Pekau, McLaughlin mostly stick to issues in Orland Park mayor’s debate 

By Jeff Vorva  

OK, let’s get the ugliness out of the way first.

Throughout the last couple of months in the Orland Park mayoral election, incumbent Keith Pekau’s campaign literature has portrayed former mayor Dan McLaughlin as a crook who played fast and loose with taxpayer money with property deals during his tenure.

McLaughlin’s camp has portrayed Pekau as a reckless cowboy who played fast and loose with Orland residents’ health during the pandemic while wasting taxpayer money suing the governor.

With the April 6 election approaching, the two had their first debate Tuesday night in a Zoom format hosted by Richard Free Press and moderated by Jon DePaolis, and a few jabs were thrown but for the most part the heated rivals stayed on target with the issues.

Pekau beat McLaughlin 6,283-5,863 in 2017, ending McLaughlin’s streak of 24 straight years as the boss. McLaughlin’s decision to turn the mayor’s position into a full-time job with a pay of $150,000 per year proved to be his downfall, as he admitted Tuesday night.

“The idea was a mistake,” he said. “I own that mistake and I paid for it.”

Speaking of getting paid, he added that he would not take a salary if elected this term.

McLaughin is heading up the One Orland Party and joining him in the election are Patrick O’Sullivan, who is running for clerk, and Amy Burrell, Derek Rinaldi and Chris Kasmer, who are running for trustee.

Pekau is the captain of the People Over Politics party, which features Gus Lekas running for clerk and Sean Kampas, Joni Radaszewski and Brian Riordan for trustee spots.

The Pekau tenure was noted for having a divided board and he said Tuesday that getting things done in the first two years was difficult. After a 2019 trustee election gave him more friendly faces supporting him on most issues, he said things ran smoother. When the smoke clears on April 6, the makeup of the board could still be divided and both candidates addressed that.

“I will try to work together with all of our trustees,” Pekau said. “The trouble I had was that the former mayor hired his deputy committeeman to be his village manager before I took office. His other deputy committeeman filed charges against me after my first day in office. It’s pretty hard to build a coalition with people with people who treat you like that from the day you walk in the door.

“Faced with that, there were two board members who were treating me reasonably like an adult and that was Trustee [Carole] Ruzich and Trustee [Jim] Dodge. So, I worked with them and worked very hard to get a fourth vote on the very things we were looking to get done.”

He added that 90 percent of his agenda was started or completed in his first four years and 70 percent came in the first two years with a board that was divided.

McLaughlin said that in his long tenure, he had also faced opposition but was able to work things out.

“I have a history of building coalitions,” McLaughlin said. “I have worked together with Democrats, Republicans and Independents. I have worked with elected officials form the county and the state.

“My history speaks for itself. I have every interest in getting people to work together. [The current board] has been very divisive. It’s a shame. I think the village has changed in the last four years and it’s not what people in Orland Park want. They want to see elected officials working together to get things done.”

Some of the major issues involve the image and safety of the Orland Square Mall. Both candidates agree there is a perception about the safety of the mall. Pekau said studies show it’s the safest mall in the area. McLaughlin said it’s not as safe as it was 25 years ago. McLaughlin is in favor of turning it into an open-air mall.

Another hot-button issue is the downtown triangle project that McLaughlin started decades ago.

It is a money-losing disaster according to Pekau that he had to help fix with a recent hiring of Edwards Realty to make plans for the final phase of it. McLaughlin countered the project made money and that Pekau killed a project that would have had a high-end theater and Seasons 52 restaurant. Pekau said a lease for that building was never signed.

Local News



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