Concerned Forest Park residents had a chance to acquaint themselves with three democratic incumbents on Monday night at Forest Park Library.

Karen Yarbrough, who is running for 7th District State Representative, Kim Lightford, who is running for 4th District State Senate and Calvin Giles, who is running for the 8th District State Representative addressed a crowd of around 30 residents at the forum sponsored by the Citizens United in Forest Park and the library.

Yarbrough, who is in her third term, is also a licensed real estate broker and the founder and president of Hathaway Insurance Agency. She earned a B.A. in business administration from Chicago State University and an M.A. in inner city studies form Northeastern Illinois University. She served as president of the Maywood Chamber of Commerce for eight years and has been a board member of the United Way of Suburban Chicago and the Oak Park YMCA.

Yarbrough, whose husband, Henderson Yarbrough, is the mayor of Maywood, said that one of her main projects is Illinois Housing Authority to help people that are currently dependent on the system to become independent. She also stressed that the key to political change is for people to get involved in the political process.

“Really, I wish more good, concerned people would get involved and vote,” she said. “Bad politicians are voted into office by people that don’t vote. I think it is sad that Election Day comes around and people do not even know the candidates. I started my political career because I saw something needed to be done in my community and nobody was doing anything. My voice made a difference and yours can too.”

Yarbrough cited her sponsorship of legislation regarding recently released prisoners obtaining temporary ID’s in order to facilitate their readjustment as one of her proudest achievements. She also spoke of her sponsorship of House Bill 672, which is part of the Clean Indoor Act, which forced sellers of tobacco to sell it from behind a counter to discourage underage children from having direct access. Her procurement of laptop computers for Forest Park School District 91 and the installation of auditory signals at the crosswalk at Desplaines and Madison for hearing impaired citizens were also some of her proudest achievements as representative.

After Yarbrough, Lightford who holds a B.A. in public communications and human relations from Western Illinois University and a master’s in public administration from the University of Illinois at Springfield, addressed the audience. Lightford, who is nearing the end of her second four-year term, began her career as the youngest African-American woman in the senate, but is now the most senior. In her tenure, she said she has seen her share of poor legislation, but none more devastating to schools then President George Bush’s controversial “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) bill.

“The president did not set aside enough funding for the bill, so I fought to pass House Bill 3678 to give schools more flexibility to progress as much as they are capable, yet not be labeled as a failing school,” she said. “NCLB has been my top priority. I believe not every school can be held to the same standard, so my proposal gives them a chance to meet federal mandates.”

Lightford also pointed out the startling statistic that Illinois ranks 48th in the United States in education funding, a fact that she said she is working to change. She also said she was instrumental in passing House Bill 1100, which gives consumers the protection they need by placing caps on fees and rates charged by pay day loan businesses. Instead of the astronomical charge of $44 fee for every $100 borrowed, consumers now have a flat rate fee of $15.50 for every $100 they borrow. Lightford also recently sponsored the minimum wage increase to $6.50 per hour, which she said has benefited nearly 450,000 Illinois workers.

Last to address the audience was Giles, who also listed education as one of his primary concerns. A Chicago native, Giles has served in the legislature for 13 years and holds a B.A. in management from Northeastern Illinois University and also serves as president of the 37th Ward Regular Democratic Organization.

Giles took an interesting and unusual stance, admitting that the majority of the legislation that is passed is politically motivated and does not have the public’s best interest in mind. In order to enact change, he encouraged citizens to launch an all-out assault on their representatives via email, letters and telephone, thereby forcing legislators to act. Similar to Yarbrough and Lightford, he also stated that his emphasis was on educational issues.

“Education is my passion and I think the NCLB, has in fact left every child behind,” he said. “It is also obvious that Illinois needs to improve its ranking from 48th in school funding. We not only have to provide the proper tools for our kids to compete in the United States, but also for them to compete globally.”

Monday night’s event was organized by the group Citizens United in Forest Park (CUinFP).

Second forum scheduled

CUinFP will be hosting a similar event featuring the candidates running against Yarbrough, Lightford, and Giles in the March 21 democratic primaries. Chris Welch, challenging Yarbrough for 7th district state rep, James Smith, challenging Lightford for 4th district state senate, and LaShawn Ford, challenging Giles for 8th district state rep, will speak at St. Peter’s Church, 500 Hannah Avenue, on Feb. 23 at 7 p.m.