Feeling sorry for failed Mayor Keith Pekau

Feeling sorry for failed Mayor Keith Pekau
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Opinion: Feeling sorry for failed Mayor Keith Pekau

Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau attacked me, yet again, in his political newsletter once again making the false assertion of “factual inaccuracy” in my opinion columns. Of course, if anyone has a problem with facts and accuracy, it is Mayor Pekau who stumbles through leadership responding to criticism with lies, exaggerations and a selfish drive to boost his own failed political image. Pekau knows that this coming April, the taxpayers will boot him out of his $150,000 a year overpaid job and elect someone responsible, like Orland Supervisor Paul O’Grady, Orland Trustee Jim Dodge, Orland Trustee William Healy, or former Cook County Commissioner Liz Gorman.

By Ray Hanania

Once again, the mayor of Orland Park where I have lived and paid my property and retail taxes for the past 37 years now, has decided to personally attack me in his inaccurate and vicious political eNewsletter.

Pekau is upset because last week I reported that Orland Park had a confirmed case of coronavirus, and noted that was ironic considering Pekau has led the campaign to challenge the COVID-19 restrictions imposed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker. 

Pekau has been trying hard to stoke up his faltering political base by using skepticism about the coronavirus suggesting that it’s not as deadly in Orland Park as it is everywhere else. No one has died in Orland Park, — thankfully — but not because of Pekau’s leadership to fight the virus.

Instead, Pekau is scheduling concerts, organizing fireworks displays, refusing to wear a face masks, though maintaining some social distancing at board meetings — except for this week when he informed the elected trustees that they will all be sitting together on the board dais at the next meeting.

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Keith Pekau, former landscaper and accidental Orland Park Mayor. Photo from the Village of Orland Park

Keith Pekau, former landscaper and accidental Orland Park Mayor. Photo from the Village of Orland Park

So having someone test positive who works for the Village of Orland Park is a public relations catastrophe for Pekau’s image, the fake champion against the repressive restrictions imposed by an unpopular Democratic Governor, Pritzker. It wasn’t just any employee who was infected, though. It was an employee who worked in the offices of the Village Manager, George Kaczwara, which is adjacent to Pekau’s offices at Village Hall.

I emailed Kaczwara asking about the report of a confirmed coronavirus case among village employees but the Village Manager didn’t respond. Kaczwara put out a note to employees who worked with the infected employee, required by law, to inform them that employees who may have come in contact with the infected employee should monitor their own health in the coming weeks. Coronavirus can hibernate for up to two weeks before surfacing.

I lost one of my closest journalism pals, Mansour Tadros, in March after he became infected, dying less than five days later. Coronavirus is no joke and fighting it shouldn’t be used by selfish politicians like Pekau to bolster their sagging political fortunes and their growing unpopularity.

Kaczwara could have chosen to respond to the information, but instead, nearly seven hours later, decided to confirm my story by putting out a public press release (which I later updated and appended to the original column that you can read by clicking here). In the press release, the village acknowledged, as I reported, that a village employee was diagnosed with coronavirus. I hope that employee recovers and I also hope that the other employees who came in contact with the employee at Village Hall do not come down with the virus, too.

And what about the public that came in contact with the employee? The public has a right to know, but that’s not what the village wanted to happen, apparently. They were forced to after I blew the whistle and reported it first.

Two days later, several employees at Village Hall contacted me saying yet another employee contracted the virus, this time in the Recreation Department. Instead of putting out a press release, Pekau, who was on “vacation” in Colorado, decided to not say anything. The only way Orland Park residents learned of the second infection was by reading my second column, which you can read here by clicking this link. And the employees, who work in fear at Orland Park, said that while the village claims to be giving them face masks and gloves, they are not!

An email to the Recreation Department also went unanswered. That’s how “open” Pekau’s administration is.

The residents of Orland Park have a right to know that employees they may have had contact with have been exposed and diagnosed with coronavirus. But apparently, Pekau doesn’t believe you should have that right. In fact, there is also a third employee who has coronavirus now, and there are rumors about yet another “bigshot” in Village Government has it, too.

We won’t know because the Village hasn’t been honest with the public.

Instead, Pekau and his minions have resorted to name-calling and personal attacks. They attacked me personally because they can’t explain what is factually wrong with anything that I have written so far.

They attacked me personally because Pekau and his minions don’t want the public to have the “facts” that Pekau says are not in my columns.

They attacked me personally because they have no answers for their failed leadership. And their leadership has indeed failed.

I have covered government officials for 45 years as a journalist including at Chicago City Hall (1976 thru 1992), as a live weekend talkshow host on WLS-AM radio (1982-1992), and as a media consultant giving advice to more than 200 elected officials and government agencies since 1992.

I’m not a landscaper, or an “investor.” I haven’t held public office, either, although I did run for office in 1992 to understand exactly what elected officials must go through. I learned in that election that politicians who have thick skins survive and those with thin skins, like Pekau, don’t.

Better qualified challengers for mayor are out there

Already the names are piling up to run against Pekau in April 2021. They include some very strong and successful public leaders including Paul O’Grady, the supervisor of Orland Township. O’Grady has done tremendous things as the Township Supervisor and he has come under personal attack from the Pekau bullying gang, too.

When Pekau ordered the closure of the Secretary of State’s Service office at Village Hall — because Secretary of State Jesse White is the State’s Number One Democratic Vote-getter, Pekau asserted  White ordered the office closed. White called that lie. Rather than engage in Pekau’s mudslinging ways, O’Grady reached out to White and reached an agreement that will not cost taxpayers one penny to restore the popular Secretary of State services at the Orland Township offices.

That had to be a political kick-in-the-teeth for Pekau and a real embarrassment, too. Pekau said he wanted a “full service” center in Orland — which means that first-time drivers in cars and big trucks would be driving around our streets all day and night hours, something most resident don’t want crowding our neighborhood streets. Under O’Grady’s plan, the basic services that the office provided, which represents 95 percent of everything Orland Park motorists need, can be completed without having to drive all the way downtown or to a full-service office in Midlothian or in the far south suburbs.

O’Grady would make a great mayor.

Orland Township supervisor Paul O'Grady

Orland Township supervisor Paul O’Grady

So would Jim Dodge, the longtime Orland Park Village Trustee. Granted, Dodge and I have not always gotten along and have locked horns a few times, memorably when he attacked me in 1996 when I launched the website “OrlandParker.com” and he asserted in a Chicago Tribune attack article that I was trying to “pretend” that I was the Village of  Orland Park. The inept reporter who wrote that story didn’t bother to email me — neither understood at the time that the official website for a government like the Village of Orland Park would not end in “.com” but rather would end in “.gov” — something no individual can get unless they represent a government.

Orland Park Trustee Jim Dodge

Orland Park Trustee Jim Dodge

Yet despite that, Dodge has stood up for a lot good issues, although in the past few months he has tired of being bullied, demonized and personally attacked by Pekau, too. I don’t blame him for avoiding Pekau’s vicious nature. Pekau is horrible. Dodge is one of the longest serving and most brilliant members of the Village Board. He has a lot of great ideas. His wife Linda is an equally dedicated public servant. He would make a good mayor too, certainly better than Pekau.

There is also William Healy, whose wife Nancy Healy has dedicated her life to public service. Healy is allied with Pekau, but I don’t think Healy really understands Pekau’s true vicious nature. Healy is smart and won election as a trustee by virtue of the fact that he was honest and upfront and had some great ideas. I expected more from Healy but as we know, Pekau is a one-man show who runs everything himself.

That’s why Pekau eliminated all of the Village Committees and created a Committee of the Whole so that nothing is discussed without his approval. If Pekau could have his way, I bet he would eliminate all of the trustees including Healy and pretty much run everything by himself. The Healy family deserves better, and eventually that will come once Pekau is tossed from government on his haunches. 

Orland Park Village Trustee Bill Healy. From the Village of Orland Park website

Orland Park Village Trustee Bill Healy. From the Village of Orland Park website

And, there is also Elizabeth “Liz” Doody Gorman, who was the longtime Cook County Commissioner for this region for just over three terms. Gorman and I also started out on a rocky road and I often criticized her. But unlike Pekau, whose only talent is to move mud and muck in wheelbarrows, Gorman attended a public tax meeting I organized as a columnist and spoke very eloquently about defending the interests of taxpayers.

Gorman had the courage to stand up to me and, unlike Pekau who can only call me names, spoke intelligently about her views and presented herself as a brilliant and effective champion of the taxpayers.

When I got to know the real Liz Gorman, my admiration for her changed. She fought many battles for the taxpayers and since then  I have written supportively about her, and proudly. Gorman’s most memorable achievement was to repeal the Todd Stroger “One Cent” Sales Tax that the County Board passed. Gorman singlehandedly, and through sheer brilliance and with diplomacy, convinced a majority of members, Republicans and Democrats, to reverse their support and later oppose the tax repealing it. No one but Gorman could achieve that win for the taxpayers of Cook County and Orland Park.

Former Cook County Commissioner and taxpayer advocate Liz Gorman

Former Cook County Commissioner and taxpayer advocate Liz Gorman

Liz Gorman knows how to work with everyone on all sides of the political aisle. In contrast, Pekau’s only talent besides mudslinging and name-calling (like in his muddied eNewsletter that he sends out regularly attacking everyone, including me) is that he knows how to make enemies out of friends.

Pekau’s policies costing Orland Park taxpayers

That’s exactly what the word “Pekau” has come to mean.

Pekau will cost Orland Park all kinds of state subsidies and support because he has insulted, with name-calling and personal attacks, nearly every local member of the Illinois Legislature, in the State House and State Senate. Pekau has insulted every mayor and every statewide politician, like Jesse White. And, he insults me a columnist who works hard to bring the truth to the public.

The way I look at it, I’m in good company.

I’ve won dozens of Journalism awards for my political commentary including four Peter Lisagor Awards (and nine finalist nominations). I won the Society of Professional Journalism’s Sigma Delta Chi national award for Column Writing. I was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New America News Media for taking on the tough challenges fearlessly. And, I have won two Chicago Newspaper Guild Union Stick-O-Type Awards.

The prestigious national journalism magazine “Editor & Publisher” wrote this about me:

“Ray Hanania, a former Creators columnist who’s now self-syndicated, is a Palestinian-American writer married to a Jewish woman. He writes about Mideast issues in an evenhanded way that makes him seem positively radical in a sea of columnists who back Israel almost unconditionally. Hanania’s approach, as former President Jimmy Carter discovered with his latest book, is not popular with much of the mainstream media. But it would be interesting if U.S. dailies followed the lead of Israeli newspapers in allowing a much wider spectrum of debate about Mideast issues. By the way, Hanania is also a stand-up comedian who’s hilarious when he opts to use humor.”

I also write weekly Op-Ed columns (which I hope you read and debate for or against) for a community newspaper chain, the Southwest News Newspaper Group which includes the Regional Newspaper which covers Orland Park, and several others. This columns are published right here on SuburbanChicagoland.com.

My columns were internationally syndicated for 12 years by the world’s largest syndicator, Creators Syndicate. And I also write for the English-language newspaper the Arab News, advocating Middle East peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

I am proud of what I do. But even if I were a laborer pushing dirt around in a wheelbarrow, or picking weeds for a living, I would never want to be like Keith Pekau, one of the worst public servants and self-centered political losers I have ever met. 

Pekau the “Accidental Mayor”

Yes, I did like him once. But then I saw the real Keith Pekau. I saw right through him. He’s transparent, an obvious conclusion for everyone who cares about making Orland Park the greatest community ever, as I do. You can see right through Pekau and that is what I believe will happen in the next mayoral elections on April 6.

Pekau was an “accidental mayor” who won office only because longtime Mayor Dan McLaughlin made one mistake after nearly a quarter century of brilliant leadership. McLaughlin proposed giving himself a pay hike to $150,000 a year, plus a massive pension hike, too. Pekau denounced McLaughlin and used that to stumble into office. Most voters were voting in anger against McLaughlin and very few voted because they thought Pekau had any talent or promise. If “Mickey Mouse” were on the ballot,  “Mickey Mouse” would have won in the wave of anger that swept through the Orland Park elections. For his part, McLaughlin acknowledged it was a mistake and has a future working with the next administration who picks up the strewn pieces of Orland Park’s shattered, embarrassing Pekau government.

Ironically, Pekau is taking that $150,000 annual salary after viciously attacking McLaughlin for proposing it — McLaughlin never received that salary. Pekau is being paid $150,000 a year, for doing what? I don’t know.

As an Orland Park homeowner, honorably discharged, active duty, Vietnam Era Veteran, as a decade-long member of the Illinois Air National Guard, and, as a taxpayer, I have a right to hold Pekau’s flippers to the fire. I demand the answers that clearly Pekau either doesn’t want to give or lacks the capacity to defend.

That’s why Pekau attacks me personally. The facts he asserts that I got wrong — that he doesn’t detail by the way — are so right-on that it must irk him beyond tolerance, fueling his vicious anger.

The truth hurts Mayor. That’s why you fight it.

Ray Hanania

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