The Boss of Bremen Township
Mary Margaret “Maggie” Crotty looks more grandmother than ward boss.
But in Bremen Township, which mostly includes the southwest Cook County suburbs of Oak Forest, Midlothian, Crestwood, Posen, Tinley Park, Robbins and Markham, the political machine is all hers.
Its well-oiled and well-funded, albeit quietly, with local property tax dollars.
They don’t necessarily know it, but every homeowner there pays about $60 each year to fund Crotty’s political organization-- a grand total of $2.23 million.
So it goes that, as she seeks her fourth term as Bremen Township supervisor on Apr. 4, Crotty is trying not to make so much as a peep.
She has no campaign website and she hasn’t issued a single campaign press release. She isn’t touting accomplishments, or even countering a litany of criticism by her challenger, Donald Sebek, and others.
There’s been plenty-- about Crotty raising local property taxes, spending township money on casino trips, killing support of the popular, local Bremen Youth Services (run by Sebek), then handing the contract to a politically-connected vendor, and making patronage hires.
None of it has garnered a response.
Crotty’s campaign strategy: carry the day with crickets.
All in the (Bremen Township) family
Crotty herself, 68, collected three paychecks totaling $123,815 last year.
That includes two government pensions for her time on Cook County’s payroll and her 16 years in the Illinois legislature, plus her salary as supervisor of Bremen Township government, where she has reigned since 2005.
What’s in that job?
Not much, other than giving other people taxpayer-funded jobs.
Crotty controls 39 taxpayer-funded positions which cost homeowners $858,000 last year.
Among her employees-- her son’s mother-in-law, Joan Traficanta of Crestwood, who earns $47,500 as a “senior director.” And then there’s Crotty’s longtime campaign manager Ron Szabo, 65, of Oak Forest, who along with his younger brother, John, 62, works as a laborer in the township road department.
Who gets on the Bremen Township payroll is all method, if it inspires citizen madness.
The Szabos work on a crew with fellow laborer Larry Canning, 50, of Tinley Park, who, when he isn’t standing roadside holding a “yield” sign, oversees an $84 million annual budget for his fellow taxpayers as a member of the Bremen High School District 228 School Board.
With Crotty’s support, Canning is running for re-election Apr. 4 on a “Parents for Progress” slate with Oak Forest finance executive Edward Maggio, whose son, Kyle, 25, also once worked alongside Canning as a Bremen Township laborer.
He left for nursing school and was replaced by Canning’s son, Eric.
Others joining Crotty’s road crew: Kevin Kampwirth, whose mother, Kim, serves with Canning on the District 228 board, and Raymond McGlynn, 23, the son of former Bremen Township Schools Trustees of Schools board member Dennis McGlynn of Midlothian.
Canning and Kampwirth are seniors at Tinley Park High School.
If this preponderance of muscle is enough to leave the impression that Bremen Township has a massive system of roads to maintain, guess again. Its grand total: seven miles
Pay $324,000 for $20,000 worth of work
The International City/County Management Association did a study in 2012 of road maintenance by municipalities across the U.S. and found the median annual spend was $2,894 per mile, or $20,258 for a road system the size of Bremen Township’s.
In 2016, Bremen Township spent $323,660 to maintain the equivalent.
That’s the tab for the aforementioned friends and family labor crew-- the Szabo brothers, the Cannings, and others-- elected roads commissioner John Flaherty ($36,500) and the $71,445 per year department superintendent James Grande, 65, of Midlothian, formerly Crotty’s campaign treasurer.
It also includes $76,420 in payments to vendors, like Wally’s Paving of Posen ($28,466 in 2016), who are brought in to do actual highway maintenance work, when it is required. Not that the department isn’t full of seasoned, if not experienced, staff.
Before he joined a laborers crew, Ron Szabo served as elected roads commissioner of Bremen Township himself, from 2001 to 2005 and then again from 2009 to 2013. He declined to run for re-election after he and his wife, Janice, were caught in a property tax fraud scandal, taking a “senior citizen exemption” when they weren’t senior citizens.
Ron and Janice Szabo currently receive a combined $171,254 per year in government paychecks.
That includes Ron’s $36,500 part-time job as a laborer, his pension of $64,340 from 27 years working for Cook County, and Janice’s Cook County salary of $70,414. She serves as a property tax liaison between the Cook County Assessor and township assessors.
Paying for patronage in property taxes
Property taxes in Bremen Township are soaring, today ranking among the most suffocating in not just the Chicago area, but the entire country.
If Crotty is held accountable at the polls, she can blame the fact that she raised the township’s taxes 49 percent over the past four years.
A 2015 Chicago Tribune study said Oak Forest’s effective property tax rate is now 4.12 percent, or nearly twice the state average (2.13 percent) and nearly five times the rate across the border in Indiana (0.88 percent)
That means the buyer of a $200,000 Oak Forest home, putting 20 percent down, currently pays $757 per month in principal and interest and $686 in property taxes.
In Indiana, they would pay $146 in property taxes on a home of the same value.
Tax rates in Markham (6.21 percent), Robbins (4.74), Midlothian (4.07), Tinley Park (3.47) and Crestwood (3.32), Posen (3.26) are as bad or worse.
That’s why property values have plummeted in Bremen Township. A study by Local Government Information Services (LGIS), which publishes South Cook News, found that home prices there fell between 34 and 59 percent between 2007 and 2015.
They fell 59 percent in Crestwood and Markham, 58 percent in Robbins, 40 percent in Midlothian, 37 percent in Oak Forest and 34 percent in Tinley Park.
If the next eight years are like the past eight for Bremen Township real estate, homeowners will have paid between 73 and 209 percent of their median home’s value in property taxes over the previous 16 years.
In Crotty’s hometown of Oak Forest, the median home price will be $119,809, while the median property taxpayer will have paid $109,427 in property taxes from 2007 to 2023.
By then, most likely, Crotty’s machine will have slowed and Bremen Township will be in the rear view mirror.
Her's at least. With three government pensions worth millions on which to lean-- she’ll receive another from her township work--- retirement is an easy option.
And she doesn’t even have to collect them in Illinois.
In 2012, Crotty paid $182,000 for a home in a new development called Palm Valley, two blocks from a golf course in Goodyear, Arizona.
There, they don’t even have township government at all. No Szabos or Cannings offering their road-related labor in exchange for a salary and a lifetime pension.
It follows that Zillow says Crotty's home there is now worth $284,000, up 56 percent. And her property taxes? Just $2,570.
In Markham, that bill would be $17,636.