Community Awards

My three years of full-time activism have produced strong results for our community. My goal has been to make sure the village’s public policy reflects the values of its residents–and that all residents are served equitably. Here are my recent successes: I received the 2017 Suburban Action award from Arise Chicago and the 2018 Jean R. Cleland Social Action award from Open Communities.


Letters to the Editor: Axelrod is ‘fighter for causes he believes in’

I have lived in my home in Wilmette for the past 35 years. I am excited and pleased that we have a passionate and dedicated resident who is running for trustee of our village. Jeff Axelrod has great core values, and will insure that Wilmette remains the kind of community that attracts young families moving here. He is a fighter for causes he believes are just, and will enable Wilmette to remain on the forefront as a great community.  

Please vote for Jeff Axelrod for Village Trustee. 

Beth Gomberg-Hirsch

Wilmette resident


Wilmette Village President Bob Bielinski said Thursday Wilmette should unconditionally follow Cook County’s minimum wage and paid sick time rules, based on the local vote on county advisory referendums Nov. 6.

In June, the Village Board voted to “opt in” to the minimum wage rules, but with some conditions including a sunset clause, and voted against following the county sick time rules.

But Bielinski said seeing how 76 percent of Wilmette voters backed adhering to the Cook County minimum wage rule and 80 percent backed doing the same for the paid sick time guidelines, the village should fully opt into the county ordinances.

“None of this was prepared prior to the election results becoming available. This was all in the last two days,” he said.

Ordinances will be introduced at the Village Board’s meeting on Tuesday, he said, with a final vote set for Nov. 27.

If board members agree, Wilmette would require employers to let workers earn up to 40 hours of paid sick time a year, a regulation the board rejected in June 2017 and again in June of this year.

The new rules, if passed, should kick in on Jan. 1, Bielinski said.

“I believe this should be done promptly, mindful of the need to provide notice to our business community,” he said.

Cook County approved both measures in October 2016, but the law allows home-rule municipalities to “opt out” of following the law.

Village Board member Joel Kurzman, who unsuccessfully opposed opting out of the regulations in 2017, welcomed the ordinance.

“It’s simply about Wilmette being welcoming to its workers,” Kurzman said.

Wilmette’s minimum wage rule already echoes the county’s ordinance, which calls for the minimum wage to go to $13 an hour by July 2020, and to be indexed to the consumer price index after that. But sunset provisions, either under certain conditions or by July 2021, would disappear if the board agrees with Bielinski’s latest recommendation.

The referendum language was much more specific than very general 2014 and 2016 referendums on the same issues, Bielinski said.

Julie Wolf, one of the board members who’d voted in June for a minimum wage hike but against the paid sick time ordinance, said the referendum results were a strong indication of what residents want.

“I felt comfortable with what we did in June because I think a lot of us really hoped the state would act,” she said, noting she still has some reservations about how the paid sick time might affect small businesses. In June, Wolf had worried about what she’d called onerous record-keeping.

Other minimum wage and paid sick time supporters isaid they were surprised but happy with Bielinski’s recommenation.

“I’m looking forward to the prospect that I can take my family to restaurants without worry that workers might be coming to work sick and contaminating our food,” said Jeff Axelrod.

Wilmette resident Jon Marshall, another community organizer, said he was pleased with the recommendation.

“I think it’s clear that Wilmette residents strongly support this,” he said.
Bielinski apologizes after meeting blow-up with minimum wage supporter

Wilmette Village President Bob Bielinski apologized Friday for what he called his "combative" stance during an exchange Tuesday with a resident over Wilmette's June decision to opt out of the Cook County minimum wage and sick time ordinances.

Bielinski said he spoke Friday afternoon with Jeff Axelrod, at whom he directed heated remarks during the public comment section of the regular village board meeting.

"It was a very cordial, very positive call. We spoke for about 50 minutes. I hope it's a positive first step forward on the part of both of us," he said, but acknowledged that they didn't resolve their differences.

In a text, Axelrod confirmed the call and said the conversation was more cordial than their public face-off, but added, "I would say that we made no progress on the issue."

In a later email, he said Bielinski "was not amenable" to two requests Axelrod made over the phone, one for a community meeting on the issue of the ordinance opt-out. The second was for space in a future village newsletter to respond to Bielinski's comments on the opt-out decision that ran in the most recent village newsletter.

Bielinski said earlier Friday that he "lost my cool" at the meeting, but had apologized at the meeting and reached out to Axelrod to apologize for interrupting and being argumentative.

"I'm disappointed in myself," he said, adding that he planned to apologize publicly at the next board meeting.

The falling out began just under 13 minutes into the meeting, about three minutes after Axelrod condemned the village board's decision and spoke about an an ongoing petition drive asking Wilmette to honor the county ordinance.

"People don't want to live in a town that portrays itself as elitist and selfish," he said.

Axelrod also said he was concerned about business conflicts of interest on the part of unnamed board members who voted to opt out. At that point the exchange escalated, with Bielinski accusing Axelrod and others of organizing a boycott against businesses that supported opting out.

"Why are you trying to hurt the business community?" Bielinski asked, later calling the effort a "shameful" harassment campaign.

Bielinski spoke over Axelrod as the latter tried to explain that his group, which on its website calls itself the Wilmette Justice Team, wasn't organizing a boycott, but was trying to create an "honor roll" of village businesses that voluntarily pay their employees $10 or more and provide paid sick time for employees.

The two men argued for about five minutes over Axelrod's comments and over what the county ordinance mandated as a minimum wage before Trustee Joel Kurzman interrupted, saying, "I don't wish to stand by idly while a resident is getting dressed down for his beliefs … I'm not comfortable with how this is proceeding."

Bielinski responded by saying he had never before seen "people drawing national-style politics into Wilmette," before apologizing.

On Friday, he said he became upset when Axelrod made his conflict of interest statements.

He also said he was referring to the tone of Axelrod's comments when he spoke of "national-style politics," noting that Axelrod had used words like "contempt" and "disgust" in his presentation.

Historically, he said, Wilmette residents with differing political opinions agreed to disagree.

"We've historically not called each other names. We've historically agreed to disagree. The person who disagrees with me is not my enemy," Bielinski said. "That's what you hear in Springfield and Washington, that the person who disagrees with me is my enemy."