A multi-candidate meet-and-greet at Amelia’s Good Food and Drink Restaurant Feb. 17 brought out locals running for both village government and school board seats in the coming April election. On the village side, Chris Harris, currently a village commissioner and now a mayoral candidate, and commissioner candidate Daniel Novak attended.
Guests, numbering 50 to 60, enjoyed food, conversation and strong campaign speeches by the candidates on why they should be chosen for office.
“People ask me why I’m running for mayor. If you peel back the first couple of layers of Forest Park and see what’s going on, you get pissed,” Harris said during his speech.
Harris said Forest Park leadership has shown a complete lack of respect for Proviso Township High School District 209.
“We need to put candidates [on the school board] that will be the best and we have three great candidates here,” he said.
The candidates he referred to are part of the Proviso Together slate and include Forest Parkers Nathan “Ned” Wagner and Claudia Medina and D209 school board veteran Theresa Kelly.
The three candidates, who are being endorsed by Harris for D209 school board, also spoke to the crowd at Amelia’s, 7330 Harrison St.
“We’ll transform the school district. I won’t give up until there is a 100 percent graduation rate and until our schools have excellent facilities,” said Kelly, who is currently on the school board and is the longest serving board member.
Kelly said she’s elated that Harris is endorsing the Proviso Together slate.
“I think it’s just the right thing to do,” Kelly said.
Medina said reading standards at Proviso East High School have decreased by 65 percent since the current leadership has been driving the district into academic and financial bankruptcy. She also said students are graduating at a 5th or 6th grade reading level and only seven percent leave Proviso East college ready.
“It’s our right to expect academic excellence from institutions we pay taxes to,” said Medina, who has taught several subjects in locations across the globe including Chile, Colombia and Spain. “Failing high schools deplete our community. Nobody wants their child to be part of a demoralized high school that will never give them a hope or a future.”
Medina said the Proviso Together slate is running on its own moral obligation and commitment to children.
The slate, however, is not endorsing Harris for mayor because it’s not a political party, according to Medina.
“Chris Harris is an incredible human being, but we’re not taking sides,” Medina said. “We don’t want our efforts to be polarized by the election.”
Novak was pleased at the event’s turnout, heard the needs and wants of residents and thanked Harris for inviting him.
Novak is running independently for one of four commissioner seats on the village council. Incumbent Mayor Anthony Calderone has crafted a slate of commissioner candidates including Joe Byrnes, Rachell Entler, Mark Hosty and Tom Mannix.
“I’m my own person and want to be the person residents choose to be their voice,” Novak said. “Being an independent voice will be a challenge. I’m going up against a slate.”
Harris said he supports Novak’s campaign but is not officially endorsing him just yet.
“What I’ve heard so far I like,” Harris said.
Resident Brian Kuhr is endorsing both Harris and the Proviso Together slate in their campaigns. He said he has known Harris for a couple of years and that he always answers questions honestly.
“There needs to be less of a ‘you do me a favor, I do you a favor’ in politics. Harris is truly independent and not part of any political machinery,” Kuhr said. “I’ve always got the sense he is working for the citizens and not for personal gain.”