With a victory of less than 100 votes in last week’s mayoral election, it is clear to us that Forest Park voters were sending a message to now five-time Mayor Anthony Calderone. Just shy of half of the voters either really liked challenger Chris Harris or they are getting darned tired of Calderone and his blame-it-on-others approach.
And with Calderone’s two closest allies on the current council — Mark Hosty and Tom Mannix — being squarely repudiated by voters, it is clear that Forest Parkers are not buying the act anymore. You know the one: There is just this small handful of critics who have it out for us. We want to be positive. They just won’t let us.
Enough of that.
The question now is whether Tony Calderone has it in him to change. We’re less concerned about his approach to issues, though as with any 20-year elected official we have issues where we disagree and may well continue to disagree. The change we’re looking for is in attitude and approach to governing.
In an interview Monday, Calderone acknowledged he hasn’t listened well, hasn’t sought out advice from citizens. We’d suggest he has demonized and marginalized anyone who speaks critically of his efforts. There was still a whiff of that even as he held onto his office by a hair’s breath. “I’ve got to put myself in front of people. They don’t know who I am. They think I’m some evil person. I’m going to fix that,” he said Monday. We’d suggest that half of local voters do know who Tony Calderone is and they don’t like some aspects of his approach to leading this small town.
We’re with that group of voters. We actually like Tony Calderone and admire things he has done as mayor. But he has, over the years, grown an arrogance, combined with a defensiveness that is unappealing in a leader.
We think he can do better, that he can get out of the crouch, enjoy and benefit from the give-and-take of discussion, disagreement, compromise, persuasion. He talked Monday about his friendly but sometimes contentious relationship early on with the late Laureen Thornton, a longtime school board member and then a village council member. We’re with Tony in remembering Thornton as feisty and fun, a good listener, opinionated but fair.
To have a successful fifth term, this mayor has to find his way back to relationships like that, where love of Forest Park is a given; you agree and sometimes disagree, but no one comes out of an encounter being painted as evil.
With Hosty gone and Mannix made irrelevant by his paltry vote count, the opportunity for positive change comes from the three fine people elected to the council — Joe Byrnes, Rachell Entler and Daniel Novak. We see them as being free of the defensive mindset of the past 10 years, passionate about issues they want to bring to the council, and, we believe, able to bring the mayor back to a more positive place from which to lead — and sometimes to follow.
Ultimately, though, it is up to Tony Calderone to decide what he wants his legacy as mayor to be.