The transition of power from one mayor to another is not always a celebratory one for the outgoing mayor. In North Riverside, unhappy transitions from one administration to the next have been exceedingly rare, non-existent in fact, for the past three decades.
After the way the election for mayor played out on April 6, it was always going to be interesting how this particular transition was going to come off. In the end, it was a bit of an anticlimax, with outgoing Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. opting to skip his final meeting and cede the field entirely to Joseph Mengoni, his one-time political ally, slate mate and, now, successor.
It was not at all surprising, but still disappointing, particularly with the tenor of politics nationally and the unwillingness to graciously pass the baton from one administration to the next.
It’s not that Hermanek disputes the outcome of the North Riverside election, because he certainly does not. We believe it’s more the case of Hermanek’s sense that he was abandoned by a village whose voters once sent him on his way to a pair of easy victories.
The second win, in 2017, was a full three years after his bid to privatize the fire department and it could be argued Hermanek believed it was evidence that voters really didn’t object to that idea as much as his opponents or this newspaper did.
In the end, however, we believe that the privatization bid was an albatross from which Hermanek couldn’t free himself.
Hermanek’s hurt at not only losing but finishing third in the 2021 election was compounded by a clear sense that he saw himself as taking the fall for having to make some other hard decisions during his eight years in office.
While his opponents might not want to give him full credit, Hermanek did finally assure – under duress, no doubt – to fund police and fire pensions at their full amounts annually. To do so, he ramped up the village’s red-light cameras program. That was unpopular and some political opponents have called for him to abolish the cameras, but the revenue they produce is crucial and Hermanek never tried to pretend otherwise.
Hermanek also oversaw an aggressive expansion of video gambling in North Riverside, which provides hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue annually to help balance a budget reliant on volatile retail sales taxes.
To address long-deferred improvements to the village’s roads and water and sewer systems, Hermanek’s administration issued debt to fund a large side street improvement program and instituted a water administration fee to fund critical water main improvements.
The water fee has been unpopular, but it is a fundamental source of funding for important municipal infrastructure. Hermanek’s No. 1 achievement may have been in demonstrating to residents that they can’t count on others to fund their government operations. It’s up to them.
The disappointment in Hermanek not being present May 3 is that he could have left publicly with his head high after two full terms as mayor, the second of which also saw him navigate a pandemic and civil unrest.
Voters simply wanted change, that’s all.