North Riverside voters will go to polling places next April with a contested election for three village trustee seats on their minds, after three candidates filed nominating petitions on the last days of the filing period, which ended at 5 p.m. on Dec. 17.
In all, unless there are any successful petition challenges in future, there will be six candidates running for three trustee positions on April 2, 2019.
Incumbent trustee H. Bob Demopoulos filed his petitions, seeking a third term on the village board, on Dec. 14.
And on the final day of the filing period two more candidates turned in petitions — Luigi “Gino” Labellarte and Marybelle Mandel.
All three filed as independents, but Demopoulos told the Landmark that they intend to support each other’s candidacies, even though they’re not running as a slate.
“In my opinion, Marybelle, Gino and I have the same opinion that we need to be more accountable, especially with finances, with pensions and borrowed money,” said Demopoulos in a phone interview. “I believe we’re all going to help each other.
“I definitely see them as allies.”
During his nearly eight-year tenure Demopoulos said the board has addressed many of the issues he’s campaigned on, from bidding out major contracts to improving streets and other municipal infrastructure to instituting a bus service for seniors.
“I think it keeps them on their toes,” Demopoulos said of his presence on the board. “It allows them to listen to what the people want.”
Demopoulos spent six years on the village board’s water, sewer, drainage and zoning committee and for the past two years has chaired the streets, alley, sidewalks and garbage committee.
Mandel, Labellarte and Demopoulos certainly have a history of supporting one another, though that alliance has sometimes been on the rocks.
In 2013, in what turned out to be a bitter campaign that still has one legal loose end dangling in federal court, Mandel and Labellarte ran for trustee as part of a slate backed by Demopoulos.
An extended ballot challenge resulted in the slate’s candidate for mayor getting disqualified and general confusion. Just a week before the election, Cook County was forced to print special ballots for the village board race.
In the end, Mandel finished fourth and Labellarte finished sixth in the seven-person race for three trustee seats.
But there was more. The party banner under which Mandel and Labellarte ran, Transparency and Accountability in Politics (TAP) adopted, word for word, a political platform gleaned from Demopoulos’ own website criticizing North Riverside’s paramedic service provider.
The paramedic company sued all of the TAP’s candidates in 2013 as well as Demopoulos, whose website was the source of the information.
On Dec. 5, 2016, the parties settled the lawsuit, with Labellarte, Demopoulos and other candidates involved required to publish a public apology in the newspaper for two consecutive weeks. Mandel’s name did not appear on the published apology.
Two weeks after the lawsuit was settled, Mandel filed nominating petitions to run for mayor in the 2017 election – against Demopoulos. Her entry into the race doomed Demopoulos’ candidacy. Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. walked away with 51 percent of the vote to win a second term.
Mandel, without having to spend more than $2,000 during the campaign, snatched 30 percent of the vote, good enough for second place. Demopoulos finished third with a little less than 20 percent.
Asked whether she, too, was ready to support Demopoulos during the upcoming campaign, Mandel didn’t deny that the three may work together, but she emphasized that she was running as an independent.
“As independents anybody can have different opinions,” Mandel said in a phone interview. “I’m ready to work with those on the village board and for the residents.”
In pointing out major themes for her campaign, Mandel touched on issues Demopoulos also highlighted as important.
“We’ve got to find out how to draw more businesses to town and economic development,” she said. “We’ve got to do something with revenue, and get more businesses here. Residents are not happy with all of the fees.”
The three independent candidates will be taking on a slate of three candidates put up by the VIP Party, which holds every seat on the village board, except the one held by Demopoulos.
VIP’s candidates are incumbent Deborah Czajka, Matthew Decosola and Martin DeLeonardis. They filed nominating petitions on Dec.10.
The party did not slate incumbent Jason Bianco, although he was interested in running for another term and applied to be slated.
Bianco flirted with making a run as an independent, going so far as circulating nominating petitions. In the end, however, Bianco decided against running.
“I put feelers out and the response was outstanding, but running and campaigning as an independent is not easy,” said Bianco, who added he has not cut ties with VIP and that he respected the party’s decision not to slate him.
“I decided that now is not the right time and I’m going to hold off,” he said. “You’ll definitely hear from me again.”