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Bullwinkel prepares to tackle villagewide challenges

Rich Keehner, Deborah Bullwinkel and Greg Gola plant a tree on Park Avenue near the Prairie Path in honor of Arbor Day on April 26.
Rich Keehner, Deborah Bullwinkel and Greg Gola plant a tree on Park Avenue near the Prairie Path in honor of Arbor Day on April 26.

VILLA PARK – Deborah Bullwinkel says she’s rolling up her sleeves and getting to work.

The 17-year Villa Park resident was elected to the village president position April 9, and with less than two weeks to go before she’s formally sworn in, Bullwinkel is formulating her plans for the village’s future.

Her career in local politics began in 2009 when she was elected to serve as a village trustee, which she did for one term before assuming a greater leadership role – but her community involvement began long before that.

“What got me involved with village work was that our street was completely falling apart,” she said. “How some residents come to the board because their streets are falling apart, that was me.”

She joined forces with neighbors and eventually made enough noise to get the street fixed, she said. From there, she joined more community groups and eventually decided to run for trustee.

“I was approached by several residents who said, ‘Have you ever considered running for trustee?’” she said. “I had not. The thought had never crossed my mind.”

The 2009 election came and went and left Bullwinkel surprised when the results indicated her as the candidate who received the most votes overall. She didn’t think that many people knew who she was.

Then, a few years after becoming a trustee, people began to approach her again – this time asking if she’d ever thought about running for village president.

In December, Bullwinkel pulled two packets, one for village president and one for trustee. As she went out to get petition signatures, she mulled the idea of running for president.

“I was out there getting petition signatures, and a lot of people were asking me to run for president,” she said. “They were encouraging me to run for president.”

She decided to go for it.

“[The campaign] was wonderful,” she said. “From the time I announced my campaign, I had people coming out of the woodwork wanting to volunteer.”

On election day, she received more than 75 percent of vote over her opponent, former Villa Park Police Chief John Heidelmeier.

Bullwinkel will be sworn in as village president during the May 13 Village Board meeting alongside the village’s trustees.

One of the first projects she plans to pursue goes back to her political roots – repairing Villa Park streets.

Bullwinkel also wants to develop a strategic plan for the village and focus on economic development. Villa Park already has a comprehensive plan that outlines some of the town’s big-picture ideas, but she wants a strategic plan that will be the “blueprint” to accomplish long-term goals.

“We’re not overly developed,” she said. “We could learn a thing from our neighbors to the east and west. We have the opportunity to develop into what we want to look like.”

One location she’s hinted for residents to keep an eye on is North Park Mall, at the northeast corner of North Avenue and Addison Road. The property has new owners and likely a few incoming tenants. Bullwinkel also hopes to attract a hotel developer near the Odeum Sports and Expo Center.

While her new job won’t always be easy – the board won’t always agree on issues and residents likewise with the decisions of elected officials – Bullwinkel doesn’t shy away from those challenges.

“With the staff we have, with the board we have, with the community we have, we can make amazing things happen,” she said. “They showed up to vote. Now it’s our turn.”

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