The future of the village-owned Altenheim property, and more specifically a plan to make a plan for the property, was a point of contention as the two candidates for Forest Park mayor in the April election met for a joint endorsement interview on March 3 at the Forest Park Review.
Mayor Tony Calderone defended the village’s purchase of the property 14 years ago as a way to preserve the open 11-acre site.
“In 2000 I said I don’t know what the use will be but that it was a rare opportunity. I don’t have a vision yet, but when the right opportunity comes along” we will act, he said.
Calderone rejected the concept, proposed in Review editorials, of a blue-ribbon committee to evaluate options and financing for a public project. Saying he thought the committee idea was a good one, Calderone said such committees were difficult to form in Forest Park.
“It is difficult to find folks who will give the help” on such issues, said Calderone.
Commissioner Chris Harris, now a candidate for mayor, called Calderone’s response “a laughable statement.”
Harris pointed to a town hall meeting he convened in 2012 on the topic of the Altenheim that he said filled the village hall council chamber to standing room only with “passionate people” and many ideas.”
Calderone, Harris said, “is not a fan of public input. I know Forest Parkers want to be involved. And I have ideas [for Altenheim]. Bike and walking paths, a sculpture garden, cooperation with the forest preserve district for access to the river.”
Harris pledged to form a planning committee on the Altenheim quickly if he is elected mayor.
The two offered a similar divide over the topic of flooding issues in Forest Park. Harris said that in his four terms as mayor that Calderone has taken no notable action in response to increased incidents of flooding.
“It has been 16 years,” Harris said. “Why has there been no sewer fund created in 16 years? We are surrounded by towns with studies and solutions. Progressive ideas are needed, long-term and short-term solutions.”
He was critical of Calderone for his “poo-poohing of green solutions” in the endorsement interview. Calderone had said that installing a handful of permeable pavement alleys was not a genuine solution.
“We have to start somewhere and we have to stick with it,” Harris said.
Calderone said the village’s engineering firm would present a new plan for tackling flooding shortly after the election. He said he has spent the past 10 months working with the village’s engineering firm Christopher B. Burke Engineering, on the topic. He said he told the engineering firm “that we have to break this down into chunks” that are affordable for the community.
Asked about plans for a diversity committee that he had announced in November 2014, Calderone said no appointments have been made but that they would come shortly after the election if he is re-elected to a fifth term.
Spurred by his since tabled proposal to enact an ordinance barring so-called “saggy pants” law for Forest Park, Calderone explained his interest in the topic.
“Our country is losing some basic humanity,” Calerone said. “There is a subculture [represented by] saggy pants. We’re going to have a discussion about behavior issues. There are people who have moved into Forest Park in recent years, mainly from the inner ring of the city. We have to get our arms around that.”
Asked about heading a slate of candidates in the April election that had no black or Hispanic members even though the community’s white population is now less than 50 percent, Calderone said, “It’s a challenge to find people to step forward.”
Harris said that Calderone’s responses suggested that “maybe the mayor is a tad out of touch. It sort of makes me cringe. I don’t have the fears that some in old-school Forest Park have. There are lots of young families that want to be involved.”
Harris pointed out his support for the entire three-person ProvisoTogether slate for the District 209 Proviso Township High Schools while Calderone has, so far, endorsed only the slate’s two Forest Park candidates, Claudia Medina and Ned Wagner.
“I have been backing this movement from the start,” said Harris.
Only by electing Wagner, Medina and Theresa Kelly, a veteran D209 board member from Maywood, said Harris, is there “a chance to flip that board. Not to back Kelly is a disservice to Medina and Wagner.”
Saying that Proviso high schools “stink,” Calderone pledged that he and his slate for the Forest Park village council are actively backing Medina and Wagner and that there would be no last minute surprises with the village slate backing a third candidate from another slate.
In an endorsement interview with the Review on Wednesday, Ned Wagner said, “We are very grateful for [Calderone’s] support. But, as we’ve explained to him, we’re not satisfied with the endorsement.”
Endorsing just two of the three slate members, said Wagner, “is not necessarily supporting our mission. We are not looking to be a voice of Forest Park on the board. We are looking to be a transformational team.”