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Oak Park GOP
The Oak Park GOP exemplifies the pathetic, dysfunctional state of Republican politics in the State of Illinois. Taking a GOP primary ballot in Cook County means finding essentially an empty piece of paper. In Oak Park, formerly a bastion of Republican strength, the last thirty years of Regular Republican Party leadership has been non-existent. Only the efforts of Les Golden, commonly known as Les "Cut the Taxes" Golden, has kept Republican voters and candidates active.
The 1980’s in Oak Park
Although a strong Republican community until the 1950’s and perhaps into the 1960’s, Oak Park became increasingly Democratic as gays and blacks moved into the community and the University of Illinois at Chicago, opened in 1965, drew professors there because of its location.
The GOP committeeman in the early 1980’s was Dean Sodaro. A barely competent attorney, he somehow got slated for judge. He divorced his wife and entered into a relationship with his law student at the second or third tier Chicago-Kent School of Law, Jennifer Prager Sodaro, who whom he then lived on Forest Avenue. Prager was the daughter of the corrupt Cicero village president, Betty Loren Maltese, who was convicted and imprisoned for embezzling large amounts of money from her position in Cicero.
The 1990’s in Oak Park
Sodaro died in 1991 at the age of 64, and a local attorney and GOP voter Paul Sengpiehl appointed himself as the greeter at the funeral parlor door, to the disdain of Jennifer Sodaro.
Upon Dean Sodaro’s death, Jennifer kept the home on Forest Avenue, and the GOP leadership transferred to his ex-wife, Jean. Jennifer then took a live-in boyfriend, and they held séances and other such meetings as part of their new age interests.
Well-meaning, Jean did little to further the local GOP. The only candidate she slated was Let Cut-the-Taxes Golden    . Golden had led the local CARE Party since 1989, . slating numerous residents for local office. This led to his being the lead character, Moe Silver, Chairman of the LOVE Party, in the local comic strip by Marc Stopeck, Shrubtown. . He decided to run for state representative in the 1991 primary in the district newly drawn in 1990.
Sengpiehl had unsuccessfully run for Cook County Recorder of Deeds. An inept attorney, his campaign consisted of anachronistically handing out emery boards for nail self-manicures. In 1989, he approached Golden and Robert Ransom, an Oak Park attorney who was a leader with Golden in the CARE party, to slate a group of Republicans for local office. On being questioned, Sengpiehl stated his interest was not to slate himself for local office, a promise he would unceremoniously break soon after.
For the rest of Ransom’s life, Sengpiehl would journey from his modest office in his home to Ransom’s inviting law offices at 711 South Blvd. and unashamedly pick his brains.
The Republicans that Sengpiehl brought forth were inept candidates. Cheryl Goss Weiss, an attorney with the Securities Fraud Division of the Illinois Secretary of State, could be barely heard, a non-stentorian voice. Another candidate, Fred Mitchell, was competent and well-spoken, but was rarely available, his work taking his around the country. A third candidate, the mild-mannered William Alban, was as charisma-challenged as Weiss. Only a realtor, Peter DelVecchio, was a promising candidate.
None were elected.
When slating for the 1991 local elections came about, Ransom was largely inactive due to a minor surgical procedure, and Golden called a meeting. Tired of doing all the work needed to run a campaign, he brought along a list of tasks. During the meeting, continually being interrupted by Sengpiehl, Golden said, “Paul, please let me finish.” Sengpiehl said emphatically, “No.” The meeting dissolved into turmoil.
The CARE tradition was to allow any resident to attend its slating “conventions.” Sengpiehl quickly held a “convention” at the Oak Park Art League, where Ransom was a member, and Golden asked his neighbor on Forest Avenue Jennifer Sodaro to attend as an observer. Reluctant because of a high fever, she nevertheless went.
Sengpiehl wanted to be slated for village president on the CARE slate, although party regulars favored a long-time CARE member who had been one of the founders of the party in 1985 and who, with Richard Compton, a former mathematics teacher at Oak Park and River Forest High School and then Wright Junior College, was called by Ransom and Golden to be part of the reorganized CARE party in 1989. Sengpiehl stacked the open convention with parishioners from his First Baptist Church. Newcomers who had never attended a CARE function before, they cast “proxy” votes for Sengpiehl, no doubt in the name of Christ, and left the meeting early. Sodaro agreed to run for the position of village clerk, in a backstab worthy of her new colleague Sengpiehl.
Without Golden at the helm, the slate was trounced in the election. Nevertheless, scoundrel Sengpiehl placed on his resume that he had been a “candidate for Village President.” His comeuppance, the return of his negative karma, was soon to visit him.
Sengpiehl then ran for Oak Park Committeeman, against Richard Willis, a longtime GOP regular in Oak Park, who despite being intelligent and the head accountant for Baxter Laboratories, was charisma-challenged. Sengpiehl won, again by having his First Baptist Church friends flood the ballot box.
His tenure was marked by feeble attempts at activity. He held one picnic, but it was mainly attended by members of his First Baptist Church. Two middle-aged, doughty women from Chicago came, and were vocally upset at not having been fed. Sengpiehl went and bought them some Kentucky Fried Chicken. He also held a Lincoln’s Day celebration in the local library, featuring a Lincoln lookalike and a couple local GOP elected officials from other suburbs.
In 1996, Golden approached Sengpiehl to again be slated for state representative and Sengpiehl also slated June Edvenson, a bright, attractive attorney, to run for state representative in the neighboring district. Golden advised Sengpiehl that he was going to be traveling around the world as an astronomy professor on Semester at Sea, the first ever selected from the University of Illinois, and would not be available to campaign, although he had prepared news releases to be emailed to the press each week. Sengpiehl promised Golden that he would cover for him.
When the Chicago Tribune printed an endorsement editorial covering Golden’s race, it lambasted the GOP for running an absentee candidate. The local Oak Park press similarly commented. To this, Sengpiehl stated he had no knowledge of Golden’s impending absence and was disturbed by it, this blatant fabrication destroying his credibility and showing his true self-serving colors.
When Golden returned in December, 2006, from his Semester at Sea shipboard professorship, he learned that the long-time clerk and supervisor of the Oak Park Township were retiring. This provided an opportunity to effect Golden’s dream, to gain power at a local government, with the promise of jobs for GOP faithful to grow the party. At Sengpiehl’s holiday party, he obtained commitments from several individuals, Diane Lasken and Robin Meyer, a software analyst, to be part of that slate. Over the next weeks, he obtained commitments from others to complete the seven-member full slate.
A meeting was held at the office of the candidate for township assessor, a man with a history of alcoholism, unbeknownst to Golden, and Golden wanted a figurehead to become president of the new political party, TOP! (Township Oak Park!). Golden knew that his name on the filing documents would signal to others that it was simply the GOP under a different name, doomed to lose in 88% Democratic Oak Park. He asked Steve Meyer, Robin’s husband, to take the role, and Steve agreed.
A transplant from the working class communities of Cicero and Berwyn, Meyer was a dock superintendent for UPS. He relished the role, but that soon became a power play as he alienated the supervisor and assessor candidates against Golden. Golden voluntarily became inactive. The slate, without his guidance, was crushed in the election, destroying Golden’s dream of obtaining a source of patronage jobs for GOP locals. None of the candidates were ever to be heard of again in politics.
Golden during the 1990’s and early 2000’s sought other offices. He ran, in particular, for Cook County Board of Review, the tax appeal board. He was called by Lisa Shydlowski, the executive director under Cook County Chairman, Manny Hoffman. She told him, “If you don’t resign your candidacy, we will challenge your petitions.” Golden said, “What! I’m a Republican.” She then said, “Oh, I mean the Democrats will challenge you.”
In fact, Manny Hoffman was the Cook County chairman for George Ryan for governor. They did not want Golden to run, believing it would draw out Democratic voters in the district to defeat his run at the Board of Review. On the urging of Niles Township committeeman Shel Marcus, Golden pulled his candidacy.
Ryan was elected. As Secretary of State he had taken bribes to give truckers licenses without having passed their drivers’ tests. One such, in a highly publicized event, let to the death of the children of the Willis family (unrelated to Richard Willis). Convicted, Ryan remains in jail. His wife died during his incarceration. Shel Marcus was defeated in his next run for committeeman. This is indicative of the situations that lead to the continuing malaise in the Cook County Republican Party.
The 2000’s in Oak Park
Despite his being backstabbed by Sengpiehl, Golden, who had been part of his executive committee, volunteered to be part of Sengpiehl’s 2002 re-election committee. The entire committee was composed of Golden, Sengpiehl, and Sengpiehl’s wife, June.
Having felt the taste of power, Meyer ran for committeeman in 2002. He pulled off the same trick as had Sengpiehl. An active member of the born-again Christian Calvary Church, where in fact he had met his wife, he had his fellow parishioners flood the ballot box and he defeated Sengpiehl. This was again, no doubt, in the name of Christ.
Meyer tried hard but was unable to delegate authority. He brought the Berwyn political sensibility to Oak Park and worked hard to distribute lawn signs throughout Oak Park, which had not been the practice previously in the village. Oak Park is regularly now flooded with the anti-environmental plastic signs every election. That was Meyer’s political legacy.
Meyer held a couple picnics, with food donated from a fellow parishioner, Butch, the owner of the Villager grocer, and slated some candidates, including Golden and three blacks from the area.
Distraught at a battle with leukemia that left him bald, a restraining order imposed by one of his former wives, and career setbacks, Meyer took his own life and Richard Willis was named to fill out his term. Robin later remarried, to a Jewish man. The pastor of the Calvary church resigned not too long afterwards to pursue “other interests.”
In 2006, a local travel agent, Marlene Lynch, who had never been involved in local politics previously, sought the committeeman position. Her brother was the committeeman of a Chicago ward and wanted to be elected to the state central committee. He funded her campaign and she won. Following that, Golden continually urged her to hold a welcome party. Finally, after months, she and Golden put together a breakfast greeting party at Peterson’s Ice Cream in Oak Park. The two made the plans and decorated the place. The get-together was a success.
When the vote for Central Committeeman was held, Lynch’s brother lost, despite Lynch’s voting for him. Lynch never held a function again. She raised no money and slated no candidates.
The 2010’s in Oak Park
Ransom died on January 27, 2011, at the age of 88. Sengpiehl inherited some of his clients, but most soon found other counsel, Sengpiehl no long being guided by Ransom’s expertise.
Golden held gala fundraisers for Tony Peraica for Cook County Commissioner and John McCain for U.S. President at the Papaspiros Restaurant in Oak Park. These included music, food, speeches, and other attractions such as a tarot card reader and a portrait artist, all generating revenue for the fundraising. He also sponsored numerous presidential debate parties, first at local homes, then at local restaurants.
Despite Golden placing an article in the local press, no local Republican sought the committeeman position in 2010. As a result, by statute, a committee of committeeman from other Cook County wards and townships convened to interview those who expressed an interest.
The interviews were held at a home in River Forest to choose from those seeking the vacancy. These include Golden, Willis, a man who was previously unknown, and a girlfriend of Central Committeeman Carol Donovan. Donovan had inherited a large sum from her deceased husband and was a significant donor to GOP entities. Although having no function at the meeting, Donovan appeared and greeted the candidates.
It was evident from her strong presence that the meeting was rigged. Despite his decades of service, Golden was skewered by the anti-semitic Lithuanian committeeman from a southwest suburb, a man who later served briefly as Cook County GOP chairman. The two Hispanic members of the committee didn’t speak a word. An Italian ward committeeman made a comment, which was largely gibberish, he being sufficiently intellectually challenged he is unable to construct a complete sentence in English. The woman friend of Donovan, Lynda Slobinsky, had never appeared at a GOP function previously, and indeed her husband votes Democratic and her son does not vote. She, as a former high school teacher, obtains a huge pension from the State of Illinois. She, in short, is the problem, not a solution. She was selected “unanimously” by the intellectually gifted committee of mouthpieces.
The next four years were barely better than the previous under Lynch. She raised no money and slated no candidates. Following Golden’s lead of previous elections, she held one or two poorly attended debate parties at local homes.
- (1996) Kass, John, “Nothing dull about 7th race – U.S. House contest full of controversy,” Chicago Tribune, March 8, Section 2, p. 1
- (1992) Zorn, Eric, “But Yakov seems so, so . . . judicial,” Chicago Tribune, March 10, Section 2, p. 1
- (1996) Montgomery, Susan, “GOP slates Golden to run for state rep,” Oak Leaves, July 3, p. 10
- (1996) “Cut taxing districts,” Berwyn Life October 9, p. 22
- (2002), Mission: Fool voters (editorial), Chicago Tribune, January 18, p. 18
- Zorn, Eric. (1995) This candidate is a Cut the Taxes above the rest, Chicago Tribune (Metrowest), October 3, p. 1; http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1995-10-03/news/9510030038_1_wallace-gator-bradley-candidates-taxes
- (1996) Hevrkejs, Judy and Conklin, Mike, “Cutting Les,” Chicago Tribune, March 12, p. 2
- (1996) “ ‘Cut the Taxes’ cut from GOP ballot,” West Suburban Post, March 8, p. 5
- http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs4.asp?DocName=001000050HArt%2E+16&ActID=170&ChapterID=3&SeqStart=56200000&SeqEnd=57400000; see 10 ILCS 5/16-3 (e);
- 10 ILCS 5/16-3 (e)
- http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2003-06-03/news/0306030127_1_orr-slogans-78th-district; (2003) Groark, Virginia, “Legislature cuts the slogans from names on ballot,” Chicago Tribune, June 3
- Trainor, Ken (1997), “Who is Les Golden?”, Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest, April 2, p. 29-37
- see, for example, (1989) CARE joins school board fray, Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest , July 31, page 1; (1989) CARE tries to seek new identity, Oak Leaves, October 11, page 7; (1990) CARE endorsements have defeat the "incumbent" goal, Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest , October 31, page 21; (1991) CARE challenges shake up village races, Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest, February 6, page 1; (1991) CARE: a party in search of an image, Oak Leaves, August 14, page 8; Thomas, Sherry (1995) “Is Runningbear really ‘Cut the Taxes’?”, Oak Leaves (Oak Park, Illinois), August 23, p. 13; Linden, Eric (1995) “New OPRF ‘slate’ reads like a hoax,” Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest, August 9, p. 7
- see, for example,(2006) “Oak Park tax gripes to be discussed”, September 26, http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2006-09-26/news/0609260292_1_property-tax-property-owners-steep-hike; (1987) 200 turn out at CARE tax forum, Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest, October 7; CARE tax forum adds speakers, Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest, September 9, 9; http://www.oakparkjournal.com/Stories2002/2003-national-taxpayers-protest-op-sept-25.html
- see, for example, Stopeck, Marc (1991), “Shrubtown,” Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest, July 24, p. 17; Stopeck, Marc (1991), “Shrubtown,” Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest, August 14, p. 22; Stopeck, Marc (1991), “Shrubtown,” Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest, August 21, p. 23; Stopeck, Marc (1991), “Shrubtown,” Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest, August 28, p. 21; Stopeck, Marc (1992), “Shrubtown,” Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest, August 12, p. 24; Stopeck, Marc (1993), “Shrubtown,” Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest, August 11, p. 22