For the second time in just two days, another high ranking official with the Village of Oak Lawn has become part of the political fire after being pressured by Mayor Sandra Bury to issue misleading quotes according to a spokesman with her opponent’s campaign.
Fire Chief George Sheets took issue, in a letter to the Oak Lawn Patch, with Streit’s literature that attributed statements to him. However, Streit’s campaign is sticking to the attribution noting that Chief Sheets is being used as a pawn and the Bury campaign is trying to mislead voters while parsing words.
The Oak Lawn Leaf did not receive the letter but the Oak Lawn Patch’s Lorraine Swanson quotes Sheets as saying, “I was taken aback because I never made such a statement, and moreover, it’s 100 percent false.”
The problem according to Streit campaign spokesman, Jim Wilson, is that Sheets or the Patch are “either forgetful or parsing words”. Wilson pointed to another quote in the Patch to prove his point that Sheets is being pressured to make statements. Swanson, who did not call Streit’s campaign for a response or explanation, wrote, “Sheets said not only were there zero fire-related deaths to date in Oak Lawn, “we haven’t had a fire-related death since 2014.” The statement, however, was made in 2014 according to minutes of board meetings.
Wilson said that the campaign never said the statements attributed to Sheets were made this year and the campaign said the same statement was used in Streit’s Trustee race in 2015 without an objection by Sheets. Wilson added, “For Sheets to now claim it isn’t 100 percent accurate is misleading and shows how Bury will put politics over public safety every day of this weekend.”
In a video recorded statement, Fire Chief Sheets explained that during the first two months of 2014, the Village of Oak Lawn Fire & Rescue Department experienced an unprecedented number of severe fires, with the month of February being the most deadly in the history of the Fire Department with six fatalities.
The campaign was just as sure that the issue of whether Sheets ever asked for more firefighters is also clear in recorded evidence. In a 2014 budget hearing, Sheets is recorded as stating that the village should increase its firefighter/paramedic force from the historical low numbers to add 16 more firefighter/paramedics. The village hasn’t increased the number of active firefighter/paramedics since the statement even though Sheets did say he wanted 16 more staff members.
Wilson, who identified himself as a campaign spokesman said that Streit was campaigning all day at the polling place and was unavailable for comment. He said that during the evening the candidate was spending time with his family and would not be available to speak with the Oak Lawn Leaf.
Wilson did issue a campaign response in which a statement is attributed to Streit. He said that it is “unfortunate that Chief Sheets, like two high ranking police officials, are being pulled into a political campaign by a Mayor that intimidates workers for political purposes”.
A highly placed source at the village hall confirmed that the Mayor and others in the campaign spoke with the chiefs and “requested” that they issue statements or appear in political literature, which is generally not done in campaigns and has never been done in Oak Lawn.
Wilson said that Sheets “probably forgot he made the statements” because it is well known that the number of firefighters has never been lower and the quote about the 2014 fires is 100 percent true.
Wilson placed the blame for the story on the Oak Lawn Patch’s editor, Lorraine Swanson, who he accused of being a political supporter of Bury. Last week, Swanson showed up at early voting and loudly proclaimed that she wasn’t voting for Streit.
The Society of Professional Journalists has an ethics code for journalists, including bloggers. Regarding political involvement, the code discourages any involvement in political campaigns. In a position paper, the committee states, “Don’t get involved”.
Wilson said that Swanson’s own profession would call what she did bad judgment or worse.
Correction: A previous photo and caption indicated that a trailer owned by Lorraine Swanson had a Bury/Olejniczak sign. It was an error. The trailers are off by one number. We apologize for the error.