CHICAGO HEIGHTS | After more than 20 years in the courts, a voting rights lawsuit came to rest in the ballot boxes of Chicago Heights as voters chose a new mayor, elected its first nonappointed treasurer and clerk and picked a seventh voice to join a strengthened City Council.
David Gonzalez will be the second man to take the mayor's seat since former Mayor Alex Lopez, died suddenly in August. He beat his challenger, 4th Ward Alderman Joe Faso by roughly 900 votes with all 24 precincts reporting.
Gonzalez, 49, is a certified public accountant who owns an accounting firm in South Chicago Heights. He was superintendent of the Chicago Heights Park District from 1999 to 2006 and was also a supporter of Lopez.
"With his passing, I decided that I wanted to run for mayor because me and Alex Lopez shared the same vision," Gonzalez has said.
Gonzalez will replace Mayor Vincent Zaranti. Zaranti was appointed by the City Council to serve out Lopez's term, but he decided not to run for re-election. Instead, he chose to run on the Unity slate for his old council seat, which he won handily against a challenge by John Zartuche. Zaranti won 76 percent of the vote.
The voting rights lawsuit against the city was filed in 1987 by William Elliott, Ron Harper, Robert McCoy and Kevin Perkins to change the city's form of government. They argued that the existing form -- a mayor and four commissioners at large -- prevented minority candidates from being elected. A referendum was passed in 1994. It added two aldermen and created six wards.
However, the plaintiffs persisted until a settlement, reached last year, added a seventh ward, and stripped the mayor of the power to appoint the clerk and treasurer. With seven wards, the mayor no longer is the tie-breaking vote on the City Council.
Gonzalez's Unity Party slate won all but one of the contests in which it was pitted against Faso's Integrity Party's slate.
In the clerk's race, Unity Party candidate Lori Wilcox won 47 percent of the vote to beat Integrity Party candidate Beverly Anne Goncher and independent Ethel Taylor. Wilcox, 34, owns a day care in Steger and works as a library media specialist for a charter school in Chicago. She gained a background in records management while serving 12 years with the U.S. Army Reserves.
In the treasurer's race, Unity candidate James "Jim" Dee beat Integrity challenger Anita McLaughlin with nearly 58 percent of the vote. Dee, 48, is a lifelong resident of the city and a certified public accountant who works as chief financial officer for a concrete construction company. He served on the Chicago Heights Park District Board from 1999 to 2003.
Incumbent 1st Ward Alderman Willie White of the Unity Party staved off a challenge by Integrity candidate and former Alderman Robert McCoy. White capture 63 percent of the vote.
Incumbent Alderman Sonia Perez of the Unity Party beat Integrity challenger Ronald Lucarini with more than 75 percent of the vote. Perez, 45, was appointed to the seat in June of 2009 when Alex Lopez was chosen to fill the vacancy left by Anthony DeLuca, who resigned to become a state representative. Perez also serves as 2nd Ward Park Board commissioner.
Familiar foes squared off in the 3rd Ward, and incumbent Wanda Rodgers of the Unity Party won with 59.5 percent of the vote. She beat Integrity Party challenger Kevin Perkins, who she also bested in the 2007 election after Perkins defeated her in 2003. Rogers is director for the Chicago Heights Park District and previously served six years as 3rd Ward Park District commissioner.
In choosing to run for mayor, Faso opened the 4th Ward contest to fellow Integrity Party member Josh Deabel, who beat Pete Bartolomei of the Unity Party with 53.5 percent of the vote. Deabel, 37, wants ordinances enforced to require the upkeep of properties, and believed the city needs to attract new businesses.
Richard Amadio of the Unity Party won the 5th Ward seat with 57 percent of the vote over Integrity Party challenger Toni Spada. Amadio, 53, is a retired assistant chief with the Chicago Heights Fire Department who ran on a desire to fix streets, bring jobs to the city and improve the safety of the community.
Incumbent 5th Ward Alderman Lisa Aprati was forced out of the ward by the redistricting that took place in the wake of the referendum to create the city's 7th Ward.
Sylvia Torres of the Unity Party became the city's first 7th Ward alderman with 58 percent of the vote over John Daniel Jr. of the Integrity Party candidate (42 percent). Torres is a licensed practical nurse who is concerned about safety issues in the city, along with the number of abandoned buildings and a lack of jobs and businesses.