With an investigative report filed accusing police Lt. Steve Johnsen of manipulating both facts and subordinate officers to file assault charges against a man who had been involved in a verbal altercation with Commissioner Patrick Doolin, the landscape for Forest Park’s next mayoral election is becoming increasingly clear.

Those hoping for a campaign based on, maybe, the issues might want to begin preparing themselves for disappointment. Assuming that Doolin runs, which most believe will be the case, the village’s next leader will likely be chosen based not on issues of fiscal management, development or building density, but rather on charges of malfeasance and political retribution.

Doolin, even if he doesn’t run, will look to portray Mayor Anthony Calderone in the coming months as a power-hungry micromanager who uses his absolute control of the police department to retaliate against those who have crossed him, costing the village hundreds of thousands in legal fees in the process.

Calderone will likely retort by noting that Doolin is a close friend and former business partner of a man who, by the time the elections roll around, will likely have already been found guilty of abusing his power in order to help Doolin get the last word in a petty argument with a well-known local bar owner.

It is important to note that Calderone’s other possible opponent, Commissioner Terry Steinbach, has wisely refrained from becoming overly involved in the recent police department soap operas. Her presence will likely be crucial to maintaining at least some focus on issues that actually affect people who don’t work at 517 Desplaines.

Still, the prospect of an election that has everything to do with personal grudge matches and nothing to do with the future of Forest Park is a major concern. From the vantage point of this moment, it is hard to imagine a let up in the personal animosity that so often spills out directly between Calderone and Doolin, that taints so many policy discussions, that reaches into the day-to-day operations of village hall and inevitably confuses the supposedly non-partisan and professional operations there.

So, over the next year, leading up to the April 2007 election, it is absolutely essential that residents insist that village hall remains focused on solutions rather than distractions. Though all elections, it seems, come down to two politicians accusing each other of being politicians, the rhetoric leading up to this contest has the potential to become completely out of control unless residents are there to keep officials from going too far off course.

Forest Park, as we all know, is in the midst of major changes that will affect its identity well into the future. If it does not lose focus, it could become a premier destination point for the western suburbs. If it does, it could become that strange little town, where, for some reason, everyone’s always arguing about swear words.