Monday, March 30, 2009

Reconsidering Liz Gorman -- yes, she's not that bad!

As a columnist, I always am compelled to write what I feel. And over the years I have been tough on Elizabeth Doody Gorman, the former Cook County GOP Chairman and the Orland Township Republican Committeeman and Cook County Commissioner.

Well, I give her credit. She has ... let's call them ... well, let's not. Let's just say she has the courage to recognize that as an elected official, part of her responsibility to the public is to take the criticism, right wrong, harsh or mild. Gorman took up my invite and came to the WJJG 1530 AM Radio "Fight the Taxation" Forum held tonight (Monday, March 30) at the Orland Park Civic Center.

The forum featured a lot of speakers including a welcome from Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin, and guests Rita Mullins, the mayor of Palatine, and Jim Tobin, president of the National Taxpayer's United of Illinois, one of the most effective tax fighting bodies in the state. Mullins' township of Palatine is one of five that are considering secession referenda on the local ballots. The others are Hanover, Elk Grove, Barrington and Schaumburg townships.

But Gorman's participation made it an even better event because Gorman -- who I still have a few differences with on public policy -- is one of the county commissioners who had the courage to stand up to County Board President Todd Stroger's unjustified sales tax increase. Her county district runs from north to south and spans the length of the county and many of her businesses and watching as residents jump the border to make their big ticket purchases in Will, DuPage and other neighboring counties.

So, I am going to say this: Liz, you impressed me. We may still have some issues. But you are welcome any time to join my radio show and talk about the issues -- those we agree on and those we have disagreement. But you will always be welcome.

And as I expect your organization will chill a bit, I will too. Kindler and gentler for both of us will benefit the public more.


The forum drew about 75 attendees. It's a Monday night and not easy to get out these days. But we had many other officials and candidates and I would be remiss not to thank them for attending, too.

Orland Park Trustees Pat Gira and Ed Schussler both came to the meeting. And that isn't surprising because they both have always been very open and accessible. Gira sat through the entire meeting listening and that's a trait more elected officials should learn.

Chris Ciciora and Cindy Nelson Katsenes also attended the meeting. Both are running for the single seat on the Orland Fire Protection District.

Gerald Maher, the candidate for mayor of Orland Park, also attended and greeted everyone. Although I was too busy making sure the remote radio broadcast and guests were lined up properly to try and get Maher and McLaughlin to say hello to each other. I do believe that every elected official should have a challenger and while it's not easy to defeat an incumbent, I admire Maher for running and helping to insure that voters get to hear a debate. McLaughlin has been very amiable too, understanding that the public always has concerns about government and he insists he is listening.

Orland Township Trustee Joan Herman also came by. What a great lady. Real class. I haven't seen her in years but she is running on the Orland Township ticket for re-election and she definitely adds some strength to the incumbent slate led by Robert Maher, the township supervisor. She was first elected to the Township in 1973 and has been there save for one term the entire time. What a great asset to the community she is.

Also coming by was Rob Willett, who is running for mayor of Tinley park against a very popular and effective mayor, Ed Zabrocki.

The evening radio forum was taped and will be broadcast on Thursday morning from 8 until 9:30 am on WJJG 1530 AM Radio. I will also have it podcast, possibly before Thursday so you can hear the comments and observations from the guests, Gorman, Mullins and Tobin, and the great questions fromt he audience.

And a special thanks goes out to one of the first professional journalists I met some 32 years ago, Jodi Marneris, whose mention in her column in the Southtown/Star helped get the word out about the forum and pushed the crowd. And thanks goes out to the Palos Regional News also for their ongoing publicity. Also covering the event is the Orland Park Prairie which has the largest circulation in Orland Park and most of the neighboring suburbs. The reporter there was Jamie Lynn Ferguson. Aaaannnnd! We also had FOX 32 News (Channel 12 on Comcast Cable) covering the event that evening and the next morning. Plus WBBM Radiow as there grabbing interviews ... great coverage!

-- Ray Hanania

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mudslinging in local Orland Township elections

Like many residents in Orland Park and Orland Township, I have been inundated with political mailers, mainly from one candidate, Paul O'Grady. O'Grady and his slate are challenging Orland Township Supervisor Robert Maher and his slate of incumbents.

While Robert Maher, I believe, has focused on the issues, O'Grady seems to be emphasizing the personal attacks. He begins in his mailers to talk about issues, but never explains how he will achieve his campaign promises. And then, he quickly shifts to what I feel are personal attacks against Robert Maher, including in a recent mailer in which he blasted Maher saying that he was wasting taxpayer dollars by taking people out for lunch on the taxpayer dime.

Really? Who were the people he dined with and why? All O'Grady did was list the expenses, which are made public at every board meeting for viewing. But O'Grady hasn't been talking about these issues for long. The first I heard of O'Grady was when he announced. Who is he and where has he been all these years?

Is O'Grady also saying that if he wins the election and he becomes an elected official that he won't file for expense reimbursements? That's not what he says in his slick mailers.

O'Grady and I exchanged emails in which he said he wasn't some 19th Ward hack trying to take over Orland Park, as many alleged. He insisted he had no relations to the big 19th ward heavies, nor was he tied to the 19th Ward political honchos.

But then, he comes out with a telephone campaign call from, you guessed it, 19th Ward heavy and County Sheriff Tom Dart.

When I wrote about it, O'Grady emailed me this passioned response expressing disappointment that somehow I didn't believe everything he has told me. In fairness, instead of publishing the email he sent me, I asked him, as a courtesy, to give me an email response that I could publish.

He hasn't responded. O'Grady stopped emailing me. The attitude reflected in his mean campaign mailers comes from somewhere. I'm not surprised that maybe he just decided to pack up his marbles, and ignore me. No problem, Paul. You want to be like that, fine. I've seen a lot of politicians like you come and go in the past 32 years of covering Chicagoland politics. Politicians always promise big things after coming out of nowhere. but the first sign of criticism and they run and whine, and stamp their feet in anger. They pick up their marbles and go someplace else. It isn't about educating the public. It's about wanting to win an election.

Your campaign literature is mean. I'm not sure Orland Township can afford to have a person who allows mean attacks to inundate our mail boxes to run the Township.

O'Grady says he has no 19th Ward ties, but using Dart -- who never mentions that he is a boyhood friend with O'Grady -- doesn't help O'Grady make his case. If anything, O'Grady's use of Dart suggests the opposite.


The meannest was the Ad published in the Orland Park Prairie Newspaper, which goes to every home in Orland Park. The Ad is signed by Village Clerk Dave Maher, his son Orland Fire Protection District President Patrick Maher and Brian Maher, a trustee in Tinely Park who is a cousin. The letter blasts Robert Maher and Gerald Maher, (Robert's brother is running for mayor in Orland Park against Village President Dan McLaughlin). It's mean, too, and it was paid for by Paul O'Grady's political committee.

I spoke with Dave Maher about it. He alleged that Robert Maher and Gerald Maher have been telling everyone they are related to Dave Maher and his family, riding on their election coattails.

To be honest, I spoke with Robert and Gerald Maher and not once did they ever say they were related to Dave Maher or his family. Not once did they ever imply they were related. And not once have I seen any official and unofficial literature claiming to be related to Dave Maher's family, or to ride on Dave Maher's coattails as Village Clerk. I wrote about the issue of how the names sound the same but are unreleated and I doubt anyone believes the families are related.

But I have seen O'Grady's team slate someone with a name that sounds like two of the candidates on Robert Maher's slate. Brian Younker who is the candidate for Highway Commissioner challenging the incumbent and highly praised Highway Commissioner running for re-election on Robert Maher's slate, Donald Yunker.

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black? Sounds a little hypocritical to me.

Of course, Dave Maher couldn't have designed the Ad because the Ad lists Dave Maher as the "Orland Park Village Manager." Ooops! I think Village Manager Paul Grimes would take issue with that. It lists Pat Maher as :President Orland Park Fire Department" -- who is the president of the Orland Fire Protection District. It ends with a big, boldfaced call to "Vote Paul O'Grady Supervisor of Orland Township," although I would not have been surprised if it had a mistake, too, and urged that we vote for O'Grady to be Alderman of the 19th Ward. At least, Paul O'Grady got his own totle right!


I am sure Paul O'Grady will take this opinion commentary personally. I think that is what people who don't explain how they will improve things campaign. How do you plan to make Orland Township a better place to live? Waste ink on that. We could use more details.

In my opinion, the meanness crosses the line. Instead of reflecting badly on Robert Maher it says more about Paul O'Grady.

Too bad. I thought Paul would be a great candidate for public office. I am disappointed. And of course, this is an election. Some candidates have great respect for the right of the public to challenge them. And then there are others who feel they are above criticism and can do no wrong.

I know Orland Township Supervisor Robert Maher respects how the public feels. O'Grady's literature doesn't say the same about Paul O'Grady; as an individual, though, O'Grady comes across as a decent individual. I wish his campaign material reflected that instead.

-- Ray Hanania

Friday, March 27, 2009

Traffic cameras intended for pedestrian security and egregious violators, Chief McCarthy explains

Orland Park Police Chief Tim McCarthy said he is fully behind the idea of placing cameras at 151st and Harlem and Lagrange Roads, not to concentrate on soft-right turn drivers but mainly to insure there is security for pedestrians and to nail motorists who frequently blow through the red lights. (Click here to read the previous story?)

Another target includes motorists on 151st and LaGrange Road who are making left hand turns and who try to sneak through the red light after it changes behind cars that are waiting for the light to change. It's caused a lot of accidents.

McCarthy also said that Orland Park is supporting the lights at 159th and Harlem which were placed there by Tinley Park and are monitoring those. But no plans are in place for other traffic cameras. Yet.

McCarthy emphasized that making a soft right turn on the red light is illegal, "but that's not our main reason for putting in the cameras." In Bolingbrook and other communities, the majority of the citations have been given to cars making the right turn at lights that didn't fully stop. McCarthy hopes the cameras will help drive home the need for drivers to be more cautious. To obey the laws -- all the laws. And be more observant of pedestrians.

There is no need to rush folks.

-- Ray Hanania

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The mess called the Republican Party -- new leadership fighting to take control

State Sen. Chris Lauzen is in a fight, unbelievably, to give Republican Voters the right to directly pick their own leaders on the GOP "Board of Directors," the State Central Committee.

I say unbelievably because the biggest foes of changing the existing law which allows Republican committeemen in the 19 Illinois Congressional Districts to select their State Central Committeemen, rather than give that vote to Republican votes, are some of the Republican Party's own leaders, like State GOP Chief Andrew McKenna.

Lauzen has introduced Senate Bill 600 to change the practice and let Republican voters directly vote on selecting the State Central Committeeman and State Central Committeewoman in each of the state’s 19 Congressional Districts. The two posts are equal and have given women equal voice in state politics. Democrats already directly vote for their counterparts. It’s only the Republican voters who are denied that right.

Former Gov. Jim Thompson, who didn't blink at donating his legal services to help his corrupt pal former Gov. George Ryan, took away the right of Republican voters to select their leaders in 1988 in a move to consolidate his own power. If you had to trace the total collapse of the Republican Party to any single move or person, it would be to that date and to that former governor.

“If everything were going fine in the Republican party, would say we have other things to take care of. But we have been losing so many campaigns. We’re in the super minority in both chambers of the legislature, for practical purposes. We don’t have one of the executive branch officers in the state of Illinois,” Lauzen explained during an interview on RadioChicagoland on WJJG 1530 AM Monday (

“We have problems in Illinois because the checks and balances of the two-party system no longer exist. And we have to believe in the founding principles that the people are in charge, not the politicians, and one-person and one vote, or we don’t.”

State Sen. Chris Lauzen and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno are planning to push for the adoption of a bill that would restore the right of Republican voters, taken away by Thompson in 1988, to directly elect the State Central Committeemen and State Central Committee Women (co-equals in a system that has empowered woman leadership in Illinois) and McKenna has threatened to file a lawsuit if the bill is passed.The Republican Party Chief, McKenna, wants to prevent Republican voters from deciding who should represent the party?

McKenna has been arguing that the state voters should get the right to elect the U.S. Senator, demanding that the seat held by controversy-plagued U.S. Senator Roland Burris should be decided in a special election -- give the voters a voice, he says.But when it comes to giving Republicans a voice in who should be leading the Republican Party, the voters of him, he doesn't want the Republican Party members to vote.

Citing McKenna’s opposition to SB600, Lauzen said, “The centralized leadership of the Republican Party has really come out very hard against this. I am surprised with all the problems that they have. All we are talking about is returning to the great traditions of this country where in the founding document of the Declaration of Independence it says the just powers of the government are derived through the consent of the governed. That is the many people, not the few. It starts out as We the people not we the politicians.”

Lauzen added, “McKenna says ‘special election, special election’ when it comes to Roland Burris. But when it comes to the board of directors of the Republican People, we can’t elect them by the people. On a good day, it is irony. On a bad day is just hypocrisy.”

He called McKenna’s threatened lawsuit “a sign of desperation. We want our vote back. This is about reform in Illinois. If we want better government we need better candidates coming from the grassroots. We need to reconnect the voters and make this party stronger.”

Listen to Lauzen's podcast interview from Radio Chicagoland last Monday on WJJG 1530 AM Radio by clicking here. Get more information at Lauzen's web site at

-- Ray Hanania

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sign of the times: Orland Park joins traffic camera revenue club

Sign of the Times
Orland Park joins traffic camera revenue club

They passed the ordinance months ago but the first traffic light cameras were installed during the past week, one at 151st Street and Harlem Avenue and another at 151st Street and LaGrange Road. The LaGrange Road camera faces south, catching catches heading south on LaGrange Road as they speed through lights or, more likely, making soft stop right turns into ticket violations.

Want to know what other's are experiencing with these menacing monitors?

The Protagnonist Blog

MSNBC Report on the Bolingbrook fiasco.

We called chief McCarthy to double check on how these cameras will be used. Will they be used to hammer drivers who make soft right hand turns on to 15st Street -- the west side of LaGrange Road include a neighborhood that is lower incomed -- or will they be used to monitor cars that shoot through red lights?

We'll post the chief's response as soon as we can connect with him. He is very accessible as a community leader and official.


-- Ray Hanania

Friday, March 20, 2009

Paul O'Grady

For a guy with no political clout (or ties to the 19th Ward), Paul O'Grady is doing pretty well when it comes to raising money and getting the word out on his election.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Candidate Gerald Maher comes out swinging

Politics is starting to come alive in Orland Park with less than four weeks left to the April 7 election. That might tell you about how tough it is for non-incumbents to find the resources to challenge incumbents.

Gerald Maher is running a second time against Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin. They're both good men. They both love Orland Park, but one of them is the incumbent with a huge campaign warchest. The other is not, with a huge hurdle -- convincing voters to take notice.

While McLaughlin's warchest is significant -- I've written about it -- it does reflect his 16 years in office. He's built up a lot of alliances, good will and a decent track record. The current economy has put the spotlight on the village's taxes and the decision to trim back the property tax rebate has ruffled some feathers.

But it still takes a lot to mount a campaign.

Maher is focused squarely on the taxation issue, a smart move with taxes rising all around Orland Park and revenues dropping like fundamental words out of Chicago Mayor Daley's sentence structure. It is the heart of a two-sided, yellow flyer with black ink that was inserted into the weekly home-mailed edition of former Senate candidate Jack Ryan's Orland Park Prairie newspaper. It's an affordable way to get the word out, but far from what is needed.

His single disclosed campaign contribution came two days ago from Kang Lee, the restaurant in the heart of the controversial dust-up of the village's stalled multi-million dollar "Main Street Triangle" project and the planned razing of the Orland Plaza Shopping Center. It's the last parcel of land the village needs to begin plans to create an old town atmosphere around the train station west of LaGrange Road at 143rd Street. But the $2,000 from Kang Lee two days ago is small change to fuel the ambitions of the Concerned Citizens of Orland Park and its admirable slate of candidates. (Between now and the election candidates need only disclose contributions of more than $500 so the donation amount may not be a true indicator of what he has available.)

There are five positions up in the April 7 elections in the village. Mayor, clerk and three trustees. Two of the incumbent trustees running with McLaughlin are vulnerable, Kathy Fenton and Jim Dodge. The other incumbent is trustee Brad O'Halloran and the Village Clerk Dave Maher.

Dodge, who has more ambition than successes in politics, has a campaign photo that haunts him with a smile that looks like a bent tin can. He's close to Orland Township Republican Committeeman Elizabeth Doody Gorman, who doesn't have a great record in terms of helping the Republican Party at all, but that her friends in politics keep insisting has great potential. I've yet to hear from her and can only go by her public record. Gorman's biggest anchor is her political ties to Ed Vrdolyak, who pled guilty to corruption but managed to skate out of a jail term only through what observers conclude is either the senility of U.S. District Court Judge Milton Shadur, or political cronyism.

While Maher is known by many, his slate is not as well known, but courageous. They are Patrice Pykett, the candidate for clerk, and trustee candidates Kenneth Wzorek, Kenneth Houston and Marian Klemme.

Although Maher is basically a Republican, and McLaughlin a Democrat -- he's the Orland Township Democratic Committeeman, in fact -- party labels won't help much.

Maher's literature makes some good points, like addressing the village's mounting debt of $94.2 million. But using the term "pay-to-play" goes a bit too far. When asked about Maher's candidacy, McLaughlin asked where Maher has been the past eight years since the last election, but then took a swipe quoted in the newspapers that was too negative. Still, the election will help bring out issues citizens of Orland Park need to understand.

The expected turnout for April 7 will probably be low, though past mayoral elections have drawn some 9,000 votes.

But without deep pockets and more Kang Lee's, it will be very tough to mount the kind of campaign one needs to bring out the votes and crack McLaughlin's very tough to beat record.

It's going to take a lot more than an insert in the Orland Park Prairie to move people to vote on April 7 and Maher's people, despite a soft campaign warchest, are promising more. Money is the measure of a candidate's viability, not just the issues.

The Township race is also starting to percolate, too, with Maher's brother and Orland Township Supervisor Robert Maher being challenged by Paul O'Grady, who is not related to the former sheriff nor any of the powerful O'Grady clan. O'Grady's blue and white signs have already popped up on LaGrange Road.

For more information, you can visit Gerald Maher's web site at McLaughlin's slate does not have a campaign web site that I know of and I couldn't find one for Robert Maher, either, but you can find info on both McLaughlin and Robert at their official government sites, and the township's web site is Paul O'Grady's web site is for the Orland Township First Party.

-- Ray Hanania

Monday, March 9, 2009

First mailer in Orland Park isn't from a candidate -- yet!

It’s a little surprising, but the first political mailer I have received in Orland Park this political season doesn’t come from any of the candidates, but someone who many believe has a very prosperous political career ahead of him.

I’m talking about the mailer the Orland Fire Protection District mailed this week to tell me that they are not going to take all the money in taxes they had planned to take and will in fact be taking less. It’s called a tax abatement – not a rebate. The OFPD will abate $1.3 million, which you will see on the Fall Tax Bill. And you don’t have to fill out any paperwork. The mailer, a single two-sided color card is signed by Patrick Maher, the Fire Protection District president and son of village clerk, Dave Maher.

I call it the “first political piece of the season,” but that’s if you don’t count the two other “political pieces” I’ve already received in the mail from the Village of Orland Park. Yes, they are the very expensive, slick and full color “Village of Orland Park Public,” and the “Village of Orland Park Recreation & Parks Department” magazines and they are, in part, political.

Both publications do a great job of reminding us of who are our mayor, clerk and six trustees.

By the way, you can read the two publications the way they used to read the May Day Parade in the old Soviet Union: You can tell who has the most clout based on how many times names are repeated in the publication. Mayor McLaughlin’s name is mentioned 9 times, of course, as it should be. The next closest mention is of Trustee Brad O’Halloran, six times. Brad’s considered the political heavy on the board. Then there are Maher and Trustee Kathy Fenton, with four mentions each. (I only counted two mentions for Trustee Bernie Murphy, the lowest total. He’s not running for re-election this round, and if you put it to a vote, he'd probably say "no.")

The village publications are informative detailing what programs the village has to offer. Although I wonder: would anyone in the village be upset if it came out after the April 7 election instead of before?


Back to the Orland Fire Protection District. Their piece was a bit of a surprise. Or, maybe not. Maher is not up for election, although he has ambition and the backing of many fans in the village. I met him. Very nice guy. Says he’s just into it all because he wants to bring “change.” Kind of “Obama-ish.” The meeting was arranged by former Trustee Tom Dubelbeis, who is working part-time community relations for the OPFPD and has political smarts.

There is an election for a trustee on the board. But none of the incumbents are running so the piece doesn’t promote anyone. So why the notice?

There has been so much negative press about the OFPD. Reports that they’re buying three trucks next year are not true. Although the OFPD added 10 more employee spots to the budget, they are not hiring.

Maher insists the hires will only happen if there is an emergency, a retirement or disability. “I’m comfortable at the manpower level we are at now, unless there is a need and I don’t see it yet,” he said. “We have it in the budget in case we need it.”

Maher also said rebating taxes has always been his goal. “My goal has always been to rebate taxes and I think we have tried to cut back,” he said. “We had six open public meetings on the budget last year and six public meetings the year before. I want the public to know what we are doing. We want to do it again next year too.”

Although Maher says he doesn’t have any plans yet to announce for any public office, the word on the street is he may run for the Cook County Board seat in this, 17th District. And that would put him head-to-head with the incumbent, Republican Committeeman Elizabeth Doody Gorman who has the seat now but is rumored to be ready to step aside for let Paul Vallas, the former Chicago CEO. Vallas wants to against beleaguered and controversy-plagued Cook County Board President Todd Stroger and being on the board gives him a stronger platform to take Stroger on.

If Vallas does replace Gorman, that would be good news in and of itself. But, it might make it a tougher race for Maher. Maher will be a shoe-in to beat Gorman if she is still holding the seat when the time comes to file at the end of this year.

Here is what the Orland Fire Protection District says about the Tax Abatement from their web site:

Did the Board of Trustees approve a property tax abatement?
Yes, the Board of Trustees approved abating $1.3 million from the district’s property tax levy. The abatement means that for the year 2009, you will pay less for the OFPD portion of the tax bill than what was projected in our taxing ordinance. This is not a recurring abatement and is only applicable to the 2009 tax year at this time.

Based on our calculations and projections, the District’s portion of your property tax bill will decrease from last year.


And I’ve come to reconsider the whole issue of the ambulance service after Maher insisted that not one resident will have to pay for ambulance service out of their pocket. The whole idea was to get residents who need ambulance service to fill out the paperwork so the OFPD can seek reimbursement for the service from the Insurance Companies.

If there is one thing I hate more, it’s the robber baron low-lifes who run the health insurance industry. So, yes, make them pay for the service. We need to put them out of business anyway with universal health care.

Oh, and if you are an Orland Park resident and you don’t have health insurance, don’t worry. You don’t have to pay the OFPD anything.

-- Ray Hanania

Friday, March 6, 2009

Community Forum March 30 to fight rising Cook County Taxes planned

Fighting Cook County’s Rising Taxation: A community forum with Palatine Mayor Rita Mullins

Orland Park – How citizens can fight back against skyrocketing taxation in Cook County will be the focus of a public forum featuring Palatine Mayor Rita Mullins.

The forum will be held Monday, March 30, 2009 beginning at 6:30 pm at the Orland Park Civic Center, 14750 S. Ravinia Drive (1 block west of LaGrange Road).

Mullins, who has suggested that her Palatine Township secede from Cook County in protest of excessive taxes imposed by Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, will discuss how communities like Palatine, Orland Park, Tinley Park and other communities on Cook County’s Western most borders can network to stem the taxation Tsunami.

“I think it is important for communities to come together and have these discussions,” Mullins explained on a recent appearance on Radio Chicagoland on WJJG 1530 AM Radio.

“Secession is difficult to do and requires 50 percent plus one vote of the citizens of a township and 50 percent plus one vote of the voters in Cook County all to agree. And that is challenging. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have these conversations.”

Mullins said she believes these public discussions can help make our county officials like Stroger recognize that taxpayers deserve better and that government should first find ways to make their governments more efficient before turning to taxation.

The forum is sponsored by Radio Chicagoland, hosted Monday through Friday mornings (8 to 9:30 am) by award winning columnist Ray Hanania (

The forum is open to the public.

“It’s not just for voters in Orland Park but the whole Southwest region so that we can engage this very important issue,” Hanania said.

For more information, contact Hanania or visit the radio web site at

The program will be recorded for broadcast on radio the following morning on WJJG 1530 AM Radio "The G" at 8 am.

# # #

Low vote turnout in 5th District foreboding for Orland Park?

The low voter turnout in the 5th Congressional District was really shocking. Literally, 10 percent of the registered voters in the district turned out to vote this past week on Tuesday March 3 to select a candidate to lead their parties in the April 7 election for congress.

Some might say the primary election is always low and the April 7 election will have a higher voter turnout. The voters are merely waiting to let the Democrats, Republicans and Independents fight it out amongst themselves first. And, they will then go to the polls April 7 to select from that final round.

If that is true, it only shows how naive voters really are. The primary election pretty much sealed the fate on that district. Fortunately, Cook County Board Mike Quigley, who won the Democratic nomination, will almost certainly become the congressman in the seat once held by Rahm Emanuel, a very controversial former congressman who is now President Barack Obama's Chief of Staff.

What does it mean for Orland Park. This week, candidates in the village elections and township elections will be able to start putting up their campaign election signs.

The key contests are between Village President (Mayor) Dan McLaughlin and his slate versus Gerald Maher and his slate, and on the Township level between Township Supervisor Robert Maher and his slate and his challenger Paul O'Grady and his slate. And, there is an important contest to fill one trustee seat on the Orland Park Fire District. There are four candidates and one known name, Cindy Katsenes along with a young candidate Chris Ciciora.

In the past, Orland's mayoral contests have drawn strong voter participation, more than 10,000 voters (our town only edged towards 60,000 population this past year so that's a great turnout). Will it last? It takes community interest in the issues, not the fluff, and it takes money to reach the voters.

I'll get into all three elections in the coming weeks.

-- Ray Hanania

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Mayor McLaughlin's "State of the Village Address"

Mayor McLaughlin provided me with a copy of his State of the Village address to the Orland Park Chamber of Commerce and I offer it here intact for your review. I'd love to hear your feedback:

Ray Hanania
===== ========== ===========
Mayor Daniel J. McLaughlin
State of the Village 2009
Orland Area Chamber of Commerce Breakfast
February 25, 2009

Good morning. I want to thank the Chamber for again inviting me to report on the state of the village. I also want to thank the Chamber for inviting me to be a part of their recent installation of officers.

(Mayor introduces Village Board members and Department Heads in attendance.)

Today’s headlines are scary: “Stock Market Down, State and Federal Budgets Tank, Foreclosures Up, Consumer Confidence Shaken, and Almost 8% Unemployed.”

Did you ever wonder what the level of consumer confidence would be if the headlines read: “92% Employed, Consumer Buying Power Best in Years, and Gasoline Prices at 10 Month Low?”

Well, I am going to tell you that Orland Park is not immune to problems facing the nation. When the national economy is struggling and the State of Illinois is worse, it’s no surprise that we, like every community, will have some problems.

We receive income from four main sources:
Sales tax revenue was 6.8% under budget in 2008, which was 5% less than Fiscal Year 2007;
Motor fuel tax in 2008 was 7.5% under budget in part because the state changed the distribution rate;

Real estate tax was relatively unchanged;

Income tax was actually up 6.8% over budget.

In addition, impact fees, which are part of the permit fees, were down considerably because so few new homes were built in 2008. Only 44 permits were issued for new construction of single family residences or townhomes. And like every town in America we have some residential foreclosures. However, we are working to identify families having problems before they reach foreclosure to try to help. Right now, we don’t find out until it’s too late.

However, I am here today to give you the confidence building headlines. One of our best decisions of 2008 was hiring Paul Grimes. I have repeatedly stated that we have the best municipal staff in Illinois. Well it just got considerably better. Paul’s background and experience and the way he works with people make him a great asset to the village. And the fact that he is still here after six months shows he has a great sense of humor.

Since I started talking about finances, let me continue there. We maintain an Aa2 bond rating from Moody’s and an AA+ rating from Standard and Poor’s. These are some of the best bond ratings in the suburbs and a very positive position to be in.

A few years ago we adopted financial policies to maintain very strong fund balances which today are proving to be critical and one more area that will help Orland Park weather the storm.

Because our budget year ended in October when most projects were winding down and looking for final payouts we found ourselves constantly carrying funds into the next budget year which was burdensome and at times confusing.

Last October we took on the extra task of planning and approving a 15 month budget. It was once again balanced but it involved trimming in some areas, cutting in other areas and pushing back some projects in light of our projected revenue being lower.

In addition, I directed the village manager to put a freeze on hiring full time positions unless public safety was an issue -- in my office as well. I know some of you came to know Jack Knight. Jack moved to a different position in another community and we are happy for him. That position and others will not be filled until it is appropriate.

While the village is a large operation, in many ways it’s no different than your small business or your home budget. If there is less money coming in you spend less.

We are very happy to have been able to continue rebating homeowners their Orland Park property taxes. We began a different procedure to help us in planning our balanced budget, and homeowners will still receive 80% to 85% of their real estate taxes paid to the Village of Orland Park.

The Village has always applied for the various grants that are available and last year was no different, also the results of a Special Census conducted last year will provide us with an additional $350,000.

I will tell you that our staff and I have been in constant contact with all of our representatives in Congress to make sure Orland Park is considered in the Federal Stimulus Package.

With new leadership in the State, I feel confident that we will finally see a Capital Bill which will help on several projects that we have been working on.

Our Recreation Department was busy in 2008 building four new parks and a disc golf course. I have gone frolfing myself several times at the new course and it is becoming very popular.

The 159th and LaGrange Road intersection improvement was finally completed and I think you will agree that it was a great improvement to our traffic flow in that area. We are now looking at some utility relocation in the spring and going out to bid with a fall start to the improvement of the 143rd and LaGrange Rd. intersection. These were the two biggest bottlenecks on LaGrange Rd. and I am looking forward to having both completed.

This might be the time to mention (as I touched on last year) the amount of public improvement projects done in the last 15 years and I mention this, so you know, that this board recognizes the need for infrastructure improvements and works hard to provide those improvements. $270 million dollars was spent in water main, sanitary sewer, storm water, road projects and building construction projects. Of that $270 million dollars the Village of Orland Park paid $161 million dollars towards those projects.

In 2008 we began the construction of a new 7.5 million gallon reservoir which will increase our storage capacity by 40%. This project will add another $9.1 million to that already impressive list.

Continuing in the spirit of providing some positive headlines, I believe you will find these numbers rather interesting. A retail vacancy rate under 10% for a community has always been considered positive. The national average for vacancy rates available from the beginning of the fourth quarter were at 13.4%. The vacancy rate in Orland Park is 7.36%. This continues to be a very strong retail market. We have over 8.5 million square feet of retail space and we continue to be in the top ten largest revenue producers in the state.

There is a certain amount of retail projects that were started a year or two before the economy hit the brick wall. Those projects were completed but never occupied. If you took that square foot figure out because we didn’t lose businesses at those locations, our vacancy rate would be 5.56%.

The National Average for office space vacancy is at 9.8% and Orland Park’s rate is 3.75%. Taking out the space that was never occupied and we are at 2.31%.
I have a list here with the names of 83 businesses that opened in Orland Park in 2008.

There were 18 new commercial construction projects in 2008 with a value of more than $20 million. There were also 226 businesses that took out remodeling permits, continuing to invest in their property.

Marcus Theaters expanded and we had several new restaurants including Fat Burger, Longhorn Steakhouse, Red Robin and Ottimo’s. A couple of side notes worth mentioning, the general manager of Red Robin said that this store’s opening week was the best opening week they have had in forty years. Plus, after six weeks, it is still the busiest in their national chain.

Ottimo’s was written up in the March edition of Chicago Magazine as one of the top ten new restaurants in the entire Chicago area.

American Technical Publishers built a green building in the I-80 corridor and are already employing more than 50 people.

Cooper’s Hawk opened a new winery in the Orland Park Business Center and expanded their restaurant on Harlem. They were recently invited to provide the wine for the Illinois Ball at President Obama’s Inauguration.

Speaking of the Presidential Inauguration wasn’t it great for Orland Park that Sandburg’s Band participated in the inaugural parade! I want to thank all of the businesses in Orland Park that helped sponsor their trip.

2009 already looks promising. Nordstrom Rack will be opening in April. Staybridge Suites Hotel at Southmoor Country Club will begin construction in spring. BMW is expanding. Terry’s Lincoln Mercury was just awarded a Subaru Dealership and they will begin their expansion project this year. Five Guys Burgers will fill the old Einstein Bagel location, and Culver’s Restaurant will be opening on 159th street. A new Sushi Bar is coming to 131st and LaGrange Road.

There are several retail developers talking with our planning department on specific properties and we are looking forward to those plans coming to fruition in 2009.

I mentioned earlier the small number of new residential permits issued in 2008, however it is a very good sign that 1,500 permits were issued last year for residential remodeling and/or additions. Fourteen hundred new families moved into Orland Park over the last two years which means homes in Orland Park are still selling and people still want to move here in spite of the economy.

We are proud that Orland Park received several honors in 2008. Money Magazine once again named Orland Park as one of the top 100 Best Places to Live in America.

The Orland Park Civic Center was named one of Illinois 150 Best Places by the American Institute of Architects.

The Government Finance Officer’s Association honored the village for its budget, and Orland Park received the Clean Air Counts Award for climate protection issues, our community tree ordinances, and development review process encouraging conservation.

The Orland Park Police Station received first place in the 2008 Merit Award Program for Rehab Construction from the Chicago Building Congress, along with having received LEED Gold certification for being the first “green” police station in the country.

Speaking of the Police, we continue to be a very safe community and can boast of having what I think is the best police department in the state.

The Public Works Department keeps us safe in a different way and they have been tested in December and January like never before. The amount of effort this season on snow removal and salting our streets was record setting.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give you an update on our downtown, Main Street Triangle project. While we continue to negotiate with the property owners, several retailers as well as developers have continued talking with our staff and have shown a great deal of confidence in this project. But as they say, timing is everything and even those businesses with a strong interest, need financing. Until the financial institutions begin to open up we will have to be patient. But keep in mind that the Board’s vision is to create a downtown district, and that vision has to be longer and more resilient than a short-term economic cycle.

I know there are many people here today, including myself, that shop at any number of the stores in the Plaza. And while some people like to create or spread rumors, I want you to know that every effort will be made to work with and assist those retailers in the Plaza with the sincere intentions that they stay in the project or very close by in Orland Park.

With all of the effort we make to attract retailers to Orland Park, we certainly wouldn't want to lose the good longstanding businesses we have.

Our numerous community events in 2008 provided the opportunities for activities that any great city would be proud of and which enhance our quality of life.

I know that I mentioned last year that in addition to the many areas of green construction, open space, energy conservation and recycling that we already lead the way on, I was going to introduce a major Green Initiative. We are working on some additional details and we look forward to rolling it out very soon.

Recently, Orland Park was selected as one of only 12 communities in the Chicago area to participate in the Commonwealth Edison Energy Challenge.

This is a challenge that we will need the help of the Chamber, along with other agencies and businesses in the community, to be successful.

As you can see we have a lot to be proud of, and a lot to be thankful for. But, we don’t take any of it for granted. We have tried to make tough decisions keeping the village moving forward with a keen eye on what’s going on around us. Decisions that I feel are appropriate and in the long-term, best interest of Orland Park.

I appreciate your patience once again as I try to bring you critical information about the village without sounding too much like an accountant explaining an audit.

We have once again provided a handout with some additional information. Have a great day!