North Riverside United, the political party formed in 2020 after the VIP Party folded amid internal dissent, got through its first election campaign in 2021 by sweeping the field, with its three candidates for trustee along with mayor and clerk all winning their races.

The party will make its second attempt at achieving that feat next spring, when three trustee seats are up for grabs. While candidates will not file nominating petitions until the Dec. 12-19 filing period, North Riverside United made its slate of candidates public in a committee filing with the Illinois Board of Elections last month.

Officially dubbed North Riverside United 23, the party has named incumbent Deborah Czajka and two newcomers, Nicholas Tricoci and Antonio “Tony” Santucci, as its candidates. Trustee terms are for four years.

Two independent incumbent trustees whose terms are expiring next spring are Marybelle Mandel and H. Bob Demopoulos, who have at times supported one another. 

Contacted by the Landmark, Mandel, who was elected to her first term as trustee in 2019 but fell short in her bid for mayor in 2021, declined to disclose whether or not she was planning to run again for trustee. Demopoulos, who is completing his third term as trustee, did not respond.

The Landmark has also learned that Jose Del Angel, an emergency dispatcher for West Central Consolidated Communications (WC3), is passing nominating petitions. In response to an inquiry seeking confirmation of his candidacy, Del Angel told the Landmark he is running independently and is not affiliated with a political organization.

Del Angel, 45, has been employed by WC3 for the past five years and previously served as a community service officer in Riverside and a public safety aide in North Riverside. He’s a member of the dispatchers’ union negotiating team and works the midnight shift.

Del Angel says he’s active in the St. Paul VI Parish Holy Name Society. The married father of three daughters has lived in North Riverside for 12 years.

“I have decided to run for the office of village trustee, because our community is changing and I believe I represent the average age group for the village at this moment,” Del Angel said. “I believe I can provide some fresh air and new ideas to the current village board. I believe to be a forward thinker and a seeker for progress in our community.”

Czajka was first appointed to the village board in 2013 to replace her ailing husband, Randall. She was elected to a full term in 2015 and re-elected in 2019. However, in a clear rebuke to the VIP Party at the time, Czajka was the party’s lone candidate to win a seat in that election, and she finished a fairly distant third to Mandel and Demopoulos.

It was VIP’s poor performance in 2019 that led to VIP’s internal fracture and demise a year later.

“I think we wanted to go in a different direction,” said Czajka. “We wanted to listen more. I’ve been here all my life. The people mean the most to me here.”

Running for a third term wasn’t a sure thing, said Czajka, who retired as a paraeducator for Riverside School District 96 after 22 years in June.

“I really thought long and hard about it,” she said. “When I retired, I felt I had more time on my hands and that I would give it one more shot.”

North Riverside United’s rebound in 2021 was a result of that different direction, according to Czajka. The party’s candidates campaigned seriously and kept official messaging positive and issues-based during a campaign that saw plenty of negativity – some of it leading to a libel lawsuit filed earlier this year by Mandel against North Riverside United backers, including Tricoci. The suit is still pending in Cook County Circuit Court.

“I can’t talk about the lawsuit, but the case didn’t change my mind on whether to run or not to run,” he said.

While he said he had no specific role in North Riverside United’s campaign in 2021, Tricoci, 48, served in an unofficial communications capacity through a Facebook community group North Riverside Voter Insight. He has been a presence at village board meetings in the past couple of years, livestreaming the proceedings on Facebook.

While he is newer to North Riverside, having moved to the village in 2019, he is no stranger to politics. A native and longtime resident of neighboring Forest Park, Tricoci’s father, John Tricoci, had a long political career in Forest Park, serving as the District 91 school board president and on the village’s police and fire commission.

Tricoci’s cousin, Tony Calderone, was mayor of Forest Park for 20 years, from 1999 to 2019. He is also a longtime friend of North Riverside Trustee Jason Bianco, who also grew up in Forest Park.

Following the 2021 election, Mayor Joseph Mengoni named Tricoci to the North Riverside Police Pension Board and the North Riverside Fire Pension Board.

Santucci, 56, a North Riverside resident for 19 years, is making his first run for elected office, though he says it’s been something he’s considered in the past.

In 2021, Santucci retired after 27 years as a police officer in neighboring Broadview. He now works a more predictable schedule as a security officer at a Broadview business.

“It’s something I was interested in, but with my work schedule, I just couldn’t commit to anything,” Santucci said. “As much as I enjoy living in this community, I want to contribute to it.”

Santucci also has been long active at Mater Christi Church, where he spent four years as the St. Paul VI Parish Holy Name Society’s vice president of social. He has also served as a parent volunteer at Komarek School.