Editor’s note: This profile is the second in a three-part series featuring the candidates slated for the Feb. 27 mayoral primary.
As a child, Anthony Calderone often rode a unicycle from his home at 507 Elgin Ave. to what was then Field Stevenson Junior High School. He would pedal up the Circle Avenue bridge over the Eisenhower expressway. The trick to riding a unicycle, he said, is to always keep pedaling. Once you stop pedaling you lose your balance.
That same philosophy applies to politics and government, according to Calderone, a two-term mayor and former village commissioner. His campaign motto, as he runs for a third term is, “Keep it going.”
After walking into office in 2003, Calderone is facing a tough race against two opponents in commissioners Patrick Doolin and Terry Steinbach, who both were one-time supporters.
“Losing friends, it’s tough, it’s very tough,” Calderone, 50, said.
Calderone got his start in village politics when he was appointed to the Fire and Police Commission in 1992 by then mayor Lorraine Popelka. Prior to that, Calderone served as an auxiliary policeman alongside Commissioner Tim Gillian, another boyhood friend.
In 1995, Calderone was the top vote getter when both he and Gillian were elected to the village council where he advocated for the hiring of a full-time village administrator.
In 1999 he challenged Popelka for mayor and defeated the three-term incumbent, winning 56 percent of the vote and taking every precinct in Forest Park. He ran an intense, well-funded campaign that some argue relied too much on outside help.
“I certainly was running to win,” Calderone said. “I don’t think it makes any sense to run for office to lose.”
Calderone enters this campaign with a war chest that dwarfs those of his rivals. As of Dec. 31, 2006, his campaign committee, Citizens for Anthony Calderone, raised $76,898 and had 49,216 on hand, according to state records.
He has received donations from numerous village contractors including $7,500 in contributions made by the village’s engineering firm since 2001. Citizens for Calderone has also taken in donations from the village’s parking consultant, the municipal attorney and another law firm defending the mayor in a federal suit.
His opponents charge him with fostering a pay-to-play atmosphere where village contractors are expected to make political donations in order to get village business. Calderone denied that accusation.
“Making a campaign contribution to Citizens for Anthony Calderone doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to get any work nor is it going to guarantee that if you do get work that it is going to be shoddy or sloppy.”
The incumbent mayor said he got involved in village politics because of his dismay with the condition of the community. Vacant storefronts and stagnant leadership, he said, were nothing to be proud of. Today, Calderone takes responsibility for forging relationships with businesses that have helped revitalize Madison Street and the local housing market.
Calderone is proud of a record that he said proves he played a role in attracting businesses and new housing to his hometown. As his major accomplishments, Calderone cited fiscal responsibility, improved police protection, the purchase of the Altenheim property that is now being partially sold to the West Cook YMCA, and the purchase of the former Hanover Animal Hospital, which was eventually sold to the developers of Madison Commons.
Calderone was unopposed when he ran for re-election in 2003.
In his junior year at Proviso East High School, Calderone left school to work at an automotive shop. He would later earn his GED. When he was 22 he started the Illinois Alarm company and married his wife Lois, whom he had known since junior high.
Calderone enjoys being mayor and seems a natural politician. He enjoys meeting people, working a room, and running meetings. He can be charming and makes a point to visit block parties and senior functions.
“He’s a charismatic individual,” Doolin, a political challenger, said. “He’s a likeable guy. I can’t say I dislike him. I dislike his politics.”
What Calderone likes most about being mayor though, is the opportunity to get things done.
“I like helping people,” Calderone said. “I like cutting red tape wherever possible. I like to get things done. I do not like to debate ad nauseam. I think there is a proper place for debate and debate is good, but at some point you’ve got to pull the trigger.”
Calderone has been criticized for taking too active a role in the day-to-day details of village government. Critics have called on him to step back and let the professional administrators do their job. But Calderone makes no apologies for his actions.
“I’m not just an elected official, I’m a mayor,” Calderone said. “You can be a do nothing mayor or a do something mayor. I’m a do something mayor.”
Perhaps the most intense criticism of his administration came when the village hired disbarred attorney Anthony Bruno to work as a consultant on its water project. Bruno is under federal investigation and has worked on projects in nearby Melrose Park and Cicero. In July of 2005 federal investigators subpoenaed village records as part of an ongoing investigation of Bruno.
Bruno worked with contractors and residents to make sure the tearing up of streets during the water project interfered with residents’ life as little as possible, Calderone said. He was paid $102,000 for consulting fees, according to village records. Bruno also received a portion of $248,000 billed as part of the water project.
His relationship with Bruno, among other things, has linked Calderone to several Melrose Park politicians, including Mayor Ron Serpico. Calderone acknowledged Serpico as a friend, but denied charges that he is influenced or controlled by those in Melrose Park.
“My strings aren’t pulled by Melrose Park or anybody else,” Calderone said. “I pull my own strings.”