The mayor’s race in Forest Park turned ugly over the final weekend of the campaign.
Commissioner Chris Harris, a mayoral challenger, was victimized by a slick flyer from an anonymous group, Citizens for a Safe Forest Park, charging that Harris had a criminal record. While he was charged twice for incidents dating back 15 years, those charges were both dropped.
Meanwhile, incumbent Mayor Anthony Calderone was stung by a mailer from another anonymous group, the Forest Park Business Alliance, claiming that the Forest Park street fronting his business, Illinois Alarm, had been repaved with village funds.
Both candidates denied involvement of any sort in the mailers targeting their opponents. And both vigorously denied the substance of the accusations against them.
The anti-Harris piece shows a stock photo of a person in a pinstripe suit in handcuffs. Superimposed on the stock photo is a head shot of Harris. The mailer states: “Chris Harris has a history of breaking the law … And now he wants to be Our Mayor?”
On the other side of the mailer targeting Harris are accusations that Harris has multiple arrests, has resisted police officers and engaged in reckless conduct. The mailer cites two court cases and village records.
Late Monday a witness to an alleged December 2000 battery by Harris said in a legal affidavit that any such charges were without merit, that Harris neither struck a woman nor damaged a piece of electronics equipment as described in the police report.
Harris, in statements to the Review over the weekend and on Monday, said another battery charge stemmed from an instance of self-defense and that, in any case, charges in both cases were dropped when they reached court.
On Saturday, Harris said in a statement that he would be filing a defamation lawsuit against those responsible for the mailer.
Harris on Monday addressed the incident from 2000 in general terms.
“I have never hit a woman in my life,” Harris said in an email. “I am reaching out trying to get to the bottom of it. It was dismissed, I believe before the night even ended. And their purpose has been served — I cannot do any real campaign work today.”
A later email Monday went into a little more detail.
“If an arrest is going down to the station, then perhaps it was an arrest but it was a group of 20-somethings that went down and talked and the outcome was charges dismissed,” Harris said. “I guess my idea of an arrest is what I see on TV, I’m a bit of a novice and it was 16 years ago.”
Harris accused his opponents of “going back to my 20s to dredge up stuff.”
The anti-Calderone piece charged that a street in front of Illinois Alarm, the business owned by Calderone, was paved with village funds. In the piece, Calderone’s name was misspelled in one spot and in another spot the t in Tony was not capitalized.
Calderone declined to address the allegation against him in detail, but noted that a number of streets in Forest Park have been repaved under a village program.
“Fifteen streets, if I’m not mistaken, were repaved a couple of years ago,” Calderone said.
Harris was charged with battery two times, both more than 10 years ago. Both times the cases were dismissed by a judge and there is no evidence that Harris has ever been convicted on any crime. The mailer does not allege that Harris was ever convicted of anything.
Harris was arrested by Chicago police for simple battery on Dec. 10, 2000 when he was accused of striking two individuals, one a woman, in an apartment at 2453 N. Burling and trying to damage a stereo. On Saturday Harris initially put out a statement that he had never been arrested in his life. The “multiple arrests” allegation in the mailer apparently derives from this one incident.
According to a Chicago Police Department report obtained by the Forest Park Review, Harris was handcuffed when he was arrested and refused to put his hands behind his back. In a statement issued Saturday, Harris said that he had never been placed in handcuffs. According to the police report, Harris also refused to walk or get into the squad car. The report states that the responding officer used “minimal force” to place Harris in custody.
The charges against Harris were dismissed by a judge on March 16, 2001. It was this case that Monday’s affidavit proclaiming Harris innocence referred.
Harris acknowledged an incident in 2002 when he says he struck a man in self-defense after the man, who Harris said had broken his ex-girlfriend’s nose, raised his hand to him. In that case, Harris was not arrested, but the man later brought a battery charge against Harris that was ultimately dismissed by a judge.
Two years ago Harris was stopped by a Forest Park police officer in the early hours of March 31, 2013 for failing to signal while making a left-hand turn. According to a memo to police Chief Jim Ryan, Harris failed to produce a valid insurance card. The memo states that the officer asked Harris to get out his car three times. He did so after the officer removed her Taser from her holster.
The memo states that although Harris admitted to having had some drinks and had some “slight impairment,” that field sobriety tests showed that Harris was not impaired at the time he was stopped.
Harris said he was trying to show the police officer proof of insurance on his smartphone. He says that the accusations against him are just political.
“Why does this all come out just days before an election?” Harris said in an email. “Why does no one put their name on it and own it? It’s cowardly and filthy. I have been harassed for four years since getting elected and putting myself out there and questioning the way things are done, including how the police treat the average Joe. Do you think if Tony Calderone could get me for anything that he would use it? They made me do the whole field sobriety test and I passed.”
Calderone denied having anything to do with the mailer.
“I just simply don’t agree with negative campaigning,” Calderone said. “I like to stick to the facts, and the facts are what they are.”
Village council candidate and Calderone ally Tom Mannix, an experienced political operative, also denied having anything to go do with the mailer attacking Harris.
“I got it in my mail and that’s the first time I had seen it,” Mannix said Saturday.
Mannix was asked if he had any role with preparing or sending the mailer out.
“None at all,” Mannix said.
Harris supporters view the mailer as a desperate attempt by Calderone and the people aligned with him to hold off a surging campaign.
“Tony Calderone will say and do anything to hang on to his political power,” Harris said in his statement on Saturday.
Calderone also said he didn’t know who is involved with Citizens for a Safe Forest Park.
“I have no idea,” Calderone said.
For his part Harris said that he had no connection to the Forest Park Business Alliance and didn’t know who was behind the anti-Calderone mailer.