Orland Mayoral race has state’s attention

Orland Mayoral race has state’s attention

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Orland Mayoral race has state’s attention

The battle between Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin and challenger Keith Pekau has the attention of the entire state apparently creating a wild election contest filled with a lot of unusual issues, supporters and claims

By Ray Hanania

The battle to lead Orland Park, one of the fastest growing suburbs in Chicagoland, has never been as heated and as close as is this contest April 4 between 23-year incumbent Dan McLaughlin and his Republican challenger Keith Pekau.

McLaughlin has had challenges in the past but never as tough and as strong as Pekau is mustering this time around.

The battle is all out war.

Pekau’s candidacy is fueled by a move made by McLaughlin last year to boost his salary from $40,000 a year — which was already high for a part-time mayor — to more than $150,000, the largest salary increase any incumbent politician has ever given themselves.

But more significantly, it’s not just about a pay hike and a monthly wage. It’s also about the pension McLaughlin will receive as a result of this record pay hike. McLaughlin has no pension with the Village of Orland Park because he was always part-time, and his primary fulltime job has always been with the unions.

Under the pay hike approved last year, McLaughlin will immediately qualify for a pension of more than $100,000 a year if he is re-elected April 4 and begins taking the record $150,000 annual mayoral salary.

In the past, the battles have been about policies. This time it’s personal for many voters in Orland Park who are struggling with the still slow economy and changes in healthcare and retirement concerns. The issue of pension abuse has so bruised Illinois residents because this state tops the list of the worst government pension abuses on record.

Keith Pekau

Keith Pekau

McLaughlin’s pension grab has fueled Pekau’s candidacy and clearly has caused McLaughlin and his allies to shudder in some fear of what might happen Tuesday April 4.

That’s why so many unusual things have happened. Here is a look at the few of the unusual issues at hand.

Jim Dodge the Republican Democrat

McLaughlin is a hardcore Democrat but one of his supporters is a former Republican Committeeman and ally on the Village Board Jim Dodge. Dodge, who hasn’t done much in the Republican Party in a long time sent a letter  hoping that his support will weaken the support Pekau is receiving from Republicans.

The Republican vote is important. Republican Donald Trump won Orland Park in the presidential election with over 50 percent of the vote over his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, who received only 44.4 percent.

Yet in his letter, despite supporting one of the region’s strongest Democratic mayors, Dodge noted how he previously ran as a Republican for Illinois State Comptroller in 2010 and served as Republican Township committeeman.

Of course, Dodge didn’t mention in his letter that in his bid, he tried to torpedo one of the most respected Republican office holders in the state, Judy Baar Topinka. Many people viewed Dodge’s run for Comptroller not as an effort to win as a Republican but to weaken Topinka, the only Republican to hold a statewide office. She previously served as Illinois Treasurer, ran unsuccessfully for Governor, and then ran for Comptroller in 2010.

Topinka trounced Dodge with nearly 60 percent of the vote and criticized Dodge for entering the race rather than backing a Republican Party incumbent. She believed that Dodge’s candidacy was intended to weaken her in the 2010 Republican Primary to make it easier for a Democrat to defeat her in the November 2010 General Election.

Judy Baar Topinka poses with my son Aaron in October 2014

Judy Baar Topinka poses with my son Aaron in October 2014

But Topinka won anyway and was re-elected in 2014. Unfortunately Topinka, one of the most beloved Republican leaders in Illinois, died a month later on Dec. 10, 2014.

Reminding Republican voters of how he tanked Topinka probably wouldn’t do his support for McLaughlin a lot of good.

Senator Durbin jumps into the fray

How often does a U.S. Senator jump into a local mayoral election. But that’s exactly what U.S. Senator Dick Durbin did this past week,

Durbin sent an email to voters in Orland Park that urged them to support McLaughlin, which to me only reinforced the growing perception that Mayor McLaughlin is in real serious trouble.

If you thought Pekau had no chance of beating McLaughlin, Durbin’s letter puts the nail in that coffin. Unofficial polling shows Pekau and McLaughlin running neck-and-neck and that is shocking for someone who has been in office 23 years and easily defeated every past challenger.

What’s the issue this time?

Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin

Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin

Well, it’s the issue Durbin’s letter didn’t address, the issue of the $110,000 pay hike and the corresponding pension boost that the mayor will receive.

You see, Durbin is one of those Illinois politicians who could be blamed for the huge pension turmoil that Illinois is experiencing, a pension crisis that has dragged Illinois to the lowest levels of the economic scale. Illinois ranks as the worst state in the nation economically and you can’t blame that on Gov. Bruce Rauner. It was that way before he even stepped in the door.

Durbin’s email talked about all the good things Orland Park has achieved but avoided any mention of the salary hike and the pension boost.

Durbin wrote:

“In Illinois many municipalities are in financial crisis, and have seen their credit and bond ratings tumble.”

Yea, you should know Senator!

Durbin goes on to detail McLaughlin’s assets and in and of themselves, they pretty good. Orland is one of the best communities in Chicagoland. That’s true. There are some economic issues but the retail base is strong.

Yet, after listing all of McLaughlin’s benefits, Durbin just couldn’t get himself to acknowledge that his “pal of 20 years” made a huge mistake in ratcheting up his salary from $40,000 to $150,000, and gifting himself a pension of a record $80,000 a year after only a few years of service?

No wonder this country is so screwed up in Washington D.C.

This post has already been read 18185 times!

RayHananiaINN

RayHananiaINN

Columnist, blogger at Illinois News Network
Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist who covered the beat from 1976 through 1992 (From Mayor Daley to Mayor Daley).

Hanania covered Chicago political beats including Chicago City Hall while at the Daily Southtown Newspapers (1976-1985) and later for the Chicago Sun-Times (1985-1992).

The recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, Hanania was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. Hananiaalso received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
RayHananiaINN