Election profiles: Meet three Skokie trustee candidates
To find out more about Caucus Party candidates Randy Roberts and Ralph Klein, access www.skokiecaucusparty.com.
To find out more about independent candidate Lisa Lipin, access www.lipinfortrustee.com.
What’s Next: The Skokie Review next week will profile Caucus Party incumbent Michele Bromberg, Caucus Party newcomer Ilonka Ulrich and independent Brian Novak.
Updated: April 8, 2013 6:19AM
It’s been a dozen years since Skokie’s ruling Caucus Party has faced any serious competition for the seats it controls — the six for village trustee, one for village clerk and one for mayor.
The party has held all seats on the Village Board for decades, something the party’s opponents say is not good for a municipality. ”It’s time for a change” is a common refrain from independents running this year, even though the Caucus Party is guaranteed to still control the board no matter how the April 9 election turns out.
Caucus Party candidates say the party never rests on its laurels. Open to everyone, they say, the party is a diverse mix of people from different backgrounds with different political ideologies.
“We’re one party, but we have many diverse voices,” said Trustee Randy Roberts in response to charges that new voices on the board need to be heard.
Three independents will square off against six slated party candidates for six open trustee seats on the Village Board. Mayor George Van Dusen and Pramod Shah, a current trustee and the party’s candidate for village clerk, are running unopposed.
This year’s race features three Caucus Party-slated incumbents, three Caucus Party-slated newcomers and three independents.
During each of the next three weeks, the Skokie Review will profile three candidates – one from each category.
Caucus Party Incumbent: Randy Roberts
Running for his fourth term on the Village Board, Randy Roberts has served as liaison to Skokie’s Public Safety Commission, Sustainable Environment Advisory Commission and the Beautification Commission. He works as a compliance officer for the nonprofit child care organization Maryville Academy and formerly served as an assistant state’s attorney in Cook County.
Roberts was a member of Skokie’s Youth at Risk Task Force and is currently a Skokie Lion’s Club member. He volunteers in Skokie School Districts 73.5 and 219.
Like his Caucus Party running mates, Roberts does not believe Skokie has a significant crime problem, despite some buzz to that effect in the community. The problem, he said, is more about perception, which has been exacerbated by a new era of 24/7 media coverage.
Perhaps no other issue separates the independents from the slated candidates more than crime. Roberts and other slated candidates point to the most recent crime statistics showing a drop in crime for the fifth consecutive year. More importantly, Roberts said, the statistics show drops in most of the more serious crimes.
Unlike some independents, Roberts believes Skokie is as safe today as it was 10 years ago.
A recently-released national survey showed respondents as being very satisfied with where they live. But fewer respondents said they felt as safe today – especially at night – as they did when the last national survey was distributed.
“We have to continually work with the public about crime and about safety and make them understand, make this more nuanced,” he said.
The Caucus Party has made land use and development a key part of its platform. Like other party candidates, Roberts remains optimistic about future development of vacated buildings such as downtown’s Desiree Restaurant and Barnum & Bagel on Dempster Street.
The incumbent believes the village has done a more than an admirable job in economic development during a difficult economy, with restaurants and shops opening in downtown Skokie, the expansion of Westfield Old Orchard, developments on Dempster such as Oberweis and the reopening of Kaufman’s, and more.
Skokie remains in solid fiscal shape compared to many municipalities, he said. Roberts believes the continued strength of economic development in the village will allow Skokie to continue on with a much-championed property tax freeze that is now more than 20 years old.
Caucus Party Newcomer: Ralph Klein
Skokie Zoning Board Chairman Ralph Klein has served on the Zoning Board for a dozen years and has also been a member of the Sculpture Park Commission and the Skokie Fine Arts Commission. He graduated from Niles East High School and then joined his family’s printing business.
Klein has a long history of volunteering in Skokie, including serving as the founding president of Open Hearts for Handicapped Children. He has volunteered for the Niles Township Food Pantry and Meals on Wheels, as well as on local school district foundations and with AYSO basketball and soccer.
“Crime is down 6 percent,” Klein said. “I really don’t think there has been an increase in crime here. Violent crime has been going down and those are facts.”
He acknowledges recent isolated incidents of some serious crime, but he believes there always has been such crime but not under the same kind of media coverage.
Klein said the village has taken action to address crime, and it’s imperative that citizens get involved – through the Neighborhood Watch program and by contacting police when witnessing anything suspicious.
Klein believes in preventative measures such as installing more security cameras in some areas of the village.
A hot topic concerning safety and crime has centered around hiring new police officers. The Caucus Party believes in staffing a few more vacancies to reach 114 police officers.
“We have a great police department and if we’re fully staffed, we’ll be fine at 114,” he said.
He believes continued economic development will make the village stronger in many different areas. Younger families and couples are now wanting to move to Skokie and he sees an uptick in construction of single family homes.
Klein believes that if the village can fulfill the party’s platform regarding economic development, the property tax freeze can continue on indefinitely.
“I’ve always been involved in lots and lots of things,” he said about running for trustee for the first time. “I try new things all the time and I think I’m ready for this now.”
Independent: Lisa Lipin
Although running for an elected position in Skokie for the first time, Lisa Lipin is well known for making a difference in her community and beyond.
She became an effective consumer advocate in 2003 after a near-tragedy when her son was nearly strangled playing with a dangerous yo-yo water ball toy. Lipin waged a campaign to get the toy banned, which has happened in several states including Illinois, and worked with elected leaders, even testifying before Congress on consumer safety.
She said her tireless community involvement began with the yo-yo incident. “It was an eye-opener and really made me realize how people need to get involved,” she said.
Lipin helped found and chaired Skokie Voice, a residents association that has pushed for better communication between village leaders and the community. She has served as a commissioner on Skokie’s Consumer Affairs Commission and has been a member of the Niles North Parent Advisory Committee, the Niles North Athletic Booster Club and the Niles North Fine Arts Parent Group and served as president of the Old Orchard Junior High School and the Devonshire School PTAs, as well as chairing the District 68 Nominating Committee.
Unlike Caucus Party candidates, Lipin believes crime is an issue in Skokie. She points to the recently-released national survey indicating that people feel less safe in the village – especially at night – than they used to.
“It concerns me when I hear that the only reason (the village) thinks crime is an issue is that it’s exaggerated by the media or what have you,” she said.
“They say it’s perception and others say it’s reality.”
Lipin said crime statistics do not tell the whole story. She advocates taking a more serious look at increasing the number of police officers on the street, something she said officers have told her is needed.
But Lipin said she also recognizes that hiring more officers costs money.
“Many residents are faced with hard economic times and they can not afford a tax increase, which is why it’s important that the Village Board seriously acknowledge what the issues are facing the community,” she said.
Lipin wants the village to work with all stakeholders to re-examine and allocate resources to decide on needed manpower and tools to reduce crime.
More police patrolling neighborhoods can be “a deterrent” to crime and make people feel safer, she said.
While Lipin said it’s been good to see some economic development in Skokie, she wonders why the Desiree restaurant and Barnum and Bagel are still empty. And she said downtown needs a coffee shop.
About the village’s two-decade old property tax freeze, Lipin said it’s a bit misleading since the village has generated revenue through a utility tax.
Lipin screened to be slated with the Caucus Party and was not chosen. She said, though, that she would have provided the same independent voice whether she was part of that ticket or whether she gets elected as an independent.
“I screened with them because I am a member and I just want to serve the residents of Skokie,” she said. “For me, it didn’t make a difference whether I was doing that on the Caucus Party ticket or as an independent. My ultimate goal was to serve the residents and the businesses of Skokie – to be a voice for them – and that has never changed.”