It’s been seven years since H. Bob Demopoulos first threw his hat in the ring as a political candidate in North Riverside. He ran as an independent for the village’s top spot, mayor, and lost by a whopping 71 percent to 21 percent margin.
A lot has happened in the village since that time. The village struggled through the economic recession that hit as voters cast their ballots in 2009, and Demopoulos later emerged as a competitive candidate, winning two elections that followed.
In 2011, he ran again as an independent and was elected a trustee. He won re-election to the job in 2013 at the top of a slate of candidates, calling themselves Save Our Firefighters, which nearly pulled off an upset against the VIP Party.
He’s seeking the mayoral post again in 2017 at the top of another slate, which he’s dubbed the Municipal Village Party, or MVP.
“Our main focus is fiscal responsibility,” said Demopoulos, who is calling for any year-end budget surpluses to go toward paying long-term liabilities such as pensions and post-retirement health insurance obligations.
“A certain faction of the budget needs to be earmarked toward paying off our debt,” Demopoulos said.
The village has earmarked certain funds toward such purposes. Red-light camera revenue in recent years has gone toward paying police and fire pension obligations. Meanwhile, sales taxes have been pledged to pay off debt issued to finalize a deal that brought Costco to North Riverside and more recently have been pledged to finance bonds sold this fall to fund road improvements.
But the village doesn’t have a dedicated stream of revenue other than general operating funds to pay for post-retirement health insurance costs, for which the village will be on the hook for many years at an estimated total cost of more than $35 million, according to the village’s most recent financial audit.
Demopoulos also said he wants to end the infighting between village government and the North Riverside firefighters union, which have been locked in a more than two-year-long court battle over privatizing firefighting services.
It’s unclear exactly how much the battle has cost the village, but records indicate the village, by the end of the 2016-17 fiscal year, expected to spend more than $500,000 in legal fees since 2014 on matters pertaining to the fire department.
“The legal stuff with the fire department has to end,” Demopoulos said. “It’s a losing battle.”
Joining the 44-year-old Demopoulos on the MVP slate are four political novices, three of whom are school teachers.
Running for village clerk is Virginia Rodriguez, 34, a third-grade special education teacher in Cicero School District 99, who wants to work with neighboring towns to increase special education offerings, create a tutoring center for local students and ensure a secure computer network at the Village Commons, including Wi-Fi availability, according to a press release issued by Demopoulos.
Trustee candidates include Lawrence Manetti, 31, a longtime friend of Demopoulos and a physical education teacher at St. Richard School in Chicago. Manetti is also a former summer seasonal employee of the North Riverside Recreation Department.
Kevin Melvin, 37, a physical education teacher at Morton East high School in Cicero, and Pricilia Runquist, 37, a radiologic technologist round out the slate.
Demopoulos said he believes Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr., who was elected in 2013, has instituted a number of fiscal reforms to stabilize the village’s financial outlook. In October the village saw its bond rating improve for the first time since 2011.
But Hermanek’s VIP Party needed a late-night result in 2015 from the village’s lone Proviso Township precinct to fend off a challenge from the slate led by Demopoulos, which included two inexperienced opponents.
“It told me the Riverside [Township] end is completely with us and against VIP,” Demopoulos said. “Proviso is their stronghold. We need to focus some on Proviso as well. That [2015 election] was probably the closest election VIP has ever seen.”
Candidates for the April 4, 2017 Consolidated Election must file nominating petitions with the village clerk’s office between Dec. 12 and 19.