Interview with former Oak Lawn Mayor Dave Heilmann

Interview with former Oak Lawn Mayor Dave Heilmann 2.67/5 (53.33%) 3 votes

By Ray Hanania

Dave Heilmann, Former Mayor of Oak Lawn who brought many great programs and new ideas to the Southwest Chicago suburb

Dave Heilmann, Former Mayor of Oak Lawn who brought many great programs and new ideas to the Southwest Chicago suburb

Oak Lawn used to be one of the best communities in the Southwest Suburbs, but in recent years, the place has been turned upside down by vicious name calling, anonymous blogging and polarized hatred. Something needs to change

Recently, several Oak Lawn residents told me they missed former Mayor Dave Heilmann.

When I mentioned that in a column, it provoked a nasty email from a former Oak Lawn official.

I believe Heilmann was one of the best suburban mayors, ethical and smart. So I reached out to Heilmann about Oak Lawn since he left, and he was tough on the changes that have taken place.

“I think sometimes local politicians take themselves way too seriously. You have to be able to laugh at yourself, realize the dumb things you sometimes do, admit when you’re wrong, and then try and do better,” Heilmann said.

“For me, it was never about ‘being the mayor.’ I felt I had ideas I could bring to the table that would make Oak Lawn a better place to live.”

I asked him to assess the new administration.

“The 111th Street project, which has basically been cut in half. I put everything on the line with the idea to develop there and took a lot of criticism. We stuck with it and Mariano’s alone will bring in millions in revenues plus 400 jobs,” said Heilmann, noting it was his most important plan for Oak Lawn.

“But a critical part of that vision was developing the land immediately south of the Wolfe Wildlife Wetlands, the largest park and nature area in Oak Lawn. Right now it is a factory. You have to imagine what it could be … The possibilities are endless.”

Heilmann called the board’s opposition to the development “a huge mistake.”

“You have to be willing to take calculated risks. If you do nothing, the community becomes less stable and less safe. It’s happened all over. If you have creative ideas and the courage to go after them, you can make your community that much of a better a place to live,” he said.

But there was more the new administration opposed and killed, including:

“The firing of all of our 911 dispatchers and bringing in a private company was a mistake … If you’re looking to cut expenses, why would you ever start with someone’s 911 call?”

Heilmann said he developed community support for a “comprehensive safety plan” following concerns about home burglaries. That was cancelled, too.

“We had a plan to improve the Village Green for families and they canceled that. We had a plan to develop the Beatty Lumber site and that was killed, too” Heilmann lamented.

“I was very proud of our Students in Government program wherein local grammar school students would spend a morning at village hall meeting with me, the clerk, police and fire chiefs, 911 and learning hands-on about local government,” Heilmann said.

It was cancelled. So was the popular annual Pumpkin Fest, with claims it would save $3,600.

“But, there was enough money to pay for a VIP tent at Fall On The Green where board members could drink for free. There was enough money to give themselves free health insurance,” Heilmann noted.

“New developments for seniors and families, a well thought out safety plan, educational opportunities for kids, fun events for families, I thought these were nice things for Oak Lawn. They chose to end them,” Heilmann complained.

“And, Oak Lawn is now the only suburb in Illinois where its own board members are being denied access to records. Secretive government is never good.”

Maybe Heilmann’s views will spark some discussions, rather than the usual hate.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning for Chicago City Hall reporter. Reach hi at [email protected])

Ray Hanania’s columns run in the Regional News, The Palos Reporter, The Southwest News-Herald and the Des Plaines Valley News.

Ray Hanania

Blogger, Columnist at Illinois News Network Online
Ray Hanania is senior blogger for the Illinois News Network online news site. He 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).

In 1976, he was hired by the Chicago community newspaper The Southtown Economist (Daily Southtown) and in 1985 was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times and covered Chicago City Hall for both. In 1993, he launched the “The Villager” Newspapers which covered 12 Southwest Chicagoland suburban regions. He hosted a live weekend Radio Show on WLS AM radio from 1980 through 1991, and also on WBBM FM, WLUP FM and shows on WSBC AM in Chicago and WNZK AM in Detroit.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he 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. Hanania has also 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.

Hanania’s writings have been published in newspapers around the world. He currently is syndicated through Creators Syndicate and his column is feature every Sunday in the Saudi Gazette in Saudi Arabia. He has written for the Jerusalem Post,, Newsday in New York, the Orlando Sentinel, the Houston Chronicle, The Daily Star, the News of the World, the Daily Yomimuri in Tokyo, Chicago Magazine, the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, and Aramco Magazine. His Chicagoland political columns are published in the Southwest News-Herald and Des Plaines Valley News on several Chicagoland blogs including the and

Hanania is the President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media and public affairs consulting which has clients in Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Washington D.C.

His personal website is Email him at: [email protected].
  • Lance Pope

    I don’t understand this “interview”, Ray. Don’t you ask followup questions? Heilmann didn’t have plans, he had pipe dreams. Anyone can figure out how to spend the public money, the community clearly had enough of his “big plans” that would have cost us higher taxes.

    And he says he wouldn’t cut expenses by cutting the 911 center. But this is exactly the kind of service that can be outsourced and cost-shared with our neighbors. We’re not Cook County, we’re a small village with barely 60K people. We’re not an Escalade, we’re a Chevy. The Bury administration has done well as Heilmann and his henchman Bob Streit have agitated from their own anonymous blog (which was proven to have been set up by the two of them). Why would anyone do this kind of thing to the community they profess to love?

    And no one is being denied access to records. Oak Lawn’s Village isn’t above the law. How can you let Heilmann get away with this kind of vitriol without some real questioning, Ray?

    • D B

      And Lance Pope…’re an idiot!! What rock (or should I say alias) have you been hiding under the last few years? The money this administration has cost taxpayers is criminal! I for one think this regime should be investigated and bounced out of office immediately because what they are doing is so very very wrong! I’ve lived in Oak Lawn my entire life and never have I experienced such inept, uncaring and blatantly irresponsible tactics, behavior and criminal acts as I have seen with this administration! So, Lance….are you another pseudo for Tom Phelan? I’m betting a big “YES”!