More than 80 people crammed into the basement of the St. Peter Lutheran Church Thursday night to hear seven of the eight candidates for village council discuss the issues and their qualifications at a forum hosted by the activist group Citizens United in Forest Park.
Congeniality was a main theme of the evening, with several of the candidates repeating their willingness to work cooperatively and solve problems.
“There is no one on this panel I dislike,” Rory Hoskins said, who serves on the village’s traffic and safety commission.
The only village council candidate not attending was Mark Hosty, who is the lone incumbent running for re-election. Hosty was out of town.
Forest Park candidates for village council
Candidate Mike Curry, the current chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals, was critical of the bickering on the current village council.
“The current village council, there’s a lot of talking, not much listening,” Curry said. “The village council has to work together. We’re not going to always agree, but we have to have a vision.”
But John Plepel warned that it would not be good if the new village council always agreed on everything.
“I hope that we disagree,” Plepel said. “I hope we all bring different opinions and different points of views. I hope we have five opinions and not just one.”
None of the candidates at the forum have run for office before and their collective inexperience showed as they occasionally struggled to formulate succinct responses to questions posed form the audience. Each candidate had two minutes to deliver an opening statement. After the opening statements, the candidates had two minutes to respond to audience questions.
There wasn’t much disagreement on the issues and many of the answers sounded similar. But a few differences emerged. Several candidates were openly critical of the current administration.
“I feel the administration should be responsive to the citizens of Forest Park and I don’t think that has always been the case,” Jerry Webster said. Webster is a member of the village’s recreation committee.
Marty Tellalian criticized the village for spending too much money on attorneys and consultants.
“It seems like our village has had a money-is-no-object approach for a long time,” Tellalian said. “Attorneys and consultants don’t clear the roads.”
Carl Nyberg accused incumbent Mayor Anthony Calderone, who stood in the back of the room observing the forum, and Village Administrator Michael Sturino, of occasionally withholding information from sitting council members.
“The mayor needs to build consensus, not withhold information,” Nyberg said. He did not offer specific examples of this alleged practice.
All but one of the candidates spoke in opposition to using the village’s power of eminent domain to acquire private property for village parking. Only Webster offered a different view.
“If it would solve the parking problem in Forest Park I would support it,” Webster said.
Each of the candidates said they would strive to find a balance between business interests and the needs of residents. Tellalian, a member of the plan commission, called for less density in new residential development.
“We have to stop allowing these excessive densities in our developments,” Tellalian said.
According to Curry, the village’s zoning code should be rewritten, and Plepel offered that the new village council should revisit the comprehensive plan.
Nyberg, a former Navy officer, said the village should seek the closure of the Army Reserve center along Roosevelt Road.
“There is essentially no use of that land that could generate less income for Forest Park,” Nyberg said.
Nyberg was also critical of the Forest Park Police Department, while most of the other candidates called for a greater police presence, especially on the south side of town.
Joining Calderone in the audience was his chief challenger in the April 17 general election, Commissioner Terry Steinbach. Also present was Negale Jackson, who is mounting a write-in campaign for mayor. Jackson was removed from the Feb. 27 primary ballot because he lacked the appropriate paperwork. Appeals of the decision were upheld.
Most of the village council candidates have not officially taken sides in the fiercely competitive mayoral race, except for Hosty, who has made it clear that he is backing Calderone.
Curry said at the forum he is not for Steinbach or Calderone; rather, he is for Forest Park. Neither Calderone nor Steinbach will officially endorse village candidates, they said.
However, several of the candidates appear to have their loyalties.
Curry, Hoskins, and Lazzara were present at Calderone’s primary night party at Doc Ryan’s while Tellalian and Nyberg were at Steinbach’s gathering at Jimmy’s Place. Webster carried a Steinbach sign in the recent St. Patrick’s Day parade.