Brookmans poised to keep 20-year hold on Des Plaines' 5th Ward

After Carla Brookman took the oath of office in a crowded Des Plaines city council chamber nearly two decades ago, the rookie 5th Ward alderman unintentionally began to return to the audience rather than advancing to the council dais.

"I waited four years to get up here, and I walk the other way," Brookman quipped after taking her seat on the city council in April 1997.

She held office for 12 years until a voter referendum limiting city council members and the city clerk to two four-year terms forced her off.

Now Brookman, who's running unopposed in the April election, is poised to succeed her husband, Jim Brookman, a retired Des Plaines firefighter who's held the position since she left office in 2009.

If she wins, the Brookmans will have control of the city council seat for 24 consecutive years. A family holding office for nearly a quarter-century seemingly undermines the majority of Des Plaines residents who, in the 1998 voter referendum, decided turnover on the city council is more important than experience. Since then, candidates cannot run for re-election after serving two consecutive four-year terms. However, former aldermen can run again.

"If you set up a system that allows this to happen, then that's what you get," said Christopher Mooney, director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois. "Considering it's the voters that put them in office, the voters must be fine with it."

Carla Brookman did not return phone calls for this story. Fifth Ward Alderman Jim Brookman offered an analysis similar to Mooney's, pointing out no one filed to oppose his wife.

"I think it speaks to Carla's performance in office," he said. "When you decide to run or not, you look at who is running."

The couple's daughter, Jennifer Tsalapatanis, is also unopposed in her bid for city clerk.

Every other office up for election has multiple candidates.

Finding examples similar to the Brookmans is easy, from members of Congress who've kept their family in the office to state governors who passed the position on to a spouse.

Perhaps most prominent, Mooney said, was Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who lost a battle in the state legislature to allow a sitting governor to run for re-election. As a result, he asked his wife, Lurleen Wallace, to seek the office. Wallace told voters her husband would be her top assistant, and one of the campaign slogans was "Let George do it." She became the first female governor in the Deep South in 1966.

Jim Brookman argued voters on Election Day should decide who serves in office. Aldermen have no patronage jobs to hand out, and the office is public service, he said.

"You can't say it's a bad thing someone is in office if they're chosen by the electorate," Brookman said.

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