In 1995, Tony Calderone and Tim Gillian arrived on the public stage in Forest Park with a fresh energy and a determination to slough off the closed, insular and tired ways of the village and its government.
Both were natives of the village and had been friends since they were kids. Immediately upon their election, they were the influential duo on the otherwise sleepy village council. Calderone and Gillian were focused on change, focused on giving Forest Park a way forward. It was an exciting moment watching two young men who knew and appreciated the town they’d grown up in, but who clearly saw the flaws of Forest Park: An unambitious government that didn’t respond as Madison Street lost its retail purpose and became nothing but a string of bars; a government that resisted the future and insisted on maintaining a typewriter culture in a dawning PC era; a government that hired its friends because they were loyal and local and had no interest in rocking the boat.
They campaigned on a platform of hiring a professional village administrator knowing that the old ways of running the government wouldn’t do if they were to build a vibrant town with a modern way.
So the irony of Calderone last week casting the deciding vote to hire Gillian as the village’s administrator is strong and disheartening. Don’t get me wrong. I like Tim Gillian. He is smart and decent. But most importantly to the mayor Tony Calderone has grown into, Gillian is loyal and local and has no interest in rocking the boat.
The era of change, of looking to the future, is over in Forest Park. Now it is about consolidating power, maintaining a status quo that is, yes, advanced from the Forest Park Calderone and Gillian inherited 15 years ago, but far short of the potential this town has.
Forest Park needs a pro as village administrator now more than ever. The town needs to ditch the commission form of government, an obsolete model which plays to every weakness of every commissioner, but that is, for now, a dead issue. But to let the possible benefits of a capable administrator be subsumed in a new era of insularity is a direction that voters should not allow. The mayor is circling the wagons, calling in chits, strapping it on and hunkering down.
That makes this a critical moment in Forest Park. If Calderone and his toadies – commissioners Mark Hosty and Mike Curry – get away with this, Forest Park will be stuck in time for the next decade.