Village candidates clash over debt amid tense political climate
The village of Bolingbrook is in the middle of another hotly contested election.
Two years ago, the longtime mayor, Roger Claar, the village clerk and two of the sitting trustees narrowly won reelection against a new party, called Bolingbrook United, which argued for change. Will County Board member Jackie Traynere lost to Claar by 151 votes. Turnout and interest in the race, including national media coverage, significantly increased.
This year, the Bolingbrook United party has grown to field candidates for not only village positions but also for the local Fountaindale Library District, Bolingbrook Park District, Valley View School District 365U and the Plainfield Public Library Board.
For the three village trustee positions, Bolingbrook United is running Ajaz Gill, a local businessman; Jaime Olson, a labor and employment attorney; and Terri Ransom, a business analyst consultant.
Olson and Ransom both ran two years ago for village positions on the ticket with Traynere and lost by small margins.
The Claar-backed First Party for Bolingbrook is running Sheldon Watts, the lone incumbent village trustee; Mary Sabri Alexander-Basta, an event designer; and Michael Carpanzano, the regional director of sales for a physical therapy company.
DuPage Township Trustee Maripat Oliver, a longtime village resident and director of sales for Best Western, is running independently from the two established parties.
The challengers on the Bolingbrook United slate have made village finances their main argument against the current leadership. They continually have pointed out that the village is about $300 million in debt.
“The other side has tried to paint that as, ‘Oh, well, it’s normal. That’s OK. It’s good debt,’ ” Olson said. “It’s not good debt.”
She argued that having to pay down the debt means the village hasn’t been able to make certain improvements, such as fixing cracked sidewalks. Olson said the village also has put money into things such as the Bolingbrook Golf Club and Clow International Airport, both of which the village owns. Olson and her fellow candidates argue that those were bad investments from which few Bolingbrook residents actually benefit.
But the First Party of Bolingbrook said it wants to keep the village strong financially, and the debt is a result of significant investment into infrastructure and economic growth. They’ve characterized information circulating about the village’s debt as inaccurate.
“This investment in infrastructure is the reason that many of us moved to Bolingbrook,” Watts said in a candidate questionnaire. “If it were not for this investment in infrastructure, Bolingbrook would not have had the residential and commercial development that we’ve seen and continue to see.”
As the only sitting trustee in the race, Watts said the village has a “comfortable repayment plan” in place. He said those payments constitute about 12 percent of the village’s annual revenue, and the village has a healthier debt-to-income ratio than what is required to get a mortgage.
Watts, Alexander-Basta and Carpanzano also said they want to keep the village portion of property taxes low. It is less than 9 percent, they said.
‘Bitter and hateful’ politics
Tensions between the two camps came to something of a boiling point less than two weeks before the election.
After a full day of knocking on doors March 23, Oliver reported the tires on one of her family’s cars were slashed overnight. She called it a “jarring experience.”
Bolingbrook United quickly came out with a statement condemning the action. Bolingbrook police still are investigating the matter, and no arrests have been made.
At the Village Board meeting last week, Trustee Bob Jaskiewicz, who two years ago ran on the Bolingbrook United slate and won, called for a cooling of tensions.
“Unfortunately, politics here in our town have become very bitter and hateful,” Jaskiewicz said.
He argued that targeting those for political purposes is wrong, and pointed out that Oliver hasn’t been the only target of crime. Claar and DuPage Township Trustee Alyssia Benford both had their properties vandalized in the past two years.
“Praise the people that are running because it takes a lot of guts to stand up there and run,” he said. “Whether you oppose them or not, at least respect them for that.”
The mayor then expressed his frustration with the level of division, saying elections have become “ugly” and “hateful.”
“It’s driving me nuts,” Claar said. “You’re probably not going to see my name on a ballot again unless it’s for president of the senior citizens club.”