In early May, the Forest Park village council will meet for what in most towns is the traditional, warm and fuzzy, hand-over meeting. Retiring or defeated elected officials say kind words about their colleagues and staff, laud their accomplishments and then take a seat in the front row. The newly elected or re-elected beam as their spouses and kids look on, express optimistic thoughts and then settle in on the servants’ side of the table of local government and let the responsibilities settle on their shoulders.
This being Forest Park, all bets are off.
Three commissioners will leave the council. Mark Hosty served for 16 years, did some good work, bought way in to the us-versus-them style of government preferred by Mayor Anthony Calderone and will leave office having placed a distant fifth out of five candidates.
Rory Hoskins departs having served ably for eight years and holding up his side of offering a loyal opposition. For his efforts he was talked down to, marginalized and had his plan of representing Forest Park in the state legislature undone when his council colleagues backed a political player named Chris Welch, who beat Hoskins by a puny 30-some votes.
Chris Harris steps down having served a term, run a surprisingly strong race for mayor, and almost toppling Calderone from his perceived throne. For his trouble he faced a term of perpetual disrespect from Calderone and senior village staff, a blitz of character assassination to close the campaign and cheap shots even after his defeat.
Coming back for a fresh term will be Anthony Calderone as mayor. This will be his fifth term. We will learn soon if he learned any lessons from his very narrow re-election, from the absolute repudiation by frustrated voters of his two henchmen on the council — Hosty and the disagreeable Tom Mannix, who won re-election only because there were no other warm bodies on the ballot.
We don’t hold out much hope that Calderone is capable of change. We’d love to be surprised. We’d love to see him listen to voters, show faith in the ability of his fellow citizens to be active participants in governing this small town, actively encourage his fellow elected officials to provide ideas and leadership.
And, so our hope for better government over the next four years rests in two places. The three new commissioners, enthusiastically chosen by voters, must step forward with clear expectations that there ought to be some joy in governing; that it is about connecting people and not questioning motivations and isolating those who disagree; that good ideas come from all sorts of places if you listen and are open; that compromise is as essential in Forest Park as it is missing in Washington.
Joe Byrnes, Rachell Entler and Daniel Novak all have unquestionable Forest Park credibility. Neither the mayor nor his staff can question their devotion to Forest Park; they cannot be placed in isolation or be marginalized. And that is their power to reshape the tone and the energy of this very sour government.
The second source of new life has to be among the not quite half of voters who chose the Calderone alternative. An engaged, open, critical, present citizenry is going to be vital going forward. Show up. Speak up. Volunteer. Here’s a little secret: It is your town.