Thursday night could be a notable one for Forest Park. Notable in a good way that makes us optimistic about going forward. Or notable in a way that makes us scratch our heads in wonder over how a small town got so petty and political.
Tomorrow night is the Town Hall meeting called by one village commissioner, Chris Harris. The topics are the future of two properties owned by the village. One is the wide open land near the Altenheim off Madison which the village bought 10 years ago with a pledge to keep it from being developed for housing or commercial purposes. The other site is a burned out two-flat near village hall that the village wrangled a big bank into handing over the deed to.
The acquisition of both the Altenheim property and the two-flat reflect the political skills of Mayor Anthony Calderone. We admire both acquisitions though, like Harris we are ready to see progress made.
So why is tomorrow night notable? We say it is notable because this event is created purely out of the dysfunctional politics of the village. A minority commissioner, with political savvy and plenty of ambition, did the unthinkable. He scheduled his own meeting, picked his topic and is ready to make a bold proposal that the village go in an entirely new direction at the Altenheim after nearly a decade of Calderone trying to sell it off to, first, the YMCA and more recently to Fenwick High School. Harris wants the village to declare that it will keep the land, seek grants, raise funds and turn it into a proper and permanent park.
It is a worthy idea to consider. But the set-up here is pure politics. Knowing that as a minority commissioner he only gets squashed at the council table, Chris Harris has done an end around the mayor, while simultaneously putting Calderone in a pickle by inviting him to speak at the event.
For his part, Calderone has hemmed, hawed and sputtered over this predicament. For a time he actually went with the line that he couldn’t respond because he hadn’t found the time to read the e-mailed invite to the event. Righto.
Here’s the rub, and just maybe, maybe, the grace note. Calderone and his loyal Village Administrator Tim Gillian may just agree with Harris about the change of direction on the Altenheim property. After 10 years, they may think the best outcome is for the village to hold this property and turn it into a civic jewel. Maybe it was actually their idea before it was Harris’ idea. Maybe they like this idea because it might force Fenwick to get serious and make an offer. Or Fenwick can always buy the former Hines Lumber yard in River Forest.
So tomorrow night we could see nothing but political sparks and pissiness. Or, maybe, for the first time in years, Forest Park’s odd politics could be put to use on a shared effort to create a policy that works for the long-term good of the village.
For that to happen, Chris Harris is going to have to forego some easy layups. And Tony Calderone is going to have to remember how to pass the ball. It could happen. It would be good if it did.