There's a new mayor in Markham, Illinois, and he is making history.
Longtime Markham resident, former fire chief for Markham and current fire chief for suburban Country Club Hills, Roger Agpawa won the mayoral election 15 months ago back in April 2017 with more than 70 percent of the vote. He was not able to take his seat, however. This was due to a near 20-year old felony conviction in which Agpawa plead guilty to mail fraud in a medical insurance case. In the state of Illinois anyone with a felony record is barred from taking mayoral office. After Agpawa's victorious election in April 2017, Cook County Circuit Court Judge David Atkins placed a temporary restraining order preventing him from assuming the mayor’s office. Skeptics said short of a Presidential pardon, Agpawa would never become mayor of Markham.
Last week Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed a "Restoration of Rights" letter which allows Agpawa to hold public office and serve as mayor. Today at noon Roger A. Agpawa was sworn in and has immediately taken his position as Mayor of Markham.
During the 15 months that Agpawa fought in the courts for his elected seat as mayor, Markham's city council appointed an interim Mayor. On May 3, 2017, city council appointed Alderman Ernest Blevins to act as the interim “mayor pro tem.” While serving as mayor pro tem, Blevins still
represented Markham’s 1st Ward as alderman. Blevins' term as interim mayor has not been a smooth ride. In late 2017 interim Mayor Blevins was criticized for increasing his salary by more than $70,000 and ordering the Markham treasurer to pay him $34,000 in “back pay” for his time as interim mayor. This was viewed as improper because there was no official authorization from the city attorney or treasurer to do such transaction. Earlier this year Blevins came under scrutiny for the unauthorized firing of three appointed employees which included the Inspector General. That firing was uncovered by former good-government watchdog group Project Six, and consequently two weeks later the unauthorized firings were reversed.
With Mayor Agpawa taking over, Blevins will concentrate solely on his aldermanic duties to the 1st ward.
Mayor Agpawa may have had a long-drawn-out 15-month battle in court and in Springfield to get where he is, but the real work begins today. Markham, like so many other small towns and villages in Illinois, is a city that has a rich working-class history and families that have roots there stretching back generations. But Markham has been plagued for decades by elected officials abusing the trust instilled in them by voters and looking out for their own interests rather than that of taxpayers.
Earlier this year, the long-time former Mayor of Markham, David Webb Jr., plead guilty to federal grand jury charges that he solicited $300,000 in bribes and kickbacks to steer city contracts to connected contractors. Webb plead guilty to one count of honest services wire fraud and one count of filing a false tax return. He is subject to 7-9 years in prison, depending on his cooperation. He also has agreed to pay approximately $330,000 in restitution and nearly $70,000 to the U.S. Treasury.
Webb's next court status hearing is October 3, 2018 at Dirksen Federal Court.
Corruption has a visible cost, and many times that cost is felt especially hard in small cities like Markham. With staggeringly high property taxes and diminishing house values, Markham has one of the highest property tax rates in Illinois at a near 28%. When property tax rates in cities like Markham, Harvey or neighboring south suburban Hazel Crest rise to double digits, the local businesses are unable to survive and eventually leave. These small towns become more
and more economically depressed each year losing businesses, losing homeowners, losing population, and consequently losing their tax base. It is a downward economic spiral. The corruption makes life all the more burdensome when residents have been manipulated and cheated on by those they have entrusted their vote to, making their American dream a living nightmare.
Markham’s long working-class history is based on work ethic and family, but corruption, trickery, and theft by public officials like Webb and Blevins have cost the small city millions. Newly-seated Mayor Agpawa now has an opportunity to turn around a decades-old stigma that has plagued the hard-working residents of Markham and bring to them a long-awaited restoration of pride and confidence in their city and their leadership.