Skokie election: Meet three more Village Board candidates
• For more information about Caucus Party candidates Michele Bromberg and Ilonka Ulrich, access skokiecaucusparty.com.
• For more information about independent candidate Brian Novak, access www.novakforskokie.com.
• NEXT WEEK: The Review will profile Caucus Party incumbent Edie Sue Sutker, Caucus Party newcomer Karen-Gray Keeler and independent Vincent Romano.
Updated: April 15, 2013 6:07AM
SKOKIE — The three independent candidates running for six open Village Board seats in the April 9 election are trying to accomplish something no one else has been able to do — at least not in decades.
Caucus Party candidates have controlled every seat on the board for as long as anyone can remember, and during most election years, they have been unchallenged. When independents have stepped forward, they have been defeated fairly soundly.
The Caucus Party has slated six candidates for each open seat who will go up against the three independents next month.
Although two of those independents, Lisa Lipin (profiled last week) and Brian Novak, do not see eye to eye on all issues, they do share this in common: A belief that Skokie needs new voices on the board, voices that will better represent all citizens of the village.
They have gone about their campaigns differently.
Novak from the start said he would remain an independent candidate and made no effort to align with the Caucus Party. Lipin screened for party slating, but was turned down.
“I’ve attempted to work with the Caucus Party by having them adopt a different oritenation about communication and crime. At the end of several spirited exchanges, my ideas were rejected by the Caucus,” she said.
The Caucus Party doesn’t agree that non-Party voices are needed on the Village Board, maintaining it has held all board seats because it remains transparent and inclusive. Democrats, Republicans and independents are all members, leaders say, and the village’s accomplishments demonstrate that its elected trustees continue to make major advances for Skokie.
Trustees in a new term will have plenty of issues on their plates, but none appear to separate slated and non-slated candidates more than crime and public safety.
Slated candidates point to the most recent crime statistics, showing a 6 percent drop in crime, to assert that crime in Skokie is going down. Furthermore, they say, Skokie Police Department annual reports show a more than 12 percent drop in crime from 2006-10.
But independents say that citizens who don’t feel as safe as they once did are being disregarded. A national survey of Skokie residents show respondents do not feel as safe – especially at night. A non-partisan Skokie Voice study of annual crime statstics comes to a different conclusion than does the Caucus Party: more serious crimes in the village have shown gains between 2006-10.
In the second part of a three-part series, the Skokie Review profiles three of the nine candidates running for six open board seats — one slated incumbent, one slated newcomer and one independent.
Slated Incumbent: Michele Bromberg
If elected to a fourth term, Bromberg (along with Randy Roberts) will become senior member of the board, having been elected in 2001.
Bromberg works as a nursing coordinator for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation and currently serves as board liaison to the Commission on Family Services, Board of Health and Consumer Affairs.
Like her five Caucus Party running mates, Bromberg believes crime concerns have been blown out of proportion – in part because of 24/7 media coverage. She emphasizes the most recently-released crime statistics, which show that overall crime in Skokie has dropped for a fifth straight year.
“I love being a trustee, and it’s a very exciting time because of economic development,” Bromberg said.
The Caucus Party, in fact, has made economic development a primary tenet of its platform by emphasizing that each of the slated candidates share experience in land use and development.
To Bromberg, the village has shown a serious commitment to economic development even in difficult times. Downtown Skokie continues to expand with restaurants and boutique-type stores, she said, and there has been success with West Dempster Street as well.
Caucus Party candidates believe economic doldrums are starting to fade and development opportunities will grow even stronger in a new term.
“We’ve put incentives together that are going to make businesses want to come to Skokie,” Bromberg said.
Some of the village’s development challenges have included finding an occupant for the abandoned Desiree Restaurant in downtown Skokie and Barnum and Bagel on Dempster Street. Bromberg believes there will be future success with these land use challenges.
Slated Newcomer: Ilonka Ulrich
Ulrich is running for the Village Board after having served on Skokie’s Zoning Board for more than the last five years. A lawyer by profession, she represents people who have been injured and has worked in the public sector as a workers’ compensation commissioner for the state.
“Since I come from Latin America and Eastern European heritage, I was in search of a diverse, inclusive community,” she said about moving to Skokie.
Ulrich said she supports more diversity on the board, maintaining this election represents steps in the right direction. If Caucus Party candidates sweep, the majority of the board would be female for the first time.
“Because I am a single parent I am sensitive to family needs as well as the needs of a diverse community,” she said.
She shares the party’s view about crime in Skokie, calling it a “perception problem” more than a serious crime problem. She said the perception has been spurred on by the media’s excessive crime coverage and “fear-mongering.”
“Crime statistics are going down,” she said.
The false perception about crime hurts the village, she said.
“As a business owner, I don’t want to open up a business if people are fictionalizing or exaggerating the situation regarding crime,” she said.
Ulrich aims to make sure the village continues its sound fiscal position including maintaining its triple A bond rating and a tax freeze for residents and businesses. She wants to help downtown Skokie grow into a more “pedestrian-friendly” venue, “a place where you want to hang out all weekend.”
Independent: Brian Novak
Novak, a former small business owner and current attorney, serves on the Skokie School District 73.5 Board where he has filled several positions. He was appointed to the village’s consumer affairs commission, served as a District 73.5 PTA vice president of the ways and means, has raised money for schools and was secretary of the Skokie Voice residents’ association and subsequently vice chairman. He also served on the chamber of commerce’s economic development committee. As a volunteer, he has helped the Home Delivered Meals program; advocated for Misericordia and the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation; and assisted with the 2013 Festival of Cultures.
Novak believes he is a unique candidate because he has lived in the village for under eight years.
“That’s what distinguishes me,” he said. “I don’t see myself currently represented on the Village Board.”
The independent said he can and will work with the Caucus Party if elected.
“Six positions are up, three independents are running, so at the end of the day, you still need to work with the Caucus Party,” he said. “It’s time for a fresh perspective to work alongside experience.”
Not being part of the Caucus Party would allow him to emerge on the board as a more independent voice, Novak said.
He charged that Skokie leaders have shown an inability to acknowledge village weaknesses.
“It’s acknowledging that there are changes in a marketplace and addressing those,” he said. “It’s looking at issues such as school safety and traffic safety and being proactive and working to make those kinds of things better as opposed to reactively dealing with issues.”
Novak is not satisfied with the Caucus Party’s answer to crime.
Asked if he believes there is a crime issue in Skokie, he answered, “absolutely.”
“As trustee on the very first day, I will have that conversation,” he said. “Public safety is my first priority.”
The national survey also indicates more people are reporting they are victims of crime than previously, and more people are less likely to report being a crime victim, meaning the numbers are probably higher, Novak asserts.
“We need trustees that recognize the importance of data, but who also realize that public safety is more than merely crime statistics,” he said.
Novak maintains Skokie has less police staffing per its population than communities such as Lincolnwood, Niles, Morton Grove and Evanston. He advocates for hiring more police personnel.
“Residents feel unsafe and are willing to invest in additional police personnel,” he said.
He is not impressed by the village’s championed property tax freeze, calling it “a mirage” and “a farce.” He said the village collects additional revenue from other taxes such as the utility and telecommunications taxes.
As for economic development, the independent questions whether the village has taken advantage of its tax increment finance funds. He said the downtown TIF has been in operation for nearly 20 years with little done until recently.
“You have to pause and say, what were we doing before the economic slowdown?” he said.