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Olian or Rotering: Who Do You Want as Mayor of Highland Park? — Highland Park & Highwood news, photos and events — TribLocal.com

1/31/11 1:56 PM

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Olian or Rotering : Who Do You Want as Mayor of Highland Park?

or Rotering : Who Do You Want as Mayor of Highland Park? By Miles Zaremski Yesterday

By Miles Zaremski Yesterday at 7:45 a.m.

Chicago has a most interesting race for mayor now that the Illinois Supreme Court says Emanuel stays on the ballot, but so does Highland Park. For the first time in its history, voters will be asked to select a woman to lead its municipal government. The candidates are Terri Olian and Nancy Rotering .

Both arguably possess worthy curriculum vitaes for the job. They are well educated, having been university-trained as practicing lawyers though both are inactive now; however, Rotering says recently she is “with” a downtown law firm—but she has not been with it for years; have resided for a number of years in Highland Park; have a family life with children a product of the community; and who have served Highland Park for a period of time (though Olian has a considerable edge here due to her two terms on the local school board and over five years as a presently sitting councilwoman). Among her listed accomplishments, Rotering has served as an appointee on city commissions, a founder of the HP/NSSD 112 Environmental Education Program (in a recent mailing she does not even mention the environment at all), and has been on the City Council for two years. Olian is noted for her involvement with social service projects, such as founding Late-Night HP, a program to keep open venues in the city in which the city’s youth can become engaged and participate, co-founder of C.A.R.E.S.-a coalition to serve the needs of all the city’s residents, and garnering a substantial donation to keep alive a needed newsletter for seniors living in the community. She is a founding member of the Downtown Business Alliance too.

Back in December, the city struggled to adopt a budget for 2011, which it did so unanimously. Rotering voted against a city tax levy hike passed by a majority of the Council, preferring instead more belt-tightening in order to reduce expenses. Given current economic times, Olian opined in prepared though eloquently given remarks that balancing the budget for the next year should come not from raising the city levy, but for one year dipping into the city’s (robust) reserve account that has much room to spare—a move that Mike Belsky, the current mayor and a financial wizard ala his “day” job, says is permitted by Moody’s financial standards—rather than by eliminating more city jobs. Olian has moved through many budget cycles in her tenure in public office, so she is more experienced than her opponent on this score. (More of Olian’s views on issues that she addresses once a week now, like the reserve account and the city’s Highland Park Theater acquisition, can be found at her campaign’s website, www.olianformayor.com. Lacking in such detail, however, is Rotering’s website, www.friendsofnancy.com).

Both candidates have received endorsements from their colleagues on the Council. Belsky endorsed Olian ; Rotering bagged Steven Mandel, mayor pro-tem. Others on the Council have declared their support for one or the other. Perceptions of being critical and thus “negativism” have dogged Rotering ; Olian is seen as a consensus-builder and a leader in establishing and developing programs for all walks of life in HP. Many say the fabric of the city is Olian’s heart and soul; it has been heard that Rotering may have her sights set on more than just being mayor.

Two years ago, Rotering defeated long time councilman, Mike Brenner, for his seat. This supposedly occurred by positioning herself as not being an establishment candidate. Not so anymore, given those in public life claiming to back her, including a county board honcho serving the area, and a local state rep. on whose staff at one time Rotering served as a legislative aide; this rep voted just the other week to increase the state’s personal income tax by 66%, and who also obtained over $1.1M in Illinois Transportation

Olian or Rotering: Who Do You Want as Mayor of Highland Park? — Highland Park & Highwood news, photos and events — TribLocal.com

1/31/11 1:56 PM

Enhancement Funds for what amounts to three new blocks of a bike path serving the city’s residents. As with Brenner, a similar strategy is being waged against Olian . Rotering falters considerably here, not only because of pols as above who assert allegiance to her, but also because no basis in fact exists to show Olian is other than her own decision-maker. As but in microcosm of the latter, during the vote on the budget, Olian opposed any tax increase; Belsky went along with one. More recently, Belsky and Olian took opposite sides regarding a total ban on cell phone usage by a driver of a car within city limits.

Another difference between the candidates surrounds health insurance as a benefit that city council members have had since the 1970s. Late last year, the Council voted, Rotering included, to do away with it for any new Council member who takes office after the April election. Rotering “Identified Council health benefit spending as extravagant and pushed for its reduction” as part of the financial responsibility section in her campaign brochure. She, however, gets to keep this “extravagance” for another two years (her term does not end until 2013) plus a “post service period” for the time she spends on the Council. This calculates out to thousands of taxpayer dollars. A recent letter by Stacey Cantor on the Opinion page of the local paper only this past week claims Rotering is now contributing to these premiums (how would Ms. Cantor know?), though the timing of its announcement after being in the race for weeks cannot be anything but suspect and politically motivated. Olian’s term as a member of the Council ends this April. As a mayoral candidate and if she had time remaining on the council as does Rotering , Olian would have forfeited her benefit if she had thought it to be a bill the taxpayers could not afford. There is precedent for thinking of the taxpayers first. In 2009—long before declaring a run for the mayor’s post—she said from the dais upon approval of the city’s FY 2010 budget that she would return her 2010 Council salary to the city due to concerns over city spending and budget cuts that the city faced. She wanted to lead by example, so, on December 10 of last year, she did exactly that, and returned to the city her salary of $8,922.42. This is posted on her website for all to see.

So, just who should be the city’s next mayor? Three factors may well be dispositive: (1) (again), Olian’s present term expires come the April 5 election. If she does not succeed now, her leadership and considerable experience in public office over 20 years will come to an end; as well, Rotering remains in office for another two years even if she loses; (2) there will be three new members of the city’s ruling body after the election. Percentage-wise, 50% of the Council (excluding the mayor’s slot) will thus be neophytes; and (3) voters also have to contend afterall with pocketbook issues: the high school district board has approved for placement on the April ballot a $133M referendum to renovate Highland Park and Deerfield high schools; the school district for the primary grades is also facing a considerable deficit, requiring it to dip into a reserve account; and the park district, a separate taxing body, (as are the school districts), has to dip into its reserves to make ends meet. The times consequently call for a depth of proven experience, leadership and unwavering commitment—a heart and soul, and not political expediency— to ensure that the city, its residents and its businesses prosper, develop, and grow.

Olian gets the nod by having more background and understanding of how local government can operate in order to not unduly burden taxpayers, as well as to maintain and improve social programming to benefit all Highland Parkers.

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