The village of Brookfield is left with just one political party now that the Village Improvement Party, or VIP, has folded.
The VIP Party’s website went dark after July and on Aug. 26, the party filed its final D-2, or political committee financial report, with the Illinois State Board of Elections.
“I think it’s pretty obvious that there’s no more VIP,” said Bill Russ, the party’s leader and former village president, in a voicemail message left in response to an inquiry from the Landmark.
Russ declined to talk further about the decision to dissolve the party.
Wil Brennan, former party stalwart who served as a village trustee from 2001 to 2005, said the party just didn’t have enough people involved to keep it going.
“It basically broke up for lack of interest,” said Brennan, who made his last run for office as a VIP candidate in 2011. Both he and Russ ran unsuccessfully for village trustee that year.
Brennan said he’s through with politics.
“I’m not running. I wish everyone the best of luck,” he said.
Russ did not respond to questions regarding his future political plans, but he clearly hasn’t ruled out another run for office in Brookfield. His political committee, Friends of Bill Russ, and his personal website remain active.
Michael Garvey, Brookfield’s village president and longtime member of the PEP Party, said he was “somewhat surprised” to learn of VIP’s demise but noted the group had not had much of a presence at village functions, including the July 4 parade, since the 2011 election.
Garvey said VIP could still return in a different form, under a different name, but no political committees have been formed and the date to begin circulating nominating petitions for the 2013 election is Sept. 25.
With VIP out of the picture and no other political committees active in Brookfield, if PEP is to be challenged in 2013, independents will have to shoulder the load. And without the backing of an organization to raise money for campaigning, that’s a tall order, as three independent candidates in 2011 found out.
All three independent candidates for trustee in Brookfield in 2011 were thrown off the ballot for deficiencies in their nominating petitions.
Garvey said he expects there to be independent opposition to PEP’s slate in 2013 as there was two years ago. It’s difficult to tell who that might be, he said, because very few people have attended board meetings or other governmental gatherings in recent months.
“I don’t doubt that there are people with good ideas out there,” said Garvey. “I just hope anyone who runs for office takes it seriously and knows what they’re getting into.”
VIP traced its origins to 1997, when Russ formed the Brookfield Independent Party. But for the 2001 election, reflecting a simmering discontent with the PEP ruling majority, the party became the Village Improvement Party.
The turn of the new millennium found Brookfield trying to navigate a booming national economy that was bringing new, high-density developments to take advantage of the village’s location on the Metra line.
Brookfield was also trying to kick-start economic development locally, with a group pitching the Mainstreet program for the village.
It was also a time of turmoil for PEP on the village board. President Tom Sequens died in June 1999, and Trustee Alan Dorobiala was named acting president, vacating his seat as a trustee.
Although his term as acting president was to end with the spring 2001 election, Dorobiala abruptly resigned as acting president in January. The village board responded by appointing Garvey, then a trustee, as acting president. Just a month before the 2001 election, Garvey appointed Dorobiala to fill his vacant trustee seat, guaranteeing a PEP presence there until 2003.
The move brought howls from Russ, also a trustee at that time, who called it a “political conspiracy.”
All of the conflict was a disaster for PEP in 2001. Armed with a new name and energetic new members, VIP clobbered PEP in the 2001 village elections.
Russ was elected president, while Kit Ketchmark, Brennan and Gail Cabala won the three trustee seats. VIP’s Dan Raddatz even snared the position of village clerk.
Russ named Jane Harps to fill his trustee seat on the board, and with Linda Stevanovich already a trustee and Dorobiala soon to switch his allegiance to VIP, the party appeared to have an unassailable majority.
But the infighting soon started. Within six months, Ketchmark and Cabala declared themselves independents. Garvey won re-election as a trustee in 2003. And while both Dorobiala and Stevanovich won re-election in 2003, that would mark the last time a candidate on a VIP slate would ever win a Brookfield election.
Russ lost his bid for a second term as president to Garvey in 2005. He would subsequently lose bids for trustee in 2007 and 2011 and for clerk in 2009.
While VIP was a political party, Russ was always its face. For two terms, VIP and Russ were so intertwined as to be the same. It was that perception that led to the early infighting within VIP in 2001 and led others to abandon the party.
“Bill Russ was the VIP,” said Tim Heilenbach, who ran unsuccessfully as a VIP trustee candidate in 2009 and resigned from the party months after that race. “People in this town either really like Bill or they really dislike him, and there’s really little or no gray area.”
That attitude cost him votes, said Heilenbach, who led his slate in votes that year, besting the total gained by Russ, who ran that year for clerk.
“I did have some crossover votes,” said Heilenbach, who added that PEP was a formidable foe and had widespread support throughout the village.
“To be honest, PEP really is a very well-oiled machine,” Heilenbach said. “But the problem is everything that VIP did was wrong. I realized that after I left.”