Schaumburg voters Tuesday demonstrated confidence in experienced leadership to lead them through the economic downturn, despite challengers' promise of lower taxes.
With all 61 precincts reporting, Schaumburg Mayor Al Larson had earned 4,455 votes, 57.4 percent of the total, to claim his seventh term in office, according to unofficial results. Challenger Brian Costin had 3,302 votes, 42.6 percent of the total.
Joining Larson in celebrating victory were incumbent trustees George Dunham, Hank Curcio and Mark Madej. Unofficial results showed Dunham with 4,161 votes, Curcio with 4,119 and Mark Madej with 4,065. Peter Dombrowski led the challengers with 2,979 votes, followed by Ralph Roller with 2,697 and Robert Garrett with 2,694.
Despite the clear victory, Larson admitted to having felt nervous for weeks leading up to the election.
"What made me nervous was the thought of over 30 years of community service ending and all the things I've worked and strived for ending," he said. "I don't think it was just a victory for Al Larson, it was a victory for competence, diversity and teamwork."
While disappointed by the outcome, Costin said he and his fellow challengers ran a strong campaign -- handicapped only by Larson's greater funding and name recognition.
"I think this is just the beginning," Costin said. "I'm 31. He's 72. I'm going to be around a lot longer than he is. Next time, I'll be more prepared."
A short while later, Costin made a more cordial concession.
"I congratulate Mayor Larson," he said. "He ran a good, hard-fought race and won. I hope he keeps his promise to the people of Schaumburg to devote all the recovering sales tax revenues to eliminating the property tax. I plan on sticking around and making sure that happens."
Despite the loss, Costin believes his campaign made Schaumburg better by forcing elected officials to be more responsive to citizens. He said he may run for trustee in two years and will remain a political presence until then.
Senior Trustee George Dunham said it was trust in the current leadership that won the day. During the campaign, Dunham said, he encountered fewer angry residents than he feared.
"I won't say anything negative about the opposition other than that I thought they never had a really good handle on what was going on," Dunham said.
Larson faced a significant challenge this year for the first time since his last contested election in 1995. He had been among the least controversial of local political leaders, even as Schaumburg was investing heavily in a minor-league baseball stadium and a convention center.
Costin, then an employee of the Heartland Institute, began attending village board meetings in 2008, calling for greater access to documents on Schaumburg's website.
As he became a familiar presence at meetings, Costin increased the scope of his criticisms along the lines of his fiscal libertarian philosophy. He called on the village -- which at the time did not have a property tax -- to lower its taxes not only on residents, but also visitors.
He argued for the privatization of Alexian Field, the Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center and Schaumburg Regional Airport.
Larson and the village board defended Schaumburg's long-running model of providing services for residents by taxing shoppers and other consumers who visited for the many business and recreational opportunities.
But when the village board enacted its first property tax in late 2009 to counteract the effect of the recession, Costin's message suddenly resonated among a wider audience.
As he began his run for mayor, he was joined by trustee candidates Garrett, Roller and Dombrowski.
Garrett had been an ally during Costin's protest of Schaumburg's short-lived use of red-light cameras, while Roller and Dombrowski became politically active as a result of the property tax.
Dombrowski was particularly puzzled by the village's intention to eventually do away with the property tax even after tying it to funding for garbage pickup. Roller was angered that only Curcio responded to his request for each trustee to explain his or her vote for the property tax.
Dunham, Curcio and Madej spent the campaign defending their votes and reaffirming their commitment to gradually reduce the amount of the property tax levy as other revenues picked up again.
The challengers argued for reining in personnel costs. But Costin, Roller and Garrett eventually distanced themselves from Dombrowski after he made online comments the others found disrespectful.
Dombrowski later apologized for the comments, in which he questioned the physical fitness of a Schaumburg police officer who'd died of a heart attack in the line of duty.