Monday, November 2, 2009

UNITY Party no longer united in Oak Lawn

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Dave Heilmann has brought a breath of fresh air to Oak lawn, a village that was run by a benevolent dictator whose successor ran the place to the ground. In 2005, Heilmann won and with him came several new trustees including Alex Olejniczak and Tom Phelan, and a new village clerk, Jane Quinlan. Together with Bob Streit, they formed a new coalition and eventually ousted all the remnants of the old guard that reigned over years of taxpayer waste. The only survivor is Jerry Hurckes, a seasoned politician who very recently suffered an unfortunate family tragedy with the loss of his young daughter.

Two years later, Carol Quinlan joined the ticket winning her first election.

This past April, Hurckes ran head-to-head against Heilmann and another of Hurckes allies was defeated, succeeded by Thom Duhig.

Yet, over the past two years, instead of enjoying a reform majority coalition, the UNITY Party that Heilmann founded, found itself drifting apart over self-interests.

It's a tragedy for Oak Lawn, a village the Heilmann helped bring back to economic stability. But, as always, egos get in the way.

Take Bob Streit, for example. Streit was always the underdog outsider attacked and ridiculed by the former ruling government of the late Ernie Kolb. At one point, Streit told me he thought about resigning to avoid the constant assaults. Every time Streit tried to raise and issue or question the actions of the majority, he was hammered, vilified and slandered simply because the Kolb majority was just that brutal. They didn't respect anyone and they played to their own power, brokering insider deals and sweetheart contracts that cost the taxpayers millions in wasted spending.

But Streit was from one district.

That's when Heilmann arrived. He brought the taxpayer's anger together and they voted out the wasteful spenders. And the village started to see savings.

But instead of staying the reform course, Streit's ego started to get in the way. Maybe he wanted to get back at a former political rival who dared to challenge him/ Maybe it's just about power. After being on the outside for so many years, without any power, and then suddenly finding that over, thanks to Heilmann's victory, maybe some of it has gone to his head.

I've known Streit for a long time. We were always good friends going back to the 1980s. But when I saw Streit at a recent board meeting, dressed like he was auditioning for a part in a New York movie on political clout, the "Don" Or Oak Lawn, I didn't recognize him. He was even harder to recognize when he began to talk, wielding his power to beat down someone who dared to criticize the village's manager, Larry Deetjen.

That's not the Bob Streit I know. It was someone different.

And frankly, I can say without hesitation that I do not know anything about Larry Deetjen and I doubt that the taxpayers in Oak Lawn really know Deetjen either. Yet Deetjen and Phelan and Streit are suddenly the new power hogs in Oak Lawn. They make the rules. They make the decisions. They are the "players."

And then there was the wholly one-sided and vicious attack against Heilmann in the Daily Southtown recently, a story that seemed a bit unfair for a news story. Phelan tossing attacks against Heilmann as if Heilmann were Oak lawn's problems. I have seen this happen before and it always stinks!

You just change a few names and suddenly, we're back to the old days when it was all about power and nothing about the best interests of the village.

Heilmann has his fundraiser at Palermos (great choice by the way_ On Nov. 18. He'll be there with Carol Quinlan and maybe with Jane Quinlan the village clerk -- maybe if Jane Quinlan can rise up above the petty politics and name calling that has characterized the attacks of some of Heilmann's former allies.

The voters are not stupid. They're pretty smart. I've stayed out of it until now, hoping that Oak Lawn's politics can shake itself out

I'll be at Heilmann's fundraiser because I believe he is the village's future. I'm just an opinion columnist. But I know what my gut feeling tells me and from what I have heard from voters in Oak Lawn, I think I know what their gut feeling tells them, too.

If I didn't go to the fundraiser, I'd be a big fat hypocrite, like some of the rest. And hypocrites are the worst kind of politicians.

-- Ray Hanania

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