As the three candidates running for mayor sat shoulder to shoulder on the middle school stage, each vied for a little elbow room as they attempted to distinguish themselves during a candidates’ forum held last week.
Roughly 180 people turned out to hear incumbent Anthony Calderone join his two challengers, commissioners Terry Steinbach and Patrick Doolin. A week earlier, Calderone had skipped a forum which was hosted by a grassroots organization that has been critical of his administration. Instead Calderone opted to tout his accomplishments at the Feb. 7 forum sponsored in part by the Forest Park Review.
Calderone pointed to community policing efforts, stepped up code enforcement and a bustling retail corridor along Madison Street as reasons to re-install his administration to a third term. His single greatest achievement though, Calderone said, was the purchase of roughly 14 acres at the Altenheim facility at 7824 Madison St. in 2001. A majority of that land is expected to be used for a multi-million dollar recreation facility, thanks to a tentative deal brokered with the West Cook YMCA earlier this year.
That same sense of vision, Calderone said, can be applied to his push to spend $330,000 on a dilapidated rental property on Beloit Avenue.
“My vision is to have it be something greater than a police substation,” Calderone said.
But to his challengers, that recent acquisition is just another example of the mayor’s inability to communicate openly with the public and minority members of the village council.
Steinbach, who joined Doolin in casting the losing votes not to purchase 1000 Beloit Ave., chastised Calderone for spending tax dollars on an ill-conceived plan. No proof of the benefits of a police substation were offered, Steinbach said, and there’s been no discussion of what it might cost to renovate the site.
“There were too many unanswered questions,” Steinbach said.
Throughout the evening, Steinbach held herself up as a fiscal conservative ready to reign in the frivolous spending habits endured under Calderone. Since winning election to the council in 2003, Steinbach said she’s fought for financial accountability and led the vote to direct tax revenue toward infrastructure projects. As part of her platform, Steinbach has voiced a commitment to rebuilding the village’s reserve fund.
“Before the last election, village spending was out of control,” Steinbach said.
Doolin challenged the mayor’s self-made list of accomplishments and said clearly the biggest failure of Calderone’s administration came early on. The incumbent never attempted to include the entire council in his vision for the community, Doolin said, creating an atmosphere on the council rife with dissension.
Repeatedly, Doolin returned to what he described as a common theme in many of Calderone’s initiatives, and promised to do away with pay-to-play politics in Forest Park. The so-called Roos Property on Harrison Street, the redevelopment of which Calderone has championed, is a “monument to pay-to-play,” Doolin said. Political contributions from developers trumped the protests of neighboring residents, he said.
“That really is a monument to everything that’s wrong with this administration,” Doolin said.
Should he be elected mayor, Doolin promised voters not to accept donations from village employees or anyone contracted with the municipality. Further, Doolin is stumping to rid elected officials of the administrative authority granted them under the commission form of government. Such power undermines the integrity of hired employees, Doolin said.
“We pay too much to our day-to-day professionals to do that,” Doolin said.
On several points, the candidates did find some common ground. All three voiced support for reviewing the village’s building and zoning ordinances, and each called for more attention to the underutilized asset that is Roosevelt Road.
None of the candidates expressed support for initiating home rule in Forest Park, though the mayor once lobbied for a referendum on the issue that failed win voter support. The entire field also said the use of eminent domain to acquire privately owned land should be a tool of last resort, if at all.
“I am not in favor of the taking of homeowners’ property against their will,” Calderone said.