Opinion: Pekau won re-election but lost campaign to build his own Machine
By Ray Hanania
After a bruising political election, Orland Park’s Mayor Keith Pekau managed to defeat his challenger, former Mayor Dan Mclaughlin.
I guess it pays to have a $150,000 a year salary and $600,000 in income over four years for a part-time job. It gives you a lot of time to send out blathering eNewsletters that viciously attack critics and lie and exaggerate about the facts.
If you send out enough of them, the lie becomes fact for some apparently.
Pekau, to his credit, beat McLaughlin by 510 votes, although Pekau only slightly improved his vote totals from four years ago. Pekau received 6,874 votes while McLaughlin received 6,364 votes. But in winning re-election to maintain his stranglehold over the Village’s government, Pekau lost his fight to establish the vaunted Pekau Machine.
Pekau slated candidates in nearly every possible race with the biggest battle targeting Orland Township Supervisor Paul O’Grady, probably one of the most responsible and admirable elected officials in Illinois. O’Grady’s record of achievements and the high level of service was the result of his positive demeanor. He focused his efforts more on providing important services to constituents like seniors, the indigent, and youth among many, than on vicious personal attacks. Vicious personal attacks is the hallmark of Pekau’s Machine politics. It allowed O’Grady to easily sweep out Pekau’s hodgepodge of controversial candidates.
No need to go over those losers, except maybe to say that Scott Kaspar could have had a chance at a successful political career had he not allowed himself to be manipulated by Pekau. Apparently, Pekau thought that by slating the weak and controversy-plagued slate against the well-liked O’Grady, it would siphon off O’Grady’s support for McLaughlin. (Didn’t anyone think to do background checks on those candidates?)
The truth is, though, that McLaughlin lost precisely because he pretty much ran his election on his own. Clearly that was the price demanded by the big unions that backed him, unions that couldn’t allow coalitions with any moderate and popular Republicans like Jim Dodge or Liz Gorman. Not forging a broad coalition of supporters exposed McLaughlin, forcing him to run pretty much on his own.
From emails and calls I received that were able to make it through the sludge pumped out by Pekau, clearly many voters were shocked to learn Pekau mislead them when he claimed he “lowered” the pay increase from $150,000 back to the $40,000. That started this whole mess, throwing Orland Park into absolute chaos these past four years. Pekau supported the proposal that was backed by former Trustees Patricia Gira and Dan Calandriello, whom Pekau hated because Calandriello dared to challenged Pekau’s insane governance. He did so to prevent his foes from claiming that they — not him — forced a rollback of the salary hike. But what Pekau didn’t tell residents was that he was still taking the $150,000 a year collecting a total of $600,000 from taxpayers over his four years of tyranny as a part-time mayor who spent much of his time politicking and attacking his critics.
It was a bad move on McLaughlin’s part to steer clear of that issue. Maybe he believed it would raise concerns about why he lost four years earlier to a relatively unknown lawn care businessman.
The dynamics of the Republican versus Democrat challenge played into Pekau’s hands and slipped unabated through McLaughlin’s. Orland Park is a predominantly Republican village. If you are going to run against a Republican like Pekau, you need to separate him from a part of his base, the moderate Republicans or the Reagan Democrats.
But surrounded almost exclusively by Democrats and Unions, that was near impossible for McLaughlin. Although Gorman slammed Pekau’s attempt to slate many fake Republicans for office — nearly all of them lost that he backed, it wasn’t enough. Had Gorman or Dodge run against Pekau head-to-head, Pekau would have lost.
Just how weak was Pekau? He failed to carry his entire slate losing Gus Lekas in the post of Village Clerk to Republican Patrick O’Sullivan, who had the backing of real Republicans. O’Sullivan won 6,640 votes compared to Lekas who received only 6,340 votes, a lead of only 300 votes. That race shows that had McLaughlin run as a non-partisan candidate he could have received support from moderate Republicans. That 300-vote flip essentially represents about 800 centrist Republicans who could have voted for McLaughlin had he not been so wrapped-up in the Democratic Union embrace.
Ironically both Pekau and McLaughlin suffer from the same inability to openly work with others or to build consensus. Had McLaughlin stood in a non-partisan way with all of the district’s leaders — whom Pekau attacked viciously over the years, each and everyone of them — McLaughlin surely would have won.
Pekau lost in several races, including losing his entire slate that he put up against his nemesis Paul O’Grady. Remember, Pekau singled this fight out in all of his literature as one of his top priorities, declaring that “O’Grady must be defeated.”
Although Pekau backed candidates in School District 135, so did everyone else so he can’t claim a victory there.
And Pekau did have the open backing of Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison, the Palos Township Republican Committeeman and Chairman of the dysfunctional Cook County Republican Organization which has been wheezing louder and louder during the past few years under his leadership. Instead of being a kingmaker, Morrison put his lot with Pekau purely for partisan political purposes.
Sadly, Orland Park voters were bludgeoned by this worthless partisan divide between Republicans and Democrats especially since most Orland Park voters are centrists who hug that line of separation pretty strongly. Just as many Democrats dislike Cook County States Attorney Kim Foxx and her weak anti-crime policies as do Republicans.
In Palos Township, the crazies are dancing around their own defeat having lost every campaign they entered. They slammed the Palos Township Board of Trustees and even attacked one of their own because Tasneem Abuzir was not under their control. They are claiming victory over Sharon Brannigan who lost her election, pretending that Robert Maloney who beat her wasn’t as close to the board that the crazies so hated. In fact, Maloney was slated by the very same people that the crazies spent four years viciously attacking. So the crazies have to pretend that they have a “victory” when they do not.
Let me repeat that. Tasneem Abuzir won election as the first Arab Muslim trustee in Palos Township’s history and the candidates who the crazies backed lost the election big time. It wasn’t even close.
Those anti-Brannigan protestors — most from Chicago not even Palos Township — are more like Pekau than they know. Morrison is on the hook for that battle and the crazies are already attacking him. Morrison is more vulnerable today than ever.
I’ve covered enough political elections to know that you win some and you lose some. You hope for the best but the scourge often floats to the top.
The real tragedy is that Orland Park, once the crown jewel of the Southwest Suburbs, is in terrible shape with rising crime, fear of shopping, so many abandoned businesses and a sale tax and property tax base that is flattening. Without a real genuine leader — even in his worst moments and after a major stumble four years ago McLaughlin was the best mayor Orland Park ever had — Orland Park is fated to fumble. The village is on a slippery slope and at the helm is an unhinged ego-maniac who has always put his own personal self-interests first.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and political columnist. This column was originally published in the Southwest News Newspaper Group in the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News, The Reporter Newspapers. For more information on Ray Hanania visit www.Hanania.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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