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Tiffany Henyard, the mayor and supervisor of two suburbs in Illinois, spearheaded a bill reducing a potential successor’s salary if she loses her 2025 reelection bid. It’s the latest in a long line of alleged misdeeds by the charismatic and controversial political figure.
It’s rare that small-town politics captures the imagination of TikTok, but few local hamlets have mayors as charismatic and controversial as Tiffany Henyard. The mayor and supervisor of Dolton and Thornton Township in Illinois has been compared to Ava Coleman, the principal on the TV show “Abbott Elementary,” and Leslie Knope on “Parks and Recreation.”
The attention is due in large part to the mayor’s own escapades. In September, for instance, she showed up at a town meeting dressed like the Wesley Snipes character, kingpin Nino Brown, in the movie New Jack City. Henyard even brought along a DJ, who played Rhianna’s “B**** Better Have My Money” to punctuate her political points.
The mayor, who on Instagram describes herself as “the most powerful woman in the Southland of Chicago,” travels with a police detail, has thrown up billboards and signs around town with her photo, and regularly shoots fun YouTube videos, including a music video featuring herself and Dolton city employees.
But the self-proclaimed “super mayor” is also garnering attention from social media, online forums and local news outlets for her alleged misdeeds. Henyard has been sued for fraud, accused of misusing public funds, and criticized for flaunting the law and frivolous spending, in general. Just before Christmas, TikTok videos of the local lawmaker popped up discussing her latest controversy—a salary ordinance.
Henyard got a measure through the Thornton Township board that would reduce the salary of her potential successor in the event she loses her bid for reelection next year. Henyard, who makes $224,000 a year as township supervisor, drafted legislation that would cut her successor’s salary to just $25,000. If Henyard stays in office, her salary stays the same.
The editorial board of the Chicago Sun-Times denounced the move as “about as politically rotten and self-serving as it gets—a bid by elected officials to use tax dollars and the law to chase away political rivals.” Her colleagues on the Board of Trustees criticized the move in the local media, while municipal attorney Burt Odelson, who represents Henyard's political opponents, called it “illegal in so many ways.”
It was the latest in a long line of controversies surrounding Henyard that have been exhaustively documented on social media. One TikTok account has racked up millions of views for its videos. The popular account compares her to Coleman, the principal on “Abbott Elementary,” and intersperses videos of Henyard with various other pop culture references.
Among the controversies the account and others on TikTok have detailed include Henyard’s spending $50,000 on a Christmas tree from New York; using public funds to buy roadside billboards featuring her name and face (including one that misspelled “Thorton”); and allegedly using police to harass residents and employees and target political opponents.
Other antics have included purchasing first-class tickets for out-of-town trips, allegedly funneling thousands of dollars in public money to a foundation in her name, taking Dolton police officers off the street to provide a personal security detail that's resulted in thousands of hours of overtime and spending thousands of dollars on two ice rinks that elected officials say they didn’t approve.
Henyard has denied any wrongdoing. Her public statements indicate that she is unbowed by any criticism or the threat of legal action. At a regular board meeting in early January, she showed a video of residents praising her for being visible in the community, then launched into a long speech chastising her opponents and noting how hard she works.
“I don’t care what poison people put out there,” Henyard said. “You all live here; they don’t. The internet and people, especially at my board meetings, can say whatever. But at the end of the day, we grew here, they flew here.”
Henyard went on to criticize what she called a “spin cycle” and a “smear campaign” against her, which she said had been undertaken by people who “know they can’t beat me.” Instead, she said, they try to “defame my name.”
“They’re trying to damage my character when I’ve done nothing for years but love on the people,” Henyard said. “When you all hear things or think of things, come and get the facts and the receipts before you judge.”
Spokespeople for Dolton and Thornton Township did not respond to requests for comment.
All this is taking place in two suburban towns south of Chicago where the median household income is roughly $50,000 and lag behind many of their peers in Illinois. Data estimates that around 20% of Dolton residents live below the poverty line, while median household income and median house or condo value both trail the state average.
According to the Village of Dolton’s official website, Henyard is a lifelong resident and is the city’s first and youngest woman mayor in its 130-year history. A Democrat, she was elected in 2021 to a four-year term, earning 82% of the vote against an independent candidate. Henyard was subsequently appointed as Thornton Township’s supervisor following the death of Democratic political fixture, Frank Zuccarelli, in January 2022.
Henyard’s critics include several members of the Dolton Village board, who say that the mayor spent the town into a $5 million deficit last year. Four Dolton Village trustees and the village clerk have sued Henyard in an effort to rein in her spending, accusing the mayor of forging checks without authority, failing or refusing to provide financial records and removing one trustee’s access to the village’s bank account information without approval. Henyard is also accused also of using a stamp containing that trustee’s signature to issue checks for payments not approved by the board.
The lawsuit said Henyard’s alleged actions prevented the trustees and clerk “from fulfilling their statutory duties to control the finances of the corporation and appropriate for and pay the debts and expenses of the Village.” And it said that the plaintiffs “are in need of protection” from Henyard’s actions, as they have “resulted in improper payments being issued from Village financial funds, resulted in payments lawfully approved by the Board not being issued and violated state law and the Village resolutions.”
A prior ordinance had looked to curb Henyard’s alleged abuse of power by mandating that the most senior trustee and the clerk would be signatories for village checks, but that was overturned last year after Henyard brought a lawsuit against it.
Dolton voters did recall the mayor in 2022. Opponents of the mayor on the board voted to put three questions on a referendum, which ultimately passed with 56% percent of the vote. But the effort was overturned by an appellate court that concluded the Dolton Village Board improperly drafted the referendum questions.
It is unclear what the residents of Dolton and Thornton Township make of their leader. But a Chicago Tribune columnist suggests she’s popular. “She invites the public to her parties and promotions, which make Henyard popular among voters. She’s like Santa Claus, or the Tooth Fairy, or some other benevolent character that showers people with gifts.”
Corruption is no stranger to Illinois. Most recently, former House Speaker Michael Madigan was indicted on 22 charges of corruption and racketeering. More than half a dozen other Democrats have been indicted in related cases, including Madigan’s chief of staff. It’s not just legislators, two governors have gone to jail: Republican George Ryan and Democrat Rod Blagojevich. And the Sun-Times editorial said Dolton is one of several suburbs south of Chicago “plagued by corruption and bad government for decades.”
The paper detailed scandals that include the selling and distribution of police badges to non-officers, and the apparent involvement of the former mayor of nearby Harvey in a scheme where his brother demanded payments from a town strip club for 15 years in exchange for allowing prostitution to take place.
“Add to that the drinking water problems, flooding and other infrastructure issues the southern suburbs regularly experience, it’s far past time for honest and competent municipal leadership to take the reins in the area,” the Sun-Times editorial board said. “Enough is enough."