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Trump, pensions, jobs all issues in today’s suburban elections

In this March 30, 2017 photo, campaign signs for the Bolingbrook mayoral race are displayed outside the Fountaindale Public Library in Bolingbrook, Ill. Republican Roger Claar who has been mayor of Bolingbrook for 31 years is facing the fight of his career after he angered some residents by hosting a September fundraiser for Donald Trump. His rival, Democrat Jackie Traynere, is getting support from Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin and Our Revolution, an offshoot of Bernie Sanders' campaign. (AP Photo/Sara Burnett)

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders never got a chance to go head to head in the race for the White House, but southwest suburban Bolingbrook voters will get to weigh in on a battle between champions of the two.

And Orland Park voters can decide whether their mayor is worth a $110,000 raise — denounced by a challenger as a “pension grab,” a charge the incumbent dismisses as “misinformation.”

Those are just two of the local contests on Tuesday ballots, as suburban voters go to the polls to decide everything from local school, park district and library board trustees to mayors and village presidents.

In suburban Cook County alone, 2,541 candidates are vying in 1,031 contests. More than 100 of those are mayoral or village president elections, although not all are contested. Hundreds more candidates are vying for village, city and township offices in the collar counties.

Attracting national attention is the race in Bolingbrook, split between Will and DuPage counties, where a challenger is making an issue of the longtime incumbent mayor’s ties to a Trump fundraiser.

Time will tell whether the Trump card will make a difference in Mayor Roger Claar’s re-election bid. In October he hosted a fundraiser for Trump at the tony Bolingbrook Golf Club, bringing out both supporters and protesters.

Bolingbrook Mayor Roger Claar in 2014. File Photo. (Brian Jackson /Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
Bolingbrook Mayor Roger Claar in 2014. File Photo. (Brian Jackson /Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

The outcry was the driving force for labor organizer and Will County board member Jackie Traynere — who served as a delegate to Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders — to decide to run against Claar. The Trump factor has also brought out Democrats rallying in support of Traynere, including U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, billionaire J.B. Pritzker — whose mulling a run for governor — and Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, who is already running for governor. All three appeared at a rally and knocked on doors with Traynere on Saturday.

Rather than Trump vs. Sanders, Traynere equates the race to David and Goliath — with Claar’s resources far outnumbering hers. The Economic Freedom Alliance – a super PAC founded by Ron Gidwitz and Illinois Manufacturers’ Association President Greg Baise — spent $200,000 on ads targeting her.

“This is not a one issue election. I know he’s playing it like it’s a one-issue election, and we should all feel sorry for him and maybe he’s made a mistake,” Traynere said of the Trump fundraiser. “This is about his long time leadership as a dictator and bully and the bad financial path he’s put our community in.”

Jackie Traynere, Democratic candidate for Bolingbrook mayor, poses in her office in Bolingbrook, Ill. (AP Photo/ Sara Burnett)
Jackie Traynere, Democratic candidate for Bolingbrook mayor, poses in her office in Bolingbrook, Ill. (AP Photo/ Sara Burnett)

Claar — a Republican who attended Trump’s inauguration in January — told the Sun-Times last month that traditional party politics don’t belong in municipal elections and that he’s running on his record of being one of the longest serving mayors in the Chicago area.

Candidates don’t run under party labels in municipal elections. And voter turnout is usually small.

But Claar will have to defend his seat in a suburb that voted 66 percent in support of Democrat Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential race. That’s a demographic Traynere is hoping will embrace her.

The attention could spur turnout as well. According to Cook County Clerk David Orr, early voting is up 54.1 percent from the last consolidated election in 2015 — with Evanston and Orland Park seeing some of the top early voting sites.

In southwest suburban Orland Park, Mayor Dan McLaughlin — in office since 1993 — faces off against business owner Keith Pekau in a race that’s seen $200,000 in campaign ads and mailers to oust the incumbent by the Dan Proft led-Liberty Principles PAC. Gov. Bruce Rauner is one of the three top contributors to the political action committee, which ran a multitude of ads last year to support Republicans in legislative races. But Rauner political aides note Rauner hasn’t given to the PAC since June 2016, and that his money is not going to fund the municipal election.

McLaughlin is campaigning on what he calls a record of 23 straight years of balanced budgets; refunding $36 million in local property taxes to homeowners in the 12 of the last 15 years and $500 million in infrastructure improvements without raising taxes.

But he’s under fire by some for the village board’s decision last year to up the mayoral salary from $40,000 to $150,000, thus upping his pension — while making the position full-time. McLaughlin abstained from the vote. The move to expand the mayor’s duties was made in lieu of hiring an additional assistant village manager and economic development director.

Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin | Supplied photo
Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin | Supplied photo

McLaughlin noted it’s not really a “pension grab” because he has no current plans to retire, and he stressed that making the job full-time creates completely different responsibilities. He said he plans to quit his current job should he win re-election. And he said the “pension grab” accusation comes as the suburb has seen a growth in new homes and businesses, Double A1 and Double A+ bond ratings from Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s and being labeled one of the safest communities in the state — leaving his opponent with not much else to criticize.

“Once I stop working, just like every employee, the village stops paying me. Any pension comes out of the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, which happens to be one of the most funded and best run pensions in the state. And that’s why it’s become a little bit of a tough issue,” McLaughlin said. “It’s just misinformation. Telling people that the taxpayers are going to have to come up with $2 million for my pension is not true, and he’s made some other claims that have made the campaign very divisive.”

He also noted that turning the mayor’s position into a full-time one had been talked about for years, and escalated after an efficiency expert recommended it.

Pekau on Monday said he’d opt out of receiving a pension should he win.

Keith Pekau. Photo from keith4mayor.com
Keith Pekau. Photo from keith4mayor.com

Pekau said the financial support from Proft definitely helps: “It doesn’t surprise me that an outside group got involved because these pension grabs are affecting everyone, and Orland Park taxpayers pay the brunt.”

Proft calls the race a “microcosm” of how the “political ruling class operates” — thus the reason his PAC is involved in a municipal election.

“This is a race where I’ve said it’s so much a microcosm of what’s wrong with Illinois — why we’re the worst governed state in the nation. This is an opportunity to use Orland Park as an example because it wasn’t just you have a bad actor, you have a kleptocrat like McLaughlin, it was also you have a credible form of alternative,” Proft said. “So this would be a race that we look for to send the message and to encourage more people like Keith Pekau to step in … and challenge the established order with the knowledge that if they do, they’ll have support.”

Other elections garnering attention include the mayor’s race in Aurora — the second largest city in Illinois — and in Evanston.

In the north suburb, management consultant Steve Hagerty received 44.4 percent of the vote in the primary election in February, with Evanston Ald. Mark Tendam receiving 20.5 percent of the vote.

Tendam, who became Evanston’s first openly gay alderman, touts his role as Chair of the Human Services Committee where he has worked with Evanston police to de-escalate the use of force and build greater trust between the police and the public. He’s also vowing to bring more jobs to Evanston.

Hagerty is a management consultant and expert in municipal government disaster response. He has said he’ll in part focus on youth development and stemming gun violence while building and maintaining “a diverse and strong tax base” so property taxes don’t continue to climb.

In Aurora, Richard Irvin and Richard Guzman face off after defeating Democratic state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia and Michael Saville in the primary. Irvin is an attorney and alderman at-large. Guzman is a first-time candidate who works as assistant chief of staff in the suburb’s mayors office. Aurora’s mayor Tom Weisner stepped down last year due to health reasons. In the primary, Chapa LaVia was linked to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan in ads funded by the Economic Freedom Alliance.