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Orland Park mayoral race centers on pension grab
Orland Park is a fast growing suburb of Chicago but a recent grab for a huge pension increase by the village’s 23-year incumbent mayor has voters angry and on edge. The controversy is making the April 4 battle between Mayor Dan McLaughlin and Keith Pekau one of the most exciting election contests in Chicagoland.
By Ray Hanania
Public anger that Orland Park’s mayor will benefit from a huge pension is fueling the anger and tensions that have turned Orland Park’s Mayoral Dan McLaughlin’s re-election bid into one of the most contested elections in years.
The issue hits hard because so many people in our society today are facing retirement with either little or no pension to support their retirement, an issue that is especially sensitive to senior citizens who happen to be the largest voting block not just in Illinois but in Orland Park.
McLaughlin has said he did not push for the pay hike and that making him full-time would save the village millions. But his critics including a former mayor and trustee, Ed Schussler, insist that the pay hike plan was always McLaughlin’s idea and that the board, which rarely votes against the mayor, just went along.
Tragically for Mayor McLaughlin, had he not accepted the huge pension, he would have been easily re-elected as many voters say they are content with the direction of the village. But finances and taxes and spending are too critical to voters and the mayor’s pension spike controversy has turned the election upside-down.
Opponent says he will reject pension if he wins
Keith Pekau, who never ran for office before, said he was as outraged as everyone else when the Orland Park Board approved the pay hike and the pension spike which would raise McLaughlin’s pension from $30,000 a year to $110,000 a year. The salary hike increases his salary fro $40,000 to $150,000 a year.
Pekau said that he got in the race not just out of anger
but with the promise that if he is elected
he will not take the pension benefits
and will do everything he can to repeal the salary hike.
But a point that angers many is that the salary and pension spike was only intended to help McLaughlin and only takes effect during the next four years of the term of the next mayor, whom the board said they expected to be McLaughlin.
But the pension spike issue has changed everything.
And Pekau said that he got in the race not just out of anger but with the promise that if he is elected, he will not take the pension benefits and will do everything he can to repeal the salary hike.
“I didn’t get into the race until right after the board voted,” Pekau said. “I was angry about the salary and about the huge increase the mayor would get in his pension. There are so many voters out there who don’t have a pension and it just didn’t seem right.”
Pekau said that if he is elected on April 4, he will refuse the pension benefits and save the taxpayers millions, whether he serves one term or more than four years.
“I will not take any pension benefits. I will opt out of the pension. That’s my commitment to the voters,” Pekau said.
I asked Pekau about this when a follower on Facebook asked me what Pekau would do.
“Some argue that I can’t opt out of the pension and that I must take it,” Pekau said. “But that’s not true at all. Full time employees can’t opt out of the pension but elected officials can if they have never been in the pension system before.”
When you look at all the issues facing both candidates there are positives and negatives, but no single issue stands out more than the issue of the pension.
Voters who support McLaughlin are criticizing the influx of outside funding from the Liberty Principles PAC, a conservative Republican PAC.
But Pekau’s supporters point out that McLaughlin is a Democrat who has received similar support from the Democratic Party.
The Republican-Democratic issue is of some importance especially since Orland Park voter overwhelmingly to break from the Illinois trend in the last Presidential Election to support Republican Donald Trump. Trump received 50.4 percent of the vote while Hillary Clinton received on 44.4 percent of the vote.
Click here to read how Democrats and Republicans are battling in the McLaughlin-Pekau race.
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Ray Hanania is an award winning political columnist and author. He covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and for TheArabDailyNews.com, and TheDailyHookah.com.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.
His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania
Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com
Visit this link to read Ray's column archive at the ArabNews,com www.arabnews.com/taxonomy/term/10906
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