More than 12 years ago two friends huddled over their drinks in a run down bar on the south side of town, hashing out a plan they hoped would change the face of Forest Park. Since they were kids, Tim Gillian and Anthony Calderone had worked together on paper routes and as auxiliary police officers. Now they were considering a run for village council.
The rest, as they say, is history. Calderone was sworn in this month for his third consecutive term as mayor, fourth on the council overall. Gillian meanwhile, served alongside his boyhood friend for 12 years before calling it quits. Rhetorical knife fights have taken their toll, Gillian said, and he’s no longer interested in trading blows in such close quarters as Forest Park’s two-square miles.
“Elected officials go through an evolutionary process,” Gillian said shortly before relinquishing his council seat. “They start out with no skin and then it grows thicker and thicker and thicker. I sort of plateaued along the way.”
Still, Gillian said he’s leaving the council on his own terms and plans to continue working for the public in some capacity. He continues to carry strong opinions about which direction the community should be headed–and who should lead the way.
For his part, Gillian said the greatest impact he had was bringing a village manager into Forest Park and wresting the day-to-day operations from the hands of elected officials. The vote was extremely contentious, Gillian said, and remains an imperfect system because each council member can choose to meddle as little or as much as they like.
“It’s been a work in progress I guess, to really let the manager be the village manager,” Gillian said.
During his three terms on the council Gillian also voted to lift a requirement that municipal employees live in Forest Park, thus broadening the applicant pool, Gillian said. He helped introduce an employee handbook, recruit new businesses and as a former paving contractor took it upon himself to scrutinize various infrastructure projects.
“Tim is one of those people who knows a little bit about everything,” former village clerk Joan White said.
White worked closely with Gillian several years ago when he served as the commissioner of accounts and finance, and the two have known each other for some 26 years. She has spent time with Gillian and his wife Dorothy at their lake house in Wisconsin and once hopped into an airplane with Gillian for a quick flight to Springfield. Gillian is a flight instructor and has been flying small planes for more than three decades.
Gillian was always willing to roll up his sleeves when it came to working on the village’s behalf, White said, which helped make him an invaluable public servant. Not always the best public speaker, Gillian was more comfortable working one-on-one and came to know each of the roughly 130 village employees, White said.
His passion for Forest Park and the people in it are ultimately what made him vulnerable to criticism. Over time he came to dread reading about himself in newspapers and online forums because the information was filled with innuendo and half-truths, Gillian said. Because he believed so strongly in the votes he cast and the points he argued, it was that much harder to hear that others disagreed.
“If I saw somebody on the street, more than likely I’d turn and go the other way because I didn’t want to talk about it,” Gillian said.
Several years ago Gillian was chastised for using a village credit card to purchase groceries during a weekend stay in Wisconsin. In hindsight, the former commissioner said he shouldn’t have done it but his intentions were never malicious. In fact, Gillian said he mailed a check to village hall within hours of using the card.
“I still hear about that,” Gillian said.
Of course, in 12 years Gillian never lost an election and said he’s always enjoyed a relatively broad level of support among residents. His favorite part of campaigning was meeting for coffee and hours of discussion on local issues. Naturally, he’s proud of the role he played in bringing the village out of what he perceived to be a very stagnant period under former mayor Lorraine Popelka.
Gillian’s wife Dorothy said her husband’s most fond memories were born out of his second term from 1999 to 2003.
“While they didn’t all agree on everything they were able to compromise,” Dorothy Gillian said.
Through the less tumultuous years and the ones scarred by political infighting, Gillian and the mayor have remained largely loyal to one another. However, Calderone’s somewhat polarizing presence has been a blessing and a curse for her husband, Dorothy Gillian said.
“There are a lot of people who saw Tim was aligned with Tony and therefore didn’t like him,” Dorothy Gillian said. She credits her husband with maintaining his objectivity and consistently placing a high value on the public’s interest.
Gillian doesn’t quibble about his ties to Calderone, but is quick to point out that the two have had their differences. They fought like cats and dogs, Gillian said, over lifting the residency requirement for village employees. The mayor wasn’t in favor of the idea.
Politics in Forest Park are funny, in that, at any given time there are at most 100 people really paying attention to the day-to-day operations, yet participants seem all too willing to draw blood, Gillian said. Both Gillian and his wife said they are unable to see the distinction between personal attacks and the sort of political warfare used to promote opposing agendas. The Gillians have lost good friends as a result, they said.
“That’s sad, to me,” Dorothy Gillian said. “I don’t agree that ‘it’s just politics.’ That you can say nasty things about a person and then go have a drink with them and pretend like nothing happened.”
His affinity for Forest Park and its residents is genuine, Gillian said, but he was afraid that sometime in the next four years that fondness would suffer a fatal blow. It was time to step down.