Forest Park will benefit from a fresh set of commissioners. We’re looking for bright, capable people not steeped in the bile of recent years, not holding grudges and not enmeshed in uncooperative alliances. Our criteria made for a challenging search process.
Here then are four individuals who we feel are the most capable of moving the village forward. They’re not all brand new. They’re not each removed from the odd intrigues of the recent past. But with varying degrees of enthusiasm, we urge our readers to consider our selections.
Our four choices for village commissioner are: Chris Harris, Eric Connor, Steve Johnsen and Rory Hoskins.
Chris Harris came on our radar a year ago when he ran a vigorous campaign for Cook County Commissioner. We said then that we liked his political energy but wished he had run first for a more local office. He must have heard us because here he is running a smart campaign for Forest Park commissioner. He is the owner of a new media startup company. He advocates for a spending freeze at village hall. He also wants to focus on building the commercial appeal of Roosevelt Road and thinks the village can accomplish this on its own by courting investors and offering its own incentives. He said he already reached out to Pastor Bill Winston’s Living Word Ministries, which owns the Forest Park Plaza, to discuss developing the area. Harris talks winningly about increasing citizen involvement while remaining independent himself. We’re eager to see this enthusiastic and bright candidate like Harris on the board.
Eric Connor, a defense attorney, has sounded off about the problems of the village’s commissioner form of government. We couldn’t agree more. It is a flawed and obsolete form of government that has only accentuated the village’s political chasms. Connor wants a “serious discussion” about its effectiveness. He is right in arguing that there are “no defined duties of the council.” The confusion over who oversees what can lead to the vitriol we now see on the board when members blame each other when follies surface, and no one seems to know who is responsible for what. Connor has also talked about the need to fix the village’s faulty sewer system to avoid the basement flooding that some residents see regularly, and which destroyed portions of homes last year, after the disastrous storms. Repairing the sewers is a lofty goal, though, and one that will probably require federal grant money, which Connor realizes will be hard to come by. Connor brings intelligence, an understanding of municipal government, and a cooperativeness that is missing from the current board.
Steve Johnsen is a former Forest Park cop who left the force during one of its stormier and more political periods. He now owns a Web-based roofing business. We are hopeful he has left behind the bitterness that followed his resignation from the force. What’s more, he is a bright and capable candidate, and his ideas are attractive. He brings a practical approach and he told us he wants the village to operate within its financial means. Johnsen will focus on Madison Street’s empty storefronts and infrastructure improvements. Forest Park, he said, requires a village administrator who works cooperatively with commissioners. First, though, the village needs to pinpoint what it can afford to do and then prioritize its initiatives, he said. He understands municipal government, and he was a former District 91 school board member and president. His experience and knowledge make him qualified and capable.
Hoskins, the rookie incumbent with a background in social work and economic development, is a more hesitant endorsement. He is prone to grandstanding, complacency, and ineffectiveness, but he is also intelligent and could probably work better with a board free of a Calderone-controlled majority. Hoskins has definitely dropped the ball on things lately – i.e. blowing off the Moody’s analyst and then trying to lay the blame entirely on the mayor. Between the board’s constant fighting and the tough economy, this has been a tough four years to get things done but Hoskins has little in specific to show for his first term. With higher hopes we offer our skeptical endorsement.
The underlying theme to our endorsements for village board this year is change. Commissioner Mark Hosty is experienced and business savvy, but his take-no-prisoners, you’re-with-me-or-against-me attitude absolutely should not be tolerated anymore. We had high hopes for Commissioner Mike Curry when we endorsed him four years. He has been a severe disappointment. Honestly we can’t find anyone in town who disagrees with our assessment. As one candidate put it, Curry has been “derelict in his duties.” Whether it was the controversial expansion at Gaetano’s restaurant, the unapproved building project at his own home, the debacle at Robert Marani’s Tuscan Lofts, Curry has largely ignored the responsibilities of overseeing the village’s zoning and building regulations. He has got to go.
Forest Park has a welter of other commissioner candidates which is a fine thing. Matthew Walsh is the high school senior making an early run for public office. We applaud him for his pluck. But he is, inevitably, not ready to serve. Sam Tarara is an appealing person who seems to have parlayed a few casual conversations in the neighborhood into a run for village commissioner. It is not enough of a basis of involvement to win our endorsement. Elsie Norberg seems to be a nice person. She hasn’t a clue however about what it takes to be on the village board. Finally Tom Mannix is an interesting candidate. But we simply reject any person who in 2011 is still focusing their campaign on creating an independent high school for Forest Park. It is politically, financially and educationally a non-starter.