Orland Mayor endorses trustee slate led by Cindy Katsenes
Pettiness by the Orland Park Village board against Mayor Keith Pekau will have a huge impact on the outcome of the April 2 Trustee elections where two slates will face off. Pekau has endorsed a slate led by Cindy Katsenes while the board trustees are backing a slate led by Village Trustee Carole Griffin Ruzich. The deciding factor may be the pettiness that has overshadowed the needs of the village
By Ray Hanania
Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau, who unseated longtime Mayor Dan McLaughlin in a landslide election victory on April 4, 2017, has been under attack from McLaughlin’s former board trustee allies since the day he was sworn into office.
The trustees have blocked Pekau at almost every turn, denying to Pekau what they gladly gave to McLaughlin without even a whimper.
This week, Pekau announced he is endorsing a slate of candidates he hopes will change that political dynamic and overcome the obstructive policies of the incumbent village board. Pekau encouraged his supporters to back the “People Over Politics” slate of candidates which includes Cindy Katsenes, Bill Healy and Mike Milani.
In a statement on his Facebook Page, Pekau wrote, “I am proud to endorse Bill, Mike and Cindy for Orland Park Trustee. They are committed to working collaboratively in the best interest of the residents for Orland Park. Please put People Over Politics and vote Healy, Milani and Katsenes on April 2nd.”
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The election for village trustee will be held on April 2. The Katsenes-led slate is being challenged by s slate led by popular Orland Park Trustee Carole Griffin Ruzich. Ruzich maintained a more neutral posture with Pekau supporting him on some measures an opposing him on others. Pekau had hoped Ruzich would run on the Katsenes slate. Instead, Ruzich chose to run with a slate that includes Devin Hodge and Kelly O’Brien, and is backed by the board majority and rumored to be backed by Orland Township Supervisor Paul O’Grady, former Mayor McLaughlin and others.
Ruzich tried hard to work with Pekau but Pekau sometimes is his own worst enemy, criticized as having a short temper and an inability to work with others. Many of those supporting Ruzich were political forces that Pekau could have built a coalition with had his personality not gotten in the way.
Pekau has done many good things, but he has been targeted politically by other members of the Village Board majority. He has battled with Village Manager Joe La Margo since taking office, and it is no secret that differences between Pekau and La Margo are personal and fraught with emotions.
You can view Pekau’s achievements on his website, the only place where his achievements are even acknowledged — they are certainly not mentioned anywhere on the Village of Orland Park’s website, the way they were for McLaughlin when he was mayor. You can also view his achievements listed in his newsletter, and click here to subscribe to Mayor Pekau’s eNewsletter by email.
La Margo is essentially the “acting mayor” and has been making all of the decisions, taking direction from the board majority.
Pekau was put in an awkward position as mayor because the board of trustees voted to give McLaughlin a massive pay hike and a passive retirement pension plan, making him a “full-time” mayor. It was the most greedy grab for power I had ever seen in 42 years of covering Chicagoland politics. But when McLaughlin lost, the board majority suddenly lost its appetite for the “full-time mayor” scenario and now they want to reverse the salary hike and pension benefits.
McLaughlin was a brilliant mayor. Smart, often at odds with the village board. He did many great things to improve Orland Park. And he could have remained as mayor had he not succumbed to his own personal desires and stayed the course on championing the rights of Orland Park residents. But he stumbled. He lied directly to me before the election about his candidacy and campaign. The voters quickly saw through McLaughlin and threw him out of office.
Pekau didn’t “win” the election as much as McLaughlin lost it. Almost anyone would have beaten McLaughlin, and that’s a difficult thing for Pekau to accept, causing him more troubles that benefits.
But the Orland Park village board majority has been obnoxious in confronting Pekau. They can’t believe that Pekau, an unknown, won the office of mayor when so many of them had coveted the spot for themselves but could never muster the courage to take on McLaughlin.
One off the worst examples of the board’s viciousness against Pekau is seen in the pages of the Village Newsletter.
For years, Mayor McLaughlin’s name and face dominated the Village Newsletter. His name was published dozens of times, along with dozens of his photos announcing new programs, opening stores, meeting with residents. Many residents referred to the newsletter as the “McLaughlin Newsletter,” not the Village Newsletter because his name was in it so much. The “McLaughlin” newsletter was balanced off with equal promotions for all of the village trustees. Every trustee had their own “column” highlighted with numerous quotes from them along with their photos.
It was a happy little world back then, before greed set in and the voters angrily tossed McLaughlin to the curb.
But once Pekau took over, La Margo and the Board majority have done everything possible to minimize Pekau’s presence in the newsletter, removing the Mayor’s Column that would oftentimes front the newsletter. In fact, the most recent newsletter gives space to all of the trustees, including quotes, pictures and promotional PR. But Pekau is nowhere to be found.
I asked Pekau about the newsletter, and he said, “This is just another effort to reduce the power and the influence of the Mayor’s office because the Trustees and Village Manager don’t like who was elected. It is unacceptable and unfortunate, and is another attempt to subvert the will of the people. And no, you are not making more of it than it is. It is a pattern of behavior that is pathetic.”
Village officials I spoke with denied it was being done intentionally, although the facts of the newsletter speak for themselves.
Don’t take my word for it. Read the Village Newsletter yourself and see how disrespectful it is to Mayor Pekau who was elected by a overwhelming majority of the village’s voters. The newsletter is as much a slap against the voters as it is against Pekau. Truly shameful and purely political.
It’s this kind of pettiness that makes the board majority and La Margo look bad. La Margo supervises the newsletter and can’t escape the blame, unfortunately.
I like Katsenes and Ruzich, and they have the best chances of winning. Healy has a strong chance, too, as the husband of the popular Orland Library Chairman Nancy Healy. I don’t know Milani, Hodge or O’Brien, and neither do the voters, although Hodge was involved with District 135, La Margo’s origins. O’Brien is a recent resident who reportedly moved into the village last year.
If the Katsenes slate wins, it will be because voters continue to be disgusted by the pettiness, like the newsletter. If the Ruzich slate wins, it will be because Pekau has failed to understand how to build coalitions and compromise. Unfortunately, Pekau is a lot like Gov. Bruce Rauner — Rauner didn’t win the election, former Gov. Pat Quinn lost it, too.
My guess is the results will be a mix.
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Hanania also writes about Middle East issues for the Arab News, and The Arab Daily News criticizing government policies in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A critic of mainstream news media bias, Hanania advocates for peace & justice for Israel & Palestine, & the empowerment of Arabs in America.
"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."
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His columns are archived here. Hanania was named "Best Ethnic American Columnist" by the New America Media in November 2007, and is the 2009 recipient of the SPJ National Sigma Delta Chi Award for column writing.
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