A fissure between volunteer members of the village’s youth commission and Mayor Anthony Calderone has developed slowly in recent months, but suddenly became an impassable divide prompting the resignation of three key commission members.
Chairwoman Mary Win Connor and fellow youth commission members Erika Goodman and Rachell Entler quit the organization in a span of four days this month.
Connor resigned from the group Aug. 17, the same day that Calderone sent a memo to the commission outlining his concerns with the “watered down philosophy” of the organization.
Goodman quit the following day.
Initially, the flurry of departures appeared to have been prompted by the mayor’s attempt to have the group hold its monthly meetings at village hall as opposed to at the park district building where the youth commission has gathered for several years now. However, during an Aug. 20 meeting at which Entler announced her resignation, it was revealed that toxic relationships on the village council are poisoning the youth commission.
“I think it’s your attempt to gain control over something that you feel like you’ve lost control of,” commission member Eric Connor said to the mayor. “It’s your bailiwick and you don’t want anybody sticking their fingers in it.”
Calderone attended the youth commission’s recent meeting to discuss the resignations and the conversation quickly grew tense. Eric Connor, the husband of Mary Win Connor, forcefully argued that Calderone’s sudden interest in how the youth commission functions was politically motivated. Because of “some rivalry” between Calderone and village council member Rory Hoskins, the youth commission is “being politicized,” he said.
In June, the youth commission signed on as a co-sponsor of a pool party organized by Hoskins. Calderone, however, said the real purpose of the gathering was for Hoskins to strengthen his political base.
“Rory Hoskins had that party for political reasons,” Calderone said.
By ordinance, the mayor is responsible for overseeing the youth commission. The group is charged with organizing various activities, such as basketball clinics and pizza parties, often in partnership with other local agencies.
Commission appointments made by the mayor must be approved by the council.
A series of e-mails and written correspondence between the mayor and members of the commission reveal that the subject of political interference went unaddressed for several months. Instead, the mayor focused his attention on a strict reading of the duties of the youth commission while members bucked those regulations as too restrictive.
Eric Connor acknowledged that most of the families that attended the June event are politically active and said the youth commission later decided the sponsorship was inappropriate. He said the youth commission put its name on the event as a way to bolster its profile in the community.
“I didn’t like the political nature of that,” Eric Connor said.
Hoskins denied that the pool party served a political purpose, though it was attended by many public officials. The event was staged as a celebration of Juneteenth. A state representative, local school board members, park district commissioners and the mayor all were in attendance, said Hoskins.
“If anyone politicized the Juneteenth pool party, it was not me,” Hoskins said.
Hoskins said he recently has pulled back from the youth commission fearing that his disagreements with the mayor may become a distraction for the group.
“I think sometimes the mayor can be a little too hands-on,” Hoskins said. “I don’t think you need to micromanage the youth commission.”
The youth commission was disbanded several decades ago and then reactivated in 2004. As many as 14 volunteers can serve on the commission, but the ranks have remained thin. Only a handful of members are actively involved.
Jorie Stevens, a youth commission member appointed earlier this year, was stunned by the resignations and said it would be very difficult for the group to continue on without Goodman, Entler and Mary Win Connor.
“I’m incredibly shocked and horrified that the three people that have really spearheaded this are resigning,” Stevens said.
Goodman works for Chicago Parent magazine, which is published by Wednesday Journal Inc., the same company that owns the Forest Park Review.
Calderone offered an apology for any offense caused by his memo, and said he would ask the former members to reconsider their decision. Meanwhile, Steven Knysch and Kathleen Ryan were approved as new members of the youth commission during the council’s Aug. 24 meeting. Both Knysch and Ryan applied for a seat on the board Aug. 21, one day after the mayor met with the group.