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updated: 4/7/2011 2:49 PM

Furstenau believes lawsuit helped scuttle re-election bid

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  • Richard Furstenau

      Richard Furstenau

  • Naperville Councilman Dick Furstenau filed a federal lawsuit against the city in 2007 after he was acquitted of striking a police officer and settled it in 2009. He and some of his colleagues say that suit contributed heavily to his political downfall.

       Naperville Councilman Dick Furstenau filed a federal lawsuit against the city in 2007 after he was acquitted of striking a police officer and settled it in 2009. He and some of his colleagues say that suit contributed heavily to his political downfall.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Fellow Naperville City Council members say Councilman Dick Furstenau, center, and his keen eye and energy will be missed.

       Fellow Naperville City Council members say Councilman Dick Furstenau, center, and his keen eye and energy will be missed.
    Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer


For 12 years as a Naperville city councilman, Dick Furstenau always spoke his mind.

Tuesday night, voters spoke back and didn't have very nice things to say.

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The three-term councilman, known for being a penny-pincher, finished sixth in an 11-way race for four available council seats. He was 5,842 votes behind first-place finisher Grant Wehrli in an election that also saw incumbent Robert Fieseler and newcomers Steve Chirico and Joe McElroy claim seats.

Colleagues and Furstenau himself have speculated that the councilman's legal difficulties with the city contributed to his political downfall.

Furstenau was charged in 2006 with misdemeanor battery after being accused of shoving a Naperville police officer before a holiday parade. He was acquitted in 2007 and then filed a federal lawsuit against the city that eventually was settled out of court but still wound up costing Naperville more than $1 million.

"Obviously the taxpayers decided they wanted to make a change. There's a discussion going on in the community about this lawsuit having something to do with it," Furstenau said. "Some people can't get over it. I was protecting my rights as any citizen should be able to, whether I'm a councilman or not a councilman. And if they don't like it, that's too bad."

Furstenau said he would still urge anyone falsely charged with a crime to fight it.

"I did what I thought was right and they (voters) didn't think that was right. That's about what it amounts to and you know what? I'd do the same thing tomorrow," he said. "And when they find you not guilty in a court of law because there was no case, and you can't get an apology from somebody, I guess I felt I needed something to soothe that over a little bit. That's why they have courts."

Regardless of the reason, Furstenau said he knew shortly after the polls closed it would be a rough night.

"Maybe I didn't run a good enough campaign but I did what I normally do and the votes just weren't there and I knew it early on," he said. "As soon as I started seeing some of the north side precincts coming in I knew I was either going to win fourth place by a very small margin or I was going to lose. And I lost.

Many of his fellow council members said they could see the writing on the wall throughout his campaign.

"Dick has some incredibly loyal supporters so I wasn't sure what to think," said Councilman Bob Fieseler, who was elected to his second term Tuesday. "Clearly that lawsuit caused some of his supporters to withhold votes that might have otherwise put him over the top."

Councilmen Paul Hinterlong and Grant Wehrli agreed.

"My theory is I think the lawsuit stuck with the voters and is probably why he had the turnout that he did. People remember things like that," Hinterlong said. "We all kind of figured it would work against him. I respect the job he's done but the voters obviously didn't have the forgiveness in their hearts yet."

Furstenau said his ouster confirms his gut instinct, which initially told him not to seek a fourth term.

"The only reason I did run is because (Councilman Jim) Boyajian was leaving and I felt they needed some continuity on the financial side of this thing," Furstenau said. "If somebody figures there's somebody else that can handle that, so be it. And I'm sure, in time, they will but its going to take a while because this stuff is not as easy as it looks."

Fieseler and Hinterlong said Furstenau's keen eye will be missed during key financial decisions.

"I'm going to miss the guy a lot. He was a great mentor in dealing with financial items," Fieseler said. "If Furstenau was questioning something, you knew it had softness to it."

Mayor George Pradel, who was elected to his fifth term, said he was surprised to see Furstenau lose his bid and will miss him.

"Of course I'll miss him. He asks a lot of questions and I respect that," Pradel said. "Sometimes he irritates the daylights out of me when he talks about everything but he keeps us on target with a lot of things."

Hinterlong said it's a shame one hiccup in his record could cost Furstenau.

"Dick watches every penny that goes out the door and we're all going to miss that," he said. "He truly did a stand-up job for the taxpayers, aside from that one incident."

It may not be too long before Furstenau attempts to bring his financial oversight to another governing body but he said he's not actively seeking another elected position just yet.

"I must have had 15 to 20 calls to go run for the (Naperville Unit District 203) school board but that's not in my blood and I doubt that would ever happen," Furstenau said. "Let's put it this way. I gathered my signs and they're in the basement. It's pretty easy for me change the bottom of those ... signs, but I am not considering running for any other office right now. I'm just going to sit back, take it easy and see what happens."

He does hope to continue to serve the 6-year term he was just appointed to on the DuPage Water Commission and says he thinks the county may need him.

"There are a couple other things going on in the county that I'm going to talk to some folks about, not necessarily a county board spot but other commissions that the county has some problems with and needs help on," he said. "So I'll take a look at some of that and after that, I don't know."

In the meantime, Furstenau said the first thing he did after losing was double up on his White Sox tickets for the season.

"Instead of having tickets to 15 White Sox games, I now have tickets to 30 games so that's what's going to happen," he said. "I'm going to do a little fishing, play a little golf and go out to visit my grandkids. I'm not going to do much in the next four months."

He may be answering some telephone calls, however, as some of his fellow council members said they'll be looking to him for assistance.

"He's got 12 good years of experience and I've learned a lot from him so I'll probably go to him for advice down the road," Hinterlong said.

Furstenau said he'll always keep a line free for anyone from the city.

"Anybody that calls me is going to get any help they want. I would be more than happy to help anyone so what can I say beyond all that?" he said. "Did I enjoy 12 years here? Yeah, I did. Am I going to miss this? Probably. Am I going to miss this forever? The answer is no. I'll get over everything."

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