VILLA PARK — Residents and community members packed the second-floor board room of Village Hall Wednesday night to hear the positions, ideas and opinions of the candidates for Villa Park's village president and village trustee positions.
The candidate forum was hosted by the Villa Park Junior Women's Club and facilitated by the club's president, Angie Rojek, who asked the candidates a series of pre-selected questions that had been submitted by residents.
This election has two candidates for the village president seat, to replace current Village President Tom Cullerton, who chose not to run for re-election. Last November, Cullerton was elected to the state senate.
Seeking the position of village president are Deborah Bullwinkel, a current trustee, and John Heidelmeier, Villa Park's retired police chief.
Bullwinkel has a background in communications and has lived in the village with her husband for 17 years. She said she had been motivated to run by encouragement from the former president, coupled with a desire to help advance the village.
"We need a strategic plan," she said. "We have a comprehensive plan, but no strategic plan attached to that. This is one plan we do not have but we desperately need."
She spoke optimistically about some of the advances the village made in recent years, such as its improved website transparency score from the Illinois Policy Institute. Villa Park received a failing grade last June, but recently raised it into a "B" range score.
Her comments also reflected a desire to encourage economic development, specifically along North Avenue, and to pursue a major development, like a hotel or other entertainment property on North Villa Avenue near the Odeum Sports & Expo Center.
Although she did not cite specifics, Bullwinkel spoke to the challenges and hard decisions required of someone who serves as an elected official, and asked for the support of voters.
"There comes a time, in elected office, when you have to do what's in the best interest of the village," she said. "It's not easy. As your trustee I have done the right thing, and as your president, I will do the right thing."
Her opponent, Heidelmeier, comes from a heavily law-enforcement background. He served in the U.S. Air Force before getting a job as a Villa Park police officer.
Heidelmeier served with the department for 23 years and retired from the position of police chief in January 2012.
He spoke of a desire to improve the village through a series of aggressive and effective decisions.
"We need to be honest with the challenges we face as a community," he said. "We need to identify those challenges and not sugar-coat them. Review what we've done in the past and why certain things have caused us problems."
He mentioned the village's pools as one entity that needs repairs and also supported development of businesses along North Avenue. His plan is to talk to developers to learn why they've been reluctant to build in Villa Park and find a way to alleviate their concerns.
"People, they follow me," Heidelmeier said. "I'm sometimes baffled by that. I share an instilled vision. It's not just John's ideas, it's our ideas. Any group I've led, any team I've led, it's been better off that I've been there."
Bullwinkel and Heidelmeier will appear on the April 9 ballot.