21 Aug 2014
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Township Reformers or Powerfully Backed Upstarts?

One of this April's hottest races is taking place in Worth Township. A set of longtime incumbents is battling with political newcomers who are mounting an aggressive campaign.

Township Reformers or Powerfully Backed Upstarts?

By Dan Lambert and Lorraine Swanson

Most township races get little notice, but in recent weeks Worth Township residents have been blanketed with mailers touting what appears to be a fresh approach by a new party of reformers in the upcoming April 9 election.

The Worth Township Community First Party’s campaign literature presses all the hot buttons of everything that’s wrong with Illinois government today, including pension reform, term limits and out-of-control salaries footed by the hardworking taxpayer.

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“We believe in term limits and we’re not going to give ourselves a raise because we know taxpayers don’t want it,” Kevin Hughes, whose challenging four-term incumbent John “Jack” Murphy for town supervisor, said. “Taxpayers want to see money being used for the township.”

It's a compelling argument for many voters, but their opponents charge it might be just a bit disingenuous. 

The Old Guard

Three of the current Worth Township board members—Supervisor Murphy, Town Clerk Roger Benson, and Trustee Michael Mahoney—have held office since 1997. The core leadership are running together with fellow board members as the United Party of Worth Township slate.

The election season started with Community First candidates and their supporters attempting to get two of the opposition's candidates—Town Assessor Steve Toscas and Trustee John “Jack” Lind—thrown off the ballot.

Toscas is a Crestwood Village trustee who is running against Lou Presta for mayor. Lind is a Chicago Ridge village trustee.

An objection was filed against both men that argued potential conflicts of interest could arise because both offices would be in the same township.

The electoral board which is made up of current township officials overruled the objection and their fellow slate members Toscas and Lind remain on the April 9 ballot.

The second battle of this electoral war was fought over denied freedom of information act requests filed by a supporter of the challengers. The request sought 102 financial documents dating back to 1996, including budgets, audits and elected township officials' credit card receipts.

Dubbing the first time filer a "repeat filer," the FOIA request was denied by the township. Benson said the an individual request was filed for each separate document, furthermore some of the records requested didn't even exist.

The New Promises

The Community First candidates have promised that if elected, Worth Township homeowners would receive a tax rebate amounting to about $40 per household. The one-time rebate would be paid from the township's $2-million-plus tax surplus. The incumbents argue that any rebate would likely be much smaller. 

"I'm not going to apologize for having a surplus," Benson said.

The United Party says their so called reform-minded opponents are playing some old school political tricks. 

Another talking point repeated by the Community First slate is that township officials' salaries should be frozen. 

In turn, Murphy responds that elected board members haven't given themselves pay raises since 1997 and they have already voted against any pay raises for the next for years. 

Pension concerns are the third major issue for Hughes and his Community First running mates. They argue in campaign literature and during public forums that township officials should not receive pensions and that they vow to not take any pension money. 

In practice, elected township officials are not eligible for a pension until they spend 10 years in office. Even then they stand to to collect a monthly public pension, which is required by law, of about $108 per month.

The Familiar Backers

For the most part, the Community First slate is comprised of political novices who have long records of community service and local involvement. While they might be new to politics, some of their endorsers and advisers are well acquainted with the ins and outs of local elections.

Worth Township Democratic Committeemen John O’Sullivan, who has had an adversarial relationship with the current township board, helped recruit candidates for the Community First slate and has also advised on campaign strategies. 

"We all know who John O'Sullivan answers to," Benson said.

The Community First Party's candidate for township highway commission, Edward Moody, a former Chicago Ridge school board member, has ties to Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan. In 2010, Moody shows up on Madigan's payroll for "campaign overhead expenses," during which he was paid $7,830.

Hughes says that the slate has not received a single dime from Madigan. 

"This is a grass roots effort it's not like we are being escorted by a Democratic machine," Hughes said. "I've never met Mr. Madigan or any of those people. Yeah, Ed Moody has campaigned for him in the past, but that's about it."

The Endorsers

The Community First Party touts a long list of endorsements in their campaign literature including some that have been exposed to be a bit premature. 

Read: Worth Township Incumbents Claim Opposition Faked Endorsements

Among the endorsements listed is Thomas Villanova, president of the Chicago and Cook County Building and Constructions Trade Council.

In 2011, Villanova fell under a federal criminal probe seeking his pension records when it was alleged he was collecting credits for both a city and union pension, after signing documents that he had waived his union pension with the IBEW, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The council represents 33 trade unions in collective bargaining agreements with the City of Chicago and Cook County. All 33 are listed as endorsers on the Community First Party's walk pieces and mailers, calling for reform and transparency.

In contrast to their calls for term limits of eight years, many of the endorsers listed are very familiar political lifers like County Commissioner John Daley and Secretary of State Jesse White.

While they might have heavyweights as endorsers, most of the campaign cash has come from local fundraisers and the personal contributions of the candidates, according to Hughes and state campaign records.

The Community First Party has also received donations from Michael Alvarez, a commissioner on the Metropolitan Water Reclamation Board and lobbyist for American Traffic Solutions, the red-light and speed-camera company.

"We're democrats, republicans and independents working together," Benson said, describing his own political slate.

If the election doesn't yield a clean sweep for either slate, some of that bi-partisan cooperation may be needed come May.

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