Big names on ballots in small-town elections
BY NATASHA KORECKI Political Reporter @natashakorecki April 5, 2013 6:08PM
Lockport resident DeeAnn Keener walks toward Central Square to cast her ballot Tuesday, April 9, 2013, in Lockport. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 8, 2013 6:45AM
For a north suburban town where there are fewer than 300 registered voters, Mettawa’s municipal elections typically don’t get much attention.
When you have the name “Urlacher” on the ballot, however, it’s a whole new ballgame.
Casey Urlacher — the brother of one of the best-known now-former Chicago Bears, Brian Urlacher — is running for mayor.
“If that wasn’t his last name, you and I wouldn’t be talking,” his opponent, Jeffrey Clark, said in an interview.
From Mettawa to Villa Park, from North Chicago to south suburban Dolton, a slew of mayoral races have been brewing throughout the Chicago area in preparation for Tuesday’s election.
In Villa Park, village president candidate John Heidelmeier, the one-time police chief, announced he remained in the race despite explicit photos of Heidelmeier surfacing on a phone sex website.
He is running against Deborah Bullwinkel.
In North Chicago, Leon Rockingham Jr. is going up against Charles A. January Jr.
The town has been under intense scrutiny because of civil rights issues with the police department, including several cases that raised questions about the use of force against suspects.
Five people are competing for mayor in south suburban Dolton, including Riley Rogers, Valeria Stubbs, Ronnie Lewis, Mary Avent and Kiana Belcher.
Roughly three-quarters of the area’s suburbs will elect mayors or village presidents on Tuesday, and more than 100 of those are contested races. Hundreds of other offices are also up for grabs, including trustee and aldermen posts and township, library board, park district and school board spots.
Also on the ballot in some Chicago and south suburban precints is the 2nd Congressional District — Jesse Jackson Jr.’s old seat. Robin Kelly, 56, of Matteson, who in February notched a decisive win in a crowded Democratic primary, is expected to ease to re-election in the highly Democratic district. Those also in the race: Republican Paul McKinley, Green Party candidate LeAlan Jones andIndependent Marcus Lewis.
Casey Urlacher, 33, lives in Mettawa along with his well-known brother, whose house is about a football field away. Casey Urlacher, about one year younger than his brother, is also a onetime football player and has received the backing of the village’s outgoing mayor.
The two Urlachers look so much alike, Casey Urlacher said when he goes to board meetings people “kind of take a double-take.”
He once brought his brother along to a village board meeting and someone had a conversation with Brian, thinking she was talking to Casey Urlacher.
“Then she walked outside and saw me. ‘Oh my gosh, I just thought I saw you inside’,” the woman said to him. “’It was kind of funny.’”
His opponent, though, said the name has brought media attention, but the name alone will do little to sway voters.
Clark, 56, is a current trustee and 22-year resident of the tiny, wooded suburban Lake County town. Clark said his colleagues asked him to run for mayor in an effort to put forth a “team-based approach to managing the issues that the village has faced,” including preservation. “I think it’s based on qualifications and experience and platforms, more so than a last name,” Clark said of his candidacy.
Urlacher isn’t the only power-name on a suburban mayoral ballot.
In Romeoville, Steve McMichael, a member of the 1985 Bears Super Bowl champions, is in a contentious race against current Mayor John Noak. McMichael, a Texas native who owns the sports bar Mongo McMichael’s in the Will County suburb, said he would capitalize on his connections and fame to attract new businesses to Romeoville, while working to pay down the town’s debt.
McMichael, 55, who has a 5-year-old daughter, said he would also immerse himself in raising money to give a financial boost to the schools.
“How many conventions does Chicago have? It would be my pleasure to show up as mayor of this town with my Steve McMichael 1985 World Champion Chicago Bear moniker to my name and help this town prosper,” McMichael said. “Because make no mistake, celebrity and having a name influences people.”
There was a dust-up between McMichael and Noak last year, when Noak, the sitting mayor, complained it wasn’t fair that McMichael, who co-hosted a Bears pre-game radio show, was allowed more airtime than him. After Noak’s complaint, ESPN told McMichael they could not have him on the air for the Bears season finale against the Detroit Lions.
Noak, 39, who has served as mayor for five years, said he did not file a complaint with ESPN but requested “equal time” on air and that a decision had already been made to remove his opponent from the air. Of Romeoville’s economic health, Noak said the town has taken on debt because it is one of the fastest-growing communities in Illinois.
“All of our debt is fully-funded, has dedicated funding streams and has very good, and very healthy debt ratio,” he said. “There’s no denying Mr. McMichael was a great football player at one time … but this is about government experience that he does not have.”
Noak cited a We Ask America poll of the race that showed him up by 21 points as well as an internal poll.
McMichael’s connections are star-studded. At a recent fund-raiser, Mike Ditka and Jarrett Payton — the son of Walter Payton — were among the attendees. McMichael said Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White was making robocalls on his behalf.
McMichael said he’s well-aware of the criticism he’s received from his opponent:
“He says: ‘He’s just trying to use his celebrity to get elected.’ Yes, I am,” McMichael said. “And I think it works.”