Four candidates, four visions in Rolling Meadows mayoral race
Crowded field in Rolling Meadows
If there's anything the four candidates for Rolling Meadows mayor agree upon, it's that there are four different visions for the city's future in the race.
But why is there such a crowded field, only two years after the last mayoral race?
Incumbent Len Prejna, a former alderman who beat two others in 2017 to fill the remaining two years on the term of Tom Rooney, this time faces a rematch with one of those candidates, Dave Whitney, and two new challengers, John D'Astice and Joe Gallo. All have deep ties to Rolling Meadows but oftentimes drastically different leadership styles.
In a recent interview with the Daily Herald Editorial Board and questionnaires submitted to the newspaper, the candidates explained how they'd approach the job of mayor -- this time for a full 4-year term -- and how they'd try to help heal a fractured city council.
Prejna said he believes the crowded mayoral race is reflective of "a time of great change" over the last two years on the council. New Ward 2 Alderman Jerry Hill died shortly after his term started.
Ward 7 Alderman Tim Veenbaas left in 2018 to take a job out of state.
The mayor considered Hill his point man on finance issues and Veenbaas on business development efforts.
"One thing that I've attempted to do when I have been with the city council is I try to have the people that have strengths to be the liaison to lead," Prejna said. "I think we had a period there where the tempo of the council changed."
Prejna described his management style as "open and inclusive" in seeking input from aldermen on issues.
Even after beating Whitney in 2017, Prejna enlisted him to assist with a city effort to get back a downtown post office. Whitney led a petition drive that yielded 1,000 signatures.
Whitney, the vice chairman of the city's planning and zoning commission, is running again, saying his experience managing teams of employees in business and heading boards and commissions gives him an advantage. He recently retired after a 44-year career in technology management.
"There's a real lack of communication between the members of the city council," said Whitney, a regular attendee of council meetings. "There's a lack of respect. There's faces being made up there. There's a lot of back and forth. ... There needs to be some stronger leadership to be able to control that."
D'Astice, the Ward 6 alderman for 20 years combined, touts his business management experience of 35 years in the hospitality industry. He was recently named manager of the year at Embassy Suites in Deerfield, where he is director of sales and marketing.
While the mayor does not get a vote during council meetings -- but can issue vetoes -- D'Astice said he would offer his position on matters that could influence the opinions and vision of the council. Prejna, who presides over council meetings, has only sometimes weighed in during council debates over the past two years.
"I believe it is important to let the residents know how I feel on issues as opposed to not expressing any opinion," D'Astice said.
Gallo, elected as Ward 4 alderman in 2017, has become the council's most outspoken member, particularly in opposition to the controversial fire stations relocation project. He's also supporting others in their aldermanic bids in order to change the face of the council.
Gallo said he's running to change "antiquated processes and archaic old school lines of thinking" as the city and the world around it continues to change.
"I have grown up on a street that a lot of my friends have moved away from and when they come back and visit, they're filled with sorrow by the state in which Rolling Meadows has become," Gallo said.
"I believe in Rolling Meadows and I believe we have the opportunity to bring our community to a place that is competitive and viable just like any other place that is out here in middle America. It's time to reinvent ourselves a bit and take ourselves to the future."
The candidates for mayor and alderman are scheduled to participate in a League of Women Voters forum from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24, at the Rolling Meadows Library.