Sixteen years ago, a young man ran for mayor of Forest Park after serving a term on the village council. His name was Tony Calderone. And his case to voters was that the sitting mayor, Lorraine Popelka, had served too long, that the town had gone stagnant, that she made excuses rather than bold plans for the future of Forest Park.
He was right. Voters agreed and turned out a woman who loved her community, had its best interests at heart but who, as a political leader, was stuck in time.
In 2015, Chris Harris is in a parallel situation. He has served a term as a village commissioner. And he is making the case that Mayor Anthony Calderone has become stagnant, an explainer of why things can’t happen rather than an instigator of making things happen.
We agree with Chris Harris. Tony Calderone has served ably, even with distinction, and should be remembered as the mayor who reignited Forest Park. But it is time for voters to turn to the future and Chris Harris is the best hope for this village’s future.
Analogies are seldom perfect and our aligning of Popelka and Calderone is not perfect. Here’s why. Mayor Popelka was flummoxed by the decay taking hold in Forest Park. She didn’t understand why the Madison Street that she knew as a main street of hometown merchants had devolved into ratty antique stores and rattier bars. She didn’t see Forest Park’s potential in the grander scheme of the metro area, that an old inner-ring suburb could become a destination for young homebuyers and diners. Calderone did. And with hard work, new ideas and some good fortune, he carried Forest Park into new times.
Now it is Calderone who is stuck — but in a different though equally troubling way. He takes rightful pride in initiatives such as the Madison Street collaboration with neighboring River Forest. The planned TIF for Roosevelt Road is necessary, though a long-term opportunity for that street.
However there is no explaining his complete inaction in making a plan for the village-owned Altenheim after 14 years. There is no excusing the endless, mindless, insulting explanations about why Forest Park is simply unable to address severe flooding issues.
Mayor Calderone’s blind spot is in his lack of faith in the ideas and energy of the people of Forest Park. He wants to maintain his hold on power so he surrounds himself mainly with weak men — see Commissioners Hosty and Mannix.
He wants to control the future of the Altenheim and so he suggests, in an endorsement interview with this paper, that a blue-ribbon committee on the subject can’t work because Forest Park lacks qualified, willing people to help make a plan.
He and his minions suggest that Forest Park citizens cannot understand the complexity of their excuses on flooding. He announces a diversity committee not to actually discuss and reflect on the white minority status of the community, not to celebrate the town’s successes in diversity but to talk about teenage boys with droopy drawers.
He has failed to embrace fully the Proviso Together high school board slate which has brought positive energy to the debilitating high school issue for the first time in decades.
Last election, it was time for Mayor Calderone to step graciously back. Now it is time for voters to retire him.
In Chris Harris we have a man, a bit enigmatic, we’d agree, but who understands the fundamental nature of management and governance today. Sharing. Sharing information. Sharing planning. Sharing decision-making. Bringing more people into the tent by both direct invitation and by creating a culture that says all are welcome, all are needed.
His effort to involve citizens in an Altenheim town hall in 2012 was a bright light in the past term. He has pushed the village on flooding solutions. He has embraced the energy of the Proviso Together slate which works toward progress on the most debilitating issue holding Forest Park back from true community-building.
Just as we were 16 years ago in enthusiastically endorsing the candidacy of young Tony Calderone, today we offer our full endorsement to Chris Harris for mayor of Forest Park.