It was an apprehensive couple of hours over at the Village Pub in North Riverside on Tuesday night.
From the time polls closed at 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. when the final precinct results trickled in, it was looking bleak for the VIP Party, which has dominated North Riverside politics for a generation.
But when the numbers from Proviso Township Precinct 102 — the west end of the village — came in at about 9 p.m., they turned the tide of the election, which until that point was pointing toward a Save Our Firefighters sweep.
VIP incumbents Jason Bianco and Deborah Czajka held on to their seats as trustees, unofficially getting 741 and 740 votes, respectively.
H. Bob Demopoulos, the leader of the Save Our Firefighters slate who was running for a second term as trustee, was the leading vote-getter in the race, pulling in 796 votes.
His slate mates, Marybelle Mandel and Joshua Garza, finished fourth and fifth, respectively, with 712 and 691 votes. VIP’s Joseph Iniguez finished sixth with 684 votes.
Though disappointed with the 11th hour change in the results, Demopoulos interpreted them as a vindication of his platform, which had the preservation of a unionized, village-employed North Riverside Fire Department as its principal plank.
Mandel, and Garza especially, are relative unknowns in a village that prizes elected officials with longtime ties to it. Garza has been a resident for less than two years.
“The first time I ran I got 350 votes,” said Demopoulos. “Josh got an overwhelming amount of votes compared to people that have been here for decades.”
Demopoulos said the results, including the fact that he finished atop the pack, sent a message.
“People are saying we need change, we need fiscal responsibility, we need to bid out contracts and fix the roads and, above all, to quit messing with our professional firefighters,” Demopoulos said.
Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr., who was not on the ballot but for whom this election turned out to be something of a referendum, said he didn’t interpret the results as a need for change.
Rather, he said, it illustrated the confusion the Save Our Firefighters campaign sowed. He also emphasized the help the party got from people outside of the village. He cast VIP in the role of underdog — something VIP hasn’t been for more than 20 years — fighting off a powerful, union-backed opponent.
“Considering what we were up against, I’m very pleased,” Hermanek said. “Besides having a name that confused a lot of people, despite having unlimited funds by the fire union, despite having the president of the Berwyn firefighters’ union being their campaign manager of Save Our Firefighters, we prevailed.”
Czajka, breathing a sigh of relief after learning she had been re-elected, was at a loss for words.
“I’m just so overwhelmed at the support that I’ve gotten,” said Czajka, who was appointed to the board in 2013, replacing her husband, Randall, who resigned due to a debilitating illness. “I can’t even think about it, I’m so overwhelmed.”
Hermanek said the result of the election did not have him rethinking his proposal to privatize the fire department, an issue that’s in front of a Cook County judge at present.
“Regardless of the election, it’s in the courts and I have enough votes [on the village board] to go ahead with what we’re doing,” Hermanek said.
Jackie Glosniak contributed to this report.