The Progress for Forest Park PAC, including Mayor Anthony Calderone, commissioners Mark Hosty and Tom Mannix, and candidates for commissioner Joe Byrnes and Rachell Entler hosted a meet and greet event at the Pioneer Tap, 7445 Randolph St., Saturday afternoon, which was attended by an estimated 70 people. 

Also appearing were the three candidates running for seats on the District 209 Proviso high school board under the banner Proviso Together: Ned Wagner, Theresa Kelly and Claudia Medina.

Many who drifted in and out of the tavern through the afternoon had already decided to vote for Calderone, Hosty and Mannix, the most recognized names on the ballot. Friends, family and supporters came to get energized for the campaign, pick up yard signs, eat subs, wings and chili from Old School Tavern across the street and donate money to the PAC.

Others dropped by because they wanted to get to know the lesser-known candidates: Entler and Byrnes for commissioner and Wagner, Kelly and Medina for D 209. Byrnes, in fact, said he had only read about Medina in the newspaper and was looking forward to meeting her.

Entler said she liked the meet-and-greet format better in many ways than that of a formal forum, saying, “I think that when you do a more informal meet and greet, people are more comfortable. If you have a specific question you can get one on one attention from the candidate. I can sit down with you and discuss the issue.”

When questioned about Byrnes and Entler’s professed independence from Calderone, Hosty and Mannix, Byrnes said, “I don’t think Rachel is going to vote for something because somebody told her to vote for it. The same way with me. I’m not going to be a rubber stamp for anybody. If I think there’s something wrong, I’ll let people know.

 “The mayor told me,” he added, “that he doesn’t expect me to vote for all the things he wants passed. He knows I’m going to disagree with him on some stuff and that I’m going to vote my own conscience.”

As evidence that he’s not marching in lockstep with the mayor, Byrnes said that initially he disagreed with the council’s vote on a marijuana dispensary and with aspects of the comprehensive plan. 

Entler, who was a member of the comprehensive plan steering committee, added, “I have to say that I was a little disappointed at the lack of interaction between the consultant and the committee. Because it was my first experience I kept holding out for more and all of a sudden it was done.”

Byrnes explained how they could be running on the same slate and still claim to be independent by saying that the five running together have the same goals but will disagree at times on how to get to the goals. 

“I don’t know that it’s always about disagreeing but offering different perspectives so people can see all sides of something,” Entler said. “Do we want to revitalize Roosevelt Road? Absolutely, but there needs to be different perspectives so that we come up with the best result in the end.”

Calderone responded to the independence issue by saying, “In municipal elections there have always been an alignment of candidates. Always. There was an alignment four years ago. Marty Tellalian had persons that were associated with him, and I had persons that were associated with me. To me a slate is nothing more than people who share similar visions. That’s all that this is.”

Wagner, Kelly and Medina were pleased to be invited to the event, because they are not as well-known as the mayor and the two incumbent commissioners. Kelly and Medina expressed distress at how far down the Proviso high schools have sunk. 

Kelly, a veteran member of the school board which oversees Proviso East and West High Schools and the Proviso Math and Science Academy, said that she and the board were making slow progress in improving the performance of PEHS students until the early 2000s when Chris Welch, now the area’s state representative, was elected to the board.

Medina, who has worked as a consultant and teacher for years, laid the blame for D209’s poor performance squarely on the board’s shoulders. Bilingual in Spanish and English, she said that we know how to improve schools but that the board has presided over their decline. 

Medina, Kelly and Wagner hope to form a majority on the board with independent board member Kevin McDermott and change the course of the district.

Calderone used the occasion to respond to criticism he has received from Commissioner Chris Harris, who is opposing him in the race for mayor. 

Regarding empty store fronts, he said, “When I was first elected mayor, 50 percent of our storefronts were empty. My role [in the Madison Street comeback] was to bring the local government together with the business community. There will always be a couple empty storefronts here and there. No mayor can single-handedly fill every storefront.

“It was irresponsible,” he continued, “to blame the cancellation of Summerfest and the fireworks on the Fourth of July on me as if I had some magical power to cancel these events.”

Byrnes and Entler agreed that, regarding Altenheim, taking the time to make a good decision on how to use that green space is the best way to go. 

“I’m a park person,” said Entler who is a staff member of the Park District of Forest Park, “so I like open spaces. We at the park have just gone through a whole process with the Roos buildings. I know the decision regarding what to do with the Altenheim property has taken a long time, but we need to do our due diligence.”