One of the benefits of covering local government for nearly a decade is the rather unique perspective one gains as a result. Lucky for me, that’s what I’ll take into the voting booth on March 20—not the dueling endorsements, frantic politicking and hundreds of partisan comments that have marked the campaign for the 81st District House seat.
I’m not a big believer in slogans, campaign promises or—God forbid—robocalls. I don’t identify closely with either political party. What’s most important to me, especially in a local election, is not what a candidate says in the heat of battle, but how they perform their public duties day to day. Not how they treat their dedicated supporters, but how they respond to those with whom they disagree.
Both Ron Sandack, a former village commissioner and mayor who was appointed to the state senate in 2010, and Debbie Boyle, vice president of the Community High School District 99 school board, are hometown candidates. And I’ve observed each of them since the beginning of their public careers.
Both are naturals when it comes to the political arena—personable, attractive, extroverted. Sandack, in particular, is extremely gifted at articulating and defending a position, as befits a career litigator. However, his greatest strength is also his greatest weakness. The skills that make for a successful litigator don’t always equate to legislative success. A good litigator will never ask a question to which he doesn’t already know the answer, but an effective legislator must be open-minded and willing to consider different viewpoints from constituents and colleagues alike.
While he undoubtedly achieved some notable successes while serving on the Downers Grove Village Council, Sandack appeared to grow increasingly as his mayoral term wore on. In spite of having a dependable council majority, Sandack sometimes belittled commissioners who advocated other priorities, at one point prompting Commissioner Marilyn Schnell to call for a council retreat where differences could be ironed out in private. Commissioner William Waldack became a particular target, both on the dais and on social media.
Some residents who espoused a contrary viewpoint also heard from the mayor. I acquired a stack of emails from Sandack over the years in response to my posts on the DGreport. Every journalist expects to get feedback from the public, and you’re not doing your job if you don’t occasionally rattle cages. However, Sandack stands alone in my long experience not only for his voluminous and occasionally vitriolic correspondence, but for the extent to which he took his campaign against my newsblog.
Sandack often has said people of good faith can disagree—a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree—but his actions frequently contradict that. It’s as if his litigation background compels him to not just go for win, but to utterly crush the opposition. Unfortunately, turning colleagues, constituents and neutral parties into political enemies is at odds with effective governance, particularly on the local and state level.
Boyle, on the other hand, seems to have a knack for converting her opponents into allies. Her 2009 opponent Bill White, who ran on a slate with District 99 incumbents Julia Beckman, Terry Pavesich and Allyn Barnett, is supporting her House bid; he was a vocal Sandack supporter in 2007. And despite what Don Wade and Roma may have reported thanks to an anonymous local “whistle-blower,” it was Policy Committee members White and member Nancy Kupka to the board’s controversial nepotism and conflict-of-interest policies. I find it significant that by Boyle’s school board opponents.
In her three years on the District 99 board, Boyle has been a model of restraint, with far more provocation than I ever saw Sandack encounter. A registered nurse manager, she joined the school board in 2009 after a campaign notable for her opponents’ smears and misstatements. She didn’t respond in kind and subsequently took the board’s chilly reception in stride.
A week before she was seated, the board met in a controversial closed session to discuss its oft-reworked nepotism policy and three board members joined Barnett, whom Boyle had bested in a tight election, in his recount effort. Two weeks later, the board majority prevented her from voting on the district’s employee benefits package.
And that was just the start. The board president, Julia Kennedy Beckman, waited months to assign her to a committee. The board paid $7,000 to draw up nepotism guidelines that many observers, including the Chicago Tribune, believed were aimed at marginalizing Boyle. During meetings, Boyle’s statements were often met with eye-rolling and dirty looks. Her election as board vice president in 2011 was greeted with from Pavesich, who later called her “a worthless bitch” within earshot of other board members, the administration and the press.
Through it all, Boyle has maintained a professional demeanor and displayed the ability to work collaboratively. She also has exercised leadership in board decisions to broadcast meetings and end pension-spiking raises.
With only a week until Election Day, my perspective may not change anyone’s mind, but perhaps it will serve to highlight the importance of looking beyond campaign rhetoric to the political temperament of the individuals vying to represent our community. And to hold whoever wins accountable for respectfully representing all of us—supporters and opponents alike.