Pekau defeats McLaughlin in Orland Park mayoral race
Republican challenger Keith Pekau easily unseated 23 year incumbent Dan McLaughlin as Mayor of Orland Park in a contest that focused on the mayor’s bid to boost his salary by more than 375 percent and to spike his pension from $30,000 a year to $110,000.
By Ray Hanania
(Updated with unofficial final vote totals) Keith Pekau threw his hat in the race for Orland Park mayor at the last minute but easily claimed victory Tuesday night defeating 23 year incumbent Mayor Dan McLaughlin.
Pekau decided to run for mayor in late November after McLaughlin pushed the Orland Park Village Board to give him a massive pay hike that would give him a huge pension of more than $110,000 a year.
On Tuesday, as the vote tally showed him holding on to a strong lead through the evening Tuesday, Pekau said that clearly the voters were upset with the mayor’s salary hike and the pension grab.
“It wasn’t just me,” Pekau said Tuesday night after McLaughlin conceded the race.
“Clearly, I think the issue of the pension and the mayor’s salary were the key issues. The people of Orland Park tonight said they are fed up with politics as usual and with the way things were going. The pension issue and the salary increase were definitely key factors.”
An early analysis of the election showed that with 44 of 50 precincts reporting by 9 pm had Pekau leading McLaughlin by 835 votes, or 5,786 votes to 4,951 votes (53.89 percent to 46.11 percent). The remaining six precincts were estimated to have about 900 remaining votes making it all but impossible for McLaughlin to overcome Pekau’s significant lead.
But by 10:30 pm, unofficial election results from the Cook County Clerk’s Office Board of Elections showed that Pekau’s commanding lead held through until all the precincts were counted.
UPDATED VOTE RESULTS: Keith Pekau 6,870 votes (54.42 percent), Dan McLaughlin 5,754 votes (45.58 percent).
An analysis of the unofficial vote tabulation of the Cook County Election office showed that this election attracted more than 4,000 more voters than the last contested election in 2009 when McLaughlin easily defeated challenger Gerald F. Maher. At that time, the total votes cast in 2009 were 8,539.
This time, the total vote is estimated at this writing to be 10,737 votes cast with about 900 more remaining in the 6 uncounted precincts.
The unofficial total vote count by the end of the evening was 12,624, or more than 4,085 more votes cast in this election than in the last contested Orland Park mayoral election in 2009.
Pekau thanked all of the volunteers and people who “came out of the woodwork” to support his last minute candidacy.
“This win is not about what I did but it is about what my entire team did and all the volunteers and all the voters in Orland Park did,” Pekau said in an interview Tuesday night.
“This was a fact-based campaign. It was all the volunteers who stepped up, and people who wanted to help me who I had never met before. It was amazing.”
McLaughlin’s troubles began last November when the Village Board voted unanimously to increase his salary from $40,000 a year to $150,000 a year. The 375 percent increased salary would result in giving McLaughlin a pension of more than $110,000 a year.
McLaughlin had told the board at the time that he did not have a pension from the village because he was working part-time at the village during the past 23 years, although he did have a full-time job with a Chicago union.
Pekau also received support from popular radio talkshow host Dan Proft whose Liberty Principles PAC donated more than $150,000 to Pekau’s campaign. The money allowed Pekau to respond to an avalanche of campaign mailers sent out by McLaughlin, whose campaign was heavily financed by major contributions collected over the past four years.
While McLaughlin focused on direct mail to voters, much of the PAC money spent independently of Pekau went to purchase TV commercials that aired during the past two weeks.
Pekau ran on his own without a sate of candidates for the village trustee positions.
Incumbent Orland Trustees Jame Dodge, Daniel Calandriello and Kathleen Fenton, who were a part of McLaughlin’s Orland First Party, were uncontested and won office with votes of 7,026 for Dodge, 6,970 votes for Calandriello and 6,960 votes for Fenton.
In analyzing the election, it was clear that the salary and pension issue caused him to lose 25 percent of his base, compared to his running mates, and to produce an additional 3,500 voters who mostly voted only in the mayoral race.
In other races, David Shalabi who was appointed to the District 135 School board, lost his bid to remain on the board. Shalabi was one of five candidates running for four seats and a part of the slate backed by McLaughlin.
Shalabi ran 5th place with only 4,628 votes cast in 39 of 43 precincts counted by 9 pm. Laura Berry received 6,030 votes, Mike Maratea received 5,315 votes, and Devin Hodge received 5,225 votes. Sandra Kulak, who ran as an independent, won with 5,713 votes.
Pundits said that Shalabi lost because he was touted as a candidate of the Orland Prayer Center Mosque and because he is Muslim.
A letter signed by officials of the Orland Prayer Center (Orland Mosque) and by Dave Shalabi under the Arabic name Dahoud Shalabi, was sent to voters in Orland Park clearly identifying Shalabi as a “Muslim.” The letter was distributed online and circulated at polling places.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist, author and former Chicago City Hall reporter. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)