The Riverside Township Board of Trustees has been dominated by the Republican Party for as long as anyone can remember, and four of the five voting board members will have served for 20 years come next spring.
But change is on the way for township Republicans, who are putting together a new slate of candidates for the April 2017 Consolidated Election. They’re not necessarily newcomers to the local political scene, but their message is one of change.
“Most people probably don’t know [township government] even exists,” said Vera Wilt, who decided against running for re-election as a trustee in North Riverside in order to be slated as the GOP’s candidate for township supervisor. “The township needs to be more visible.”
In addition to Wilt, the GOP is expected to slate the following candidates for trustee: Mary Rob Clark, who was appointed to the township board in 2013, when Matt Decosola was elected a North Riverside trustee; a North Riverside resident Michael Dropka, who is the Riverside Township GOP committeeman; Tim Heilenbach, a Brookfield resident who is the president of the Riverside Township Mental Health Board; and Tom Lupfer, a Riverside resident who formerly served on the Riverside Economic Development Commission.
Liane Blauw, who was elected township clerk in 2013, is looking to be slated again for that post in 2017. Finally, Township Assessor Fran Sitkiewicz is also seeking re-election.
The GOP will slate candidates on Dec. 6, which is the date for political parties in Illinois to hold their township caucuses.
It appears that there won’t be candidates slated by Riverside Township Democrats, who have traditionally let the GOP run the township unopposed. Part of what contributed to that arrangement was the presence of Judy Baar Topinka, who was the longtime GOP committeeman prior to her death in 2014. Topinka had widespread bipartisan support in the township.
“In this township what’s been really nice about it is that we have two parties working together,” said Michael Zalewski, a Riverside resident and state representative who is also Riverside Township Democratic committeeman. “Mike [Dropka] and I have a good, solid relationship. I don’t want to be or pursue an acrimonious strategy against Mike, and our effort will reflect that.”
Leaving the board will be Supervisor Richard Tuscher and trustees Ann Dynako Kubiczky, John Ertler and A. Wayne Gieseman. All four were elected to the board first in 1997 on a slate topped by Gary Wilt, who was Vera Wilt’s husband.
Gary Wilt served as supervisor until his death in 2004. At that time Clerk Patricia Pavlich was named supervisor and Vera Wilt was appointed clerk. She served as township clerk until 2009.
Pavlich stepped down as supervisor in 2006, paving the way for Tuscher, who has served in that capacity for the past decade.
“I’ve been on the board a long time and it’s time,” Tuscher said. “Let’s just fade away into the sunset.”
Wilt said she wanted to make township government more visible, especially with regard to social services, including general assistance, job search assistance, mental health assistance, senior citizen services and services for young people.
“I want to be part of the team that determines what needs the community has,” Wilt said. “I was looking to be more active and give a little bit more to the community.”
Heilenbach said he’d like to see a new township website with more information easily available to the public about township governance and finances. The present website, provided by the Township Officials of Illinois has little information.
“For years the township went below the radar,” Heilenbach said. “The township needs to get out there and show people what it can do for them.”