While the VIP Party of North Riverside maintained its solid village board majority in the April 5 election, party officials will be huddling to figure out just how two independent candidates won election over longtime incumbent trustees.

“We will be doing an internal review in the party and build on our strengths and jumpstart our weaknesses,” said VIP Party Chairman Matthew Decosola.

VIP has had a three-decade-long stranglehold on the village board. Despite challenges from independent candidates in recent years, VIP has been able to easily brush aside its opponents. Just two years ago, VIP candidates swamped all of its opponents by margins of 3 to 1 or greater.

But on April 5, that changed. Rocco DeSantis, a retired North Riverside police officer, and H. Bob Demopoulos, a local businessman, took two of the three contested village trustee seats. Randall Czajka, a VIP incumbent, finished second in a tight race.

“The saddest day in VIP history is when they change the name to RIP,” said DeSantis. “They’re not the employers; they work for us. I’m here for the residents and the employees and that’s it. I told them, I’m willing to work with you, but things have got to change.”

DeSantis spent a good deal of time prior to the election canvassing door-to-door.

“I spent a lot of time with the people. I went to the apartments and tried to hit every house in town,” he said. “Letting people see a face with the name was a key thing.”

Demopoulos, DeSantis and Georgopoulos formed a kind of unofficial team in the run up to the election, according to Demopoulos, who also claimed the support of North Riverside’s firefighters.

“We all coordinated,” Demopoulos said. “I’ve known Rocco for 20 years. He’s like family to me. We all had the same agenda, to get new blood on the board.”

DeSantis said VIP didn’t take the opposition seriously.

“They were overconfident that they would never lose power,” DeSantis said.

Decosola disputed the notion that VIP took victory for granted, saying the party campaigned hard to sell their message to voters.

“We didn’t underestimate anybody,” Decosola said. “We walked the entire town.”

Instead, Decosola claimed the opposition ran a campaign filled with misinformation.

“I believe our opponents had success in misleading residents, in saying there would be service cuts and layoffs,” Decosola said. “Our board has made tough, important decisions that saved jobs and retained services.”

Decosola also criticized Demopoulos’ plan to push for the construction of a storm sewer system, saying it was unrealistic and far too expensive.

“It would cost a million dollars a mile,” said Decosola, noting that the system would have to be 21 miles long. Such a project would take a bond issue, which would raise taxes and require a village-wide referendum.

Decosola also dismissed claims that the VIP board impaired economic development, pointing to Tony’s Finer Foods, Chili’s, CVS and new stores in the North Riverside Park Mall as evidence of growth during the recession.

But DeSantis and Demopoulos appeared to tap into dissatisfaction created by increased fees and the loss of public events, and they struck a chord in charging that village hall wasn’t transparent to residents.

“Voters are tired of people on the board saying nothing but ‘yes,'” DeSantis said. “Good or bad, people need to know what’s going on.”

DeSantis led all candidates with 886 votes and was the only candidate to carry all five precincts. Czajka (667) and Demopoulos (659) each carried three precincts.

Meanwhile, incumbent Gary Wittbrodt (642 votes), who has been on the board since 1995, managed to carry just two precincts and tied for third in one other. Independent George Georgopoulos (594 votes) finished fifth, ahead of James Votava (386).

Votava has been a member of the village board almost continuously during VIP’s 30-year domination of the board. But this time around, the 83-year-old Votava failed to carry a single precinct.