Library board race offers a range of personalities

? Incumbents decline to run again so six newcomers vie for four seats in April race.

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By KEN TRAINOR

An election campaign that normally gets overlooked?#34;the public library board?#34;looks to generate more interest this time around. First off, none of the four incumbents?#34;Betsy Kalmar, Steven Fruth, Naomi Law and George Sikorski?#34;are running for re-election. And no less than six candidates are running for the four seats.

The candidates cover quite a range?#34;from the disgruntled former employee to the son of a current library board member to a former library board member who wants to return after a four-year absence. To add further spice to the mix, one of the co-founders of REDCOOP, a development watchdog group, is running, as is the finance director of the City of Des Plaines.

Paul Gannello has been a gadfly critic of the library since he was first fired from his job as custodian several years back. Gannello, who says he is off-and-on homeless, was let go when it was discovered that he might actually be sleeping at one of the branch libraries during his off hours. He was rehired after a community uproar on his behalf, then let go a second time when the library administration and board decided to privatize custodial services with the opening of the new library.

Since then, Gannello, who spends many of his days at the library, has attended almost every board meeting, where he frequently criticizes library management and delivery of services.

He lists his parents' address as his own, but admits campaigning will be a challenge. "I have no money, zero funds," he says, and he's also shy about speaking in public. His two top issues are "protecting the rights of workers and protecting First Amendment rights." To achieve the former, he's in favor of a union for library workers. He would also like to see more computers available to patrons without library cards, so the homeless can use them. He also supports opening on Sunday all year-round and extending hours on weeknights.

He insists he isn't running in retaliation for the way he was treated by the administration. "I have every right to be mad," he said at the main library last Monday. "I'm just sticking up for my rights and for others who have problems with this administration. I think I have valid issues, and there are things I want to do."

Matthew Fruth believes youth should be served. In fact, at 26, he's pretty young himself. If the name sounds familiar, it's not your imagination. He's the son of current library board member Steven Fruth, who was delighted to hear his son was running, but it was all Matthew's idea. The former Fenwick wrestler and Circle Video clerk had been vicariously involved with the library during his father's eight years on the board, and "I had my own views and ideas to bring to the board," he said. Fruth would like to see more speakers scheduled, for instance, on topics of interest to college students when they're home during the summer. He is a recent graduate of Dominican University, though not of the library program, though everyone asks him that. "I was a math major," he said. As a south Oak Parker, he's also interested in making sure the Maze renovations go well.

Mostly, though, he's running because of "a love of books. We're big readers here."

Rich Akin is running because "they twisted my arm, but not too much." The 8-year former board member didn't run for re-election in 2001, but found he missed serving the community (he was on the Plan Commission for eight years before joining the library board) and felt he still had something to offer. Financial expertise in particular, said the 59-year-old LaSalle Bank financial officer. His wife has been a library employee since 1973, so he is "careful to abstain on financial issues involving staff." On the plus side, having a family member on staff gives him a lot of insight into library operations.

Mila Tellez, who co-founded REDCOOP (Responsible Economic Development - Citizens of Oak Park) with her husband, Nile Wendorf, and who has been actively involved in local politics with the Village Citizens Alliance, is also running for the board. So is Jim Egeberg, finance director for the City of Des Plaines. Egeberg is a neighbor of current board member Betsy Kalmar, who encouraged him to run. He had previously served on the Park Infrastructure Committee, an experience that made him want to increase his community involvement.

The other candidate, whom we were unable to reach, is Deanne "Dee" Leonard.

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