North Riverside Mayor Ken Krochmal has announced that he won’t seek a second term next year, setting the stage for a wide-open campaign that will be the most serious challenge in two decades to the VIP Party’s control of the village board.
Krochmal made the announcement in his “From the Mayor” column in the village’s North Riversider newsletter in late February.
Referencing the financial challenges the village has faced since 2009, Krochmal said he didn’t want politics to get in the way of dealing with the important issues facing North Riverside in the next year.
“Difficult economic times have forced us to make some tough decisions, which will prove to be in the best interests of the village for the long term,” Krochmal wrote. “Our work is not done and many difficulties remain.”
The village board in the past three years has cut staffing levels, eliminated popular village-sponsored events and has raised fees for everything from building permits to vehicle stickers and garbage pickup.
“I believe North Riverside needs a mayor who is totally focused on the village for the next year – not politics,” Krochmal wrote. “It is with this in mind that I have made the decision not to be a candidate for re-election as village mayor next year.”
Asked by the Landmark to amplify his statements in the newsletter, Krochmal was insistent on letting those statements speak for themselves.
“I have no further comment at this time other than the statement to the residents in the newsletter,” Krochmal said.
VIP Co-Chairman Matt Decosola said the party will form a nominating committee and solicit potential candidates, whom the committee will interview prior to slating.
“I think we’ll be able to find a candidate,” said Decosola. “We have a very good group of community-minded people who are willing to serve.”
One of those people could be Trustee Vera Wilt, who was appointed to fill the seat vacated by Joan Sargent in February. Her term ends next spring.
Wilt toyed with a run for mayor against Krochmal in 2009 but never followed through with it. Asked if she were considering throwing her hat into the ring this time around, Wilt demurred.
“To be honest it’s a little too early,” she said. “I couldn’t make that kind of commitment at this stage.”
One resident who months ago said he would be running for mayor in 2013, and has already set up a campaign website, is George Georgopoulos. The local contractor ran for trustee in 2009 and 2011.
In 2009, Georgopoulos was part of a slate of candidates thrown off the ballot but which competed as write-ins. In 2011, he was an independent who finished fifth in a six-person race.
Another person who looks like he’ll be stepping into the race is Trustee Rocco DeSantis, who was the leading vote-getter in the 2011 trustee race.
Krochmal’s newsletter announcement drew an immediate, sharp response from DeSantis, who, along with H. Bob Demopoulos, was elected trustee in 2011, riding a wave of anti-VIP sentiment.
In an editorial posted on his website, DeSantis blasted VIP’s handling of the village’s finances and complained that he and Demopoulos were not getting financial information they are entitled to as trustees.
While DeSantis would not confirm whether he was planning a run for the mayor in 2013, he didn’t rule it out either.
“I won’t comment either way on that right now,” said DeSantis. “I’m a trustee right now, and there’s a budget coming up that I want to devote my time to.”
But Georgopoulos told the Landmark on Monday that DeSantis has confirmed to him that he’ll be mounting a campaign for mayor and has gone so far as to ask Georgopoulos to step aside to clear the way.
But Georgopoulos said he’s not inclined to do that.
“I’ve put too much into this, invested too much money and time,” said Georgopoulos. “I’m just going to take the truth and run with it.”
DeSantis denied he told Georgopoulos he was running. Rather, he said he wanted to sound out Georgopoulos on his plans. DeSantis did confirm that he and Demopoulos had officially joined forces and would be cooperating during the 2013 election.
“We started as independents, but we have the same goals and want to achieve those goals with the best candidates,” DeSantis said.
Demopoulos, who ran for mayor and lost by a wide margin against Krochmal in 2009, would not comment on whether he was seeking another shot at the mayor’s chair.
“No comment,” said Demopoulos.
A VIP stalwart, Krochmal has been a member of the village board for 18 years, the first 15 as a trustee and the last three as mayor.
His victory over Demopoulos in 2009 turned out to be the victory lap of the Richard Scheck era in North Riverside. Scheck had been the village’s undisputed power broker and mayor since 1989.
Almost immediately after Krochmal took office, the village ran into the national economic recession. Faced with plummeting sales tax revenues, Krochmal and the VIP village board decided to tighten the village’s belt by cutting events such as the Fourth of July celebration and North Riverside Day.
The board also began to rapidly undo village subsidies of things like vehicle stickers, water and garbage pickup. They entered into protracted negotiations with their police and fire unions, seeking to undo sweetheart deals like lifetime health insurance for retirees, which helped put a crimp in the village’s budget.
In late 2009, North Riverside took out a $2 million bank loan to ensure the village could keep paying its bills. When that loan came due in 2011, the board issued long-term debt certificates because it had no way to pay back the note.
The 2011 election resulted in the election of two non-VIP candidates, DeSantis and Demopoulos, who unseated a pair of longtime VIP trustees. It was the first time since the 1980s that a non-VIP candidate had won election to office in North Riverside.