Bensenville mayor, allies face ballot challenge
Members of a political slate in Bensenville, including Village President Frank Soto, could be kicked off the April 9 ballot on Friday if an electoral board agrees with objections from a rival party.
Residents Nina Keehn and Elisandro Trejo filed the objections against Soto and other members of his slate, which includes village clerk candidate Ilsa Rivera-Trujillo and trustee hopefuls Martin J. O'Connell, Susan Janowiak and Henry Wesseler.
The complaints claim Soto, Wesseler and Rivera-Trujillo owed money to Bensenville for various debts when they filed for candidacy, such as unpaid parking stickers, overdue water bills and late fees.
A hearing is scheduled for 4 p.m. Friday at Bensenville village hall, 12 S. Center St.
Soto is vying for his second term and trying to stave off challenges from former political ally Oronzo Peconio, a current trustee and member of the Bensenville First party, as well as a third candidate, Richard "Rich" Johnson.
Bensenville First officials said Thursday the objections were filed on their party's behalf. And campaign manager Pete Gallagher said the complaint illustrates problems with current leadership.
"It shows a pattern of what has been going on, the lack of leadership," Gallagher said. "Their actions have been irresponsible and not in the best actions of the village since they won."
But Soto said the complaints are frivolous, adding he's confident his party will remain on the ballot.
"This was done for political reasons, because when you can't win on merit and a proven record of success, then you have to resort to dirty tricks," Soto said.
Soto says he has worked hard to reinvent Bensenville's image and turn around its finances since the village was voted No. 1 among "America's Fastest-Dying Towns" in 2008 by Forbes magazine. He said his efforts included revamping Bensenville's industrial park, raising the village's bond rating to A+ by Standard & Poor's in 2010, and bringing in key administrators that year.
Bensenville First, which also includes trustee candidates John Tornabene, Frank DeSimone, Rayleen Panicola, and village clerk hopeful Rosa Carmona, say Bensenville is worse off today.
"Most of the campaign promises that everyone voted for haven't happened," Gallagher said. "The downtown is a disaster, morale is worse than when John Geils was mayor, alleys are dirtier, and no one wants to come in to do development in the village."
In addition, the group says salaries have risen under Soto's leadership.
Soto concedes some management salaries did climb, but he said operating costs are lower than when he took office.
He said the objections and Friday's hearing are a waste of thousands of dollars in village staff time and resources that could be better spent.
"You really question the motivation and whether or not that person is really a steward for the taxpayers," Soto said.
He and Peconio ran together on a party slate for their respective positions in 2009 when Soto defeated Geils, the longtime village president. But in October, Peconio was the first to pull a nominating packet for the president's post.
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