Sunday, April 2, 2017

Pekau says he won't take pension benefit

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Pekau says he won't take pension benefit

The high profile battle for the office of mayor of Orland Park in southwest suburban Chicago is fueled by the board's decision to give the 23 year incumbent Mayor Dan McLaughlin a massive salary boost and huge pension after only one term in office. The salary and pension spike has outraged many voters and for the first term in many years a challenger, Keith Pekau, appears on the verge of winning

By Ray Hanania

Public anger that Orland Park's mayor  will benefit from a huge pension is fueling the anger and tensions that have turned Orland Park's Mayoral Dan McLaughlin's re-election bid into one of the most contested elections in years.

The issue hits hard because so many people in our society today are facing retirement with either little or no pension to support their retirement, an issue that is especially sensitive to senior citizens who happen to be the largest voting block not just in Illinois but in Orland Park.

McLaughlin has said he did not push for the pay hike and that making him full-time would save the village millions. But his critics including a former mayor and trustee, Ed Schussler, insist that the pay hike plan was always McLaughlin's idea and that the board, which rarely votes against the mayor, just went along.

Tragically for Mayor McLaughlin, had he not accepted the huge pension, he would have been easily re-elected as many voters say they are content with the direction of the village. But finances and taxes and spending are too critical to voters and the mayor's pension spike controversy has turned the election upside-down.

About 100 Residents of Orland Park filled the board meeting room Monday Oct. 17, 2016 to protest increasing Mayor Dan McLaughlin's salary 375 percent from $40,000 to $150,000 a year. Photo courtesy of Ray Hanania.

Opponent says he will reject pension if he wins

Keith Pekau, who never ran for office before, said he was as outraged as everyone else when the Orland Park Board approved the pay hike and the pension spike which would raise McLaughlin's pension from $30,000 a year to $110,000 a year. The salary hike increases his salary fro $40,000 to $150,000 a year.


Pekau said that he got in the race not just out of anger
but with the promise that if he is elected
he will not take the pension benefits
and will do everything he can to repeal the salary hike.


But a point that angers many is that the salary and pension spike was only intended to help McLaughlin and only takes effect during the next four years of the term of the next mayor, whom the board said they expected to be McLaughlin.

But the pension spike issue has changed everything.

And Pekau said that he got in the race not just out of anger but with the promise that if he is elected, he will not take the pension benefits and will do everything he can to repeal the salary hike.

"I didn't get into the race until right after the board voted," Pekau said. "I was angry about the salary and about the huge increase the mayor would get in his pension. There are so many voters out there who don't have a pension and it just didn't seem right."

Pekau said that if he is elected on April 4, he will refuse the pension benefits and save the taxpayers millions, whether he serves one term or more than four years.

"I will not take any pension benefits. I will opt out of the pension. That's my commitment to the voters," Pekau said.

I asked Pekau about this when a follower on Facebook asked me what Pekau would do.
"Some argue that I can't opt out of the pension and that I must take it," Pekau said. "But that's not true at all. Full time employees can't opt out of the pension but elected officials can if they have never been in the pension system before."

When you look at all the issues facing both candidates there are positives and negatives, but no single issue stands out more than the issue of the pension.

Voters who support McLaughlin are criticizing the influx of outside funding from the Liberty Principles PAC, a conservative Republican PAC.

But Pekau's supporters point out that McLaughlin is a Democrat who has received similar support from the Democratic Party.

The Republican-Democratic issue is of some importance especially since Orland Park voter overwhelmingly to break from the Illinois trend in the last Presidential Election to support Republican Donald Trump. Trump received 50.4 percent of the vote while Hillary Clinton received on 44.4 percent of the vote.

Click here to read how Democrats and Republicans are battling in the McLaughlin-Pekau race.

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.

Keith Pekau
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.

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.

Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin

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.

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?

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.