and curb ramps compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. IDOT has said a traffic review study must be completed before a project can be authorized or go out to bid, and the process could take between 36 and 42 months, according to Hometown resident Krista Wilkinson.
Wilkinson’s daughter, Kaylah Lentine, was struck by a pickup last May 24 at the intersection and died the next day from her injuries.
“The crosswalk striping is barely visible, even less than the day Kaylah was struck,” Wilkinson said. “The pork chop islands that are there are not accessible without leaving the crosswalk, but they are supposed to be a safe place to stand for pedestrians. Why are we putting $1.6 million into a project at Southwest Highway and Central Avenue instead of at Southwest Highway and Cicero, which is twice as dangerous?”
Wilkinson claimed there have been 210 accidents at Southwest Highway and Cicero between 2005 and 2011, compared to 100 at the intersection of Southwest Highway and Central Avenue one mile west. The $1.6 million project she referred to was the installation of left turn signals at Southwest and Central.
“Those numbers don’t include the fatality of a child – my child,” Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson asked the village board to meet with IDOT to hasten the project’s progress. Oak Lawn village manager Larry Deetjen told Wilkinson village officials have met with IDOT and expressed their desire to speed up the project, and were also working with state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36, Evergreen Park) on the project.
“We would support improvements sooner rather than later,” said Mayor Dave Heilmann said.
Wilkinson believes the proposed improvements would make the intersection safer for everyone.
“Please do what you can with the state to speed up the process or adding safety measures,” Wilkinson said. “How many kids, elderly people and bicyclists have to die while we are waiting?”
Three incumbent trustees and a man making his first run for office are vying for three seats on the Worth Village Board.
Trustees Rich Dziedzic, Jim Serpico and Colleen McElroy are running for re-election, while political newcomer Tedd Muersch Jr. is hoping to unseat one of the three for a spot on the board. Dziedzic and Serpico are running with Mayor Randy Keller, while McElroy – a former member of Keller’s party – and Muersch are running as independents.
McElroy, 39, has lived in Worth for 12 years. She earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Northern Illinois University and works as the curator of the Worth Park District Historical Museum. She served as a trustee on the Worth Library Board from 2003 to 2009 and was elected to the village board in 2009. She serves on the Economic Development Committee and the Public Works Committee. McElroy wants to see more commercial development in Worth.
“Economic development is a major priority,” McElroy said. “We need to look at ways to utilize a good town plan to draw in bigger corporations or finance small businesses. We need to give them incentives to come to town, like façade [improvement] programs or possible tax breaks on properties.”
McElroy is looking forward to working with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning on an attainable town plan for Worth.
“It doesn’t just include ideas for how to design the town, it could lead to an intern position or a permanent position in village hall for someone that can seek out businesses and bring them to Worth,” she explained. “It will also help with streetscape – not only will it make the town look pretty, it will make people want to be there.”
Worth does not have the available property for a large mall like Chicago Ridge or Orland Park, so Worth businesses need to focus on its history and small town charm, McElroy said.
“We can create that small town atmosphere by bringing in businesses and drawing people to the community,” she added. “We want residents to be able to stay in town to do all of their shopping rather than go outside of town. Having a walkable, livable community is a very big trend right now. We want to make our town pedestrian-friendly.”
McElroy believes she has created good connections with people in the community during her first term as village trustee.
“I am a good listener, and I will try to find any answer that you need,” McElroy said. “I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of where the community is and where they want to be. I can communicate with people and keep an open mind.”
Dziedzic, 49, has lived in Worth for 19 years and has been a trustee since 2009. He is the general manager of Richards Bicycles just across the Calumet Sag Channel in Palos Heights. He is the chairman of the Village Board’s building, licensing and ordinance committee, and co-chairman of the economic development committee. He runs the Neighbor in Need program, which helps Worth seniors.
“I’m running for the same reason I ran four years ago,” Dziedzic said. “I want to get involved and do something good for the community. You can stand on the sidelines or play the game, and I want to make good changes.”
His biggest success is the Neighbor in Need program, he said.
“They might need yard work, so we have volunteers who will cut their grass in the summer, and shovel their snow in the wintertime,” Dziedzic said. “It is the accomplishment I am most proud of.”
Dziedzic would like to see Worth improve its retail development, especially in the tax increment financing (TIF) district at 111th Street and Ridgeland Avenue. The special taxing district has seen no development since being created nearly 10 years ago.
“I want to try and bring more businesses into town and make things better for people,” Dziedzic said. “In general, the economy needs to be better, but the business environment seems to be getting better. Our TIF district is not large enough for big box stores and a lot of people are still very cautious with the idea of expanding.
Jim Serpico, 50, is a lifelong resident of Worth and is running for his second term as trustee. He is a project manager and planner for Advanced Technology Services in Chicago. He is a member of the Village Board’s golf course and finance committees.
“I am running because I believe we have put Worth on the right path and we are going in the right direction,” Serpico said. “Financially, we went from a $1.7 million deficit to a 71-day surplus. I was part of a team in the village that took Worth from financial ruin to a positive cash flow.”
The $1.7 million deficit Serpico referenced was a one-time payment in 2009 -- $1 million for the repairs and repaving of Oak Park Avenue, $500,000 toward a golf course bond payment, and the rest for payouts for sick and vacation time for Worth firefighters when the department was absorbed by the North Palos Fire Protection District. It was not a recurring payment, as some village residents and trustees originally believed. The village’s budget in 2010 had $8.9 million in expenditures and $8.6 million for a $249,250 deficit. Since 2011, the village’s budget has had a surplus. The 2013 budget is expected to have $9.6 million in expenditures and $9.8 million in revenues for a surplus of $229,699.
“We are moving in the right direction,” Serpico said. “We are going to develop the business district and the TIF district. When good people do nothing, towns fail. We have good people here and we want to see successful improvement of our town and bring revenue-generating businesses here.”
Tedd Muersch Jr.
Tedd Muersch Jr. is hoping his background in finance and business will help bring new life and new perspectives to the village board. Muersch, 29, is a lifelong resident of Worth. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Illinois State University. He is a financial advisor and planner with Principal Financial Group in Downers Grove, and a former trader at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade. Muersch is enrolled at American College, where he is pursuing professional designations in financial advising and planning. He is a member of the Lucas Berg Nature Preserve Committee and the Village Board’s Life Safety Committee. He also worked on the political campaigns of former trustees Sharon Plahm-Wierenga and Georgia Duffy when he was a teenager.
“I went to village hall meetings and worked on their campaigns when I was 14 years old and got an idea of what it is like to run local government,” Muersch said. “I don’t know how many young kids you come across that have gotten involved in politics at such a young age. I have had a lifelong passion for politics.”
Muersch’s family has owned Krapil’s Steakhouse in Worth since 1996, and as a youth spent many hours at the restaurant. If elected, he wants to improve the village’s business climate, and has proposed creating a committee that will work with business owners to bring businesses to town.
“I started taking a look at the businesses in Worth,” he said. “I drove down Harlem from Southwest Highway to 111th Street and on 111th Street from Harlem to Ridgeland, and I counted 45 vacant storefronts.
“With running a business here, and my great uncle Chuck Muersch was the chief of police, we have deep family roots in Worth,” he added. “There is only so much I can learn as an outsider. Once I am inside [as a trustee] I want to bring my experience from helping run a business into the village.”
The TIF district at 111th Street and Ridgeland Avenue is a key issue, he said..
“It has been sitting vacant for years. It is a cornerstone of our village and I want to get something developed there.”
Muersch has contacted people that can put him in touch with grant writers in an effort to seek out federal and state aid to help develop the village’s commercial base. Some of Muersch’s financial clients also run construction companies, so he wants to use his connections to find out what kinds of developments would be possible in Worth.
“The residents are my ultimate bosses, so I answer to them,” Muersch said. “I want to get their ideas and create focus groups to find out what the community wants."
The challenger in the race for Oak Lawn mayor says she wants to bring more transparency to village government.
The incumbent candidate she hopes to unseat, meanwhile, wants to continue bringing retail developments to Oak Lawn and keep the village a “great place for families.”
Sandra Bury and Dave Heilmann will comprise voters’ choices for Oak Lawn mayor on the April 9 election ballot. The incumbent Heilmann was first elected in 2005 and is running for his third term as mayor of one of the southwest suburbs’ largest municipalities. Bury is an optometrist who has never held elected office.
Heilmann,50, has lived in oak Lawn his entire life and is a former Oak Lawn Park District commissioner who founded the district’s theatre program. He earned a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Illinois and his juris doctorate from the DePaul University College of Law. He works as a partner at Clausen Miller PC.
Heilmann believes he understand Oak Lawn and what it needs.
“I have four children, and as a person who grew up here, went to these schools and played in these parks, I was given a great community to grow up in and enjoy,” he said. “I want to give my children a better life. Many people leave and go to other places to live. I want to see Oak Lawn be the best place anywhere to raise a family.”
Commercial development is at the forefront of Heilmann’s agenda. He cited the Mariano’s grocery store to be built in a tax increment financing district at 111th Street and Cicero Avenue as the types of developments needed in Oak Lawn.
“What I think we always need to do is see not just what is here, but what can be here,” Heilmann said. “When we were asked to redevelop the 111th Street and Cicero Avenue corner, it was a big opportunity for the village. In a bad economy, Oak Lawn is going to see hundreds of jobs and thousands in tax revenue. We have to be able to look at something and say, ‘I think we can do better, let’s try this,’ rather than being a maintenance-only posture.”
Heilmann wants the Village Board, of which the members including the mayor have argued contentiously at public meetings, should instead work together, he said. The three incumbent trustee candidates and incumbent village clerk candidate who ran on Heilmann’s Unity Party ticket in 2009 have since left his party.
“In the midst of the tense environment in the Village Board, I wanted to have round table meetings to get over the animosity, but I couldn’t get the whole board there,” he said. “Other communities are not doing what we see happening in Oak Lawn. It shouldn’t be controversy constantly. That is why I am running with a new group of people who are interested in governing, not all the back and forth.”
Safety is one of the main issues Heilmann sees in the village. The village plans to create a comprehensive safety plan and reach out to the community about safety, he said.
“We have been having safety meetings,” Heilmann said. “We see neighborhoods [in other places] that have changed and become unsafe. We all know those neighborhoods, and we can’t let Oak Lawn become that.”
Another concern of Heilmann’s is vacant properties and homes being rented to neglectful and irresponsible tenants.
“People destroy neighborhoods by renting to tenants who do not take care of the property,” he said. “People they rent to neglect their homes, cause disturbances and have parties until all hours of the night, and people’s lives are affected. We need to look at ways to make it difficult to rent or get those people out of those homes. We can’t rent to somebody who wrecks a neighborhood through wild parties or potential criminal conduct.”
Bury, 51, has lived in Oak Lawn since 1979. She owns Complete Vision Care, an optometric practice in Oak Lawn. She earned a painting and drawing degree from Northern Illinois University and her optometry doctorate degree from the Illinois College of Optometry.
Bury is running to bring better leadership to Oak Lawn, she said.
“It’s still vision,” Bury said. “I went from visual art to visual sciences, and now it is about better vision for Oak Lawn. Now you have a board that barely talks, but a leader finds ways to talk, even with disagreements. It should be a civil board that respects each other, but that is not what we have. Voting for four more years of that would be very bad.”
Bury wants to be a leader that goes out and advocates for the community.
“A leader goes out and shakes hands when the camera is not on, and energizes the community through being involved. There are regional and local mayors meetings, and we do not have a presence there. I think Oak Lawn suffers because of that.”
Bury believes she is an honest person, and that honesty will make her a good mayor.
“I have no agenda other than putting what is best for Oak Lawn first, plain and simple,” shesaid. “We need board members who are putting their residents’ interests above everything else. The trustees represent the residents, and together, represent Oak Lawn.”
One of the biggest problems Oak Lawn faces is a lack of transparency, Bury said.
“At the start of every board meeting, I think we should ask trustees to declare any conflicts of interest with items on the agenda,” Bury said. “If someone is someone’s best friend from school, or a [political] donor, that party should recuse themselves from voting. When people think other people are trying to get away with things, they fight.
“I also think there should be a searchable, easy to find schedule of meetings on the village website, so people know when technology meetings or department of public works meetings are.”
Bury wants all public village documents to be published online.
“My plan would make the Freedom of Information Act not even necessary,” she said. “Checkbooks and financial statements, meeting schedules, contracts, meeting minutes –anything done on the taxpayer’s dime would be put online.”
Bury would also like to see more small businesses in Oak Lawn. She is concerned about some businesses that were recently licensed by the Village Board, including a massage parlor and several establishments that will offer video gambling.
“I am very, very opposed to things that are not aligned with the values of Oak Lawn being approved,” Bury said. “You have local brick-and-mortar places that already have bars or restaurants, and if you want to put little gambling machines in there, that’s fine. But if their entire reason to exist is gambling, that’s a big leap.
“I did not want it to be a green light for the casino and gaming mentality everywhere. I think that diminishes our community. It’s a source of revenue, I agree with that, but it is on the backs of quite a bit of loss. I don’t think that is the Oak Lawn most people think of. I don’t think that represents the families that make Oak Lawn great.”
Bury believes Advocate Christ Medical Center, which is in the midst of a billion-dollar expansion project, should pay impact fees for their use of village services including the police and fire departments.
“Like any other resident in Oak Lawn, I am thrilled that Oak Lawn is expanding and doing so well,” Bury said. “It is good for Oak Lawn and it gives Oak Lawn a distinction that is wonderful. That being said, [the hospital is] the largest user of village resources, and if they can partner with the community in some fashion with impact fees, I am in favor of that. I am not talking about socking it to anyone, just a partnership based on what is utilized. They have hundreds of police calls every year, and that costs everyone money.”