The realizations, they came in waves Wednesday as the Forest Park Electoral Board met again to attempt to sort out the video gaming petition challenge.

In the course of a three-hour meeting, it quickly became obvious that the crux of the debate between the two legally well-represented sides would not be whether this specific petition signature should be allowed or tossed. No, the key point was actually what was the correct number of total signatures needed to have a legitimate petition drive. And when and what and how did representatives of the Cook County Clerk’s Office provide that number to the parties involved.

Then about two hours in, it became clear that the issue was not going to be resolved during that single meeting, that another continuance would be necessary. And then the two lawyers each asked for two subpoenas to be issued which guarantees more long, expensive meetings.

Nearing the end of the day’s festivities, the attorney representing the petition-gatherers urged the electoral board — Mayor Anthony Calderone, Commissioner Tom Mannix and Village Clerk Vanessa Moritz — to make the best, fairest choice they could because it ultimately wouldn’t matter. This case, he said, was headed to appeal no matter which side the local officials backed. The circuit, the appellate court, maybe the state supreme court would all have to consider the underlying case law here, said the attorney.

That’s when Moritz asked the village’s high-priced election attorney how all of this would play out in terms of getting the referendum question on the November ballot since time is short, deadlines are set, and early voting starts soon.

Don’t worry too much, he said. Take the steps to get the question on the ballot. If, ultimately, a court at some level disallows the question, then voters would still make their choice but it would be some version of a ghost vote with the results never officially recorded.

And that, Forest Parkers, would be the worst-case scenario. We go through all of this self-inflicted pain, vote, sort of, for a second time on whether video gaming helps or hurts the town, and yet are right back where we started with increasing division and a total lack of clarity.

Which leads to the ultimate realization of the long afternoon: None of this was necessary. If Mayor Calderone had simply done his job, the video gaming issue would have come to an up or down vote on the five-member council a year ago. Some residents and business owners would have been happy, some would have been frustrated. That’s democracy. 

By now, we’d all have moved forward to tackle other issues — Roosevelt Road, economic development, diversity, the Altenheim property, housing stock improvement —  that are being ignored. 

Instead we are deep into a contentious electoral knot that does not appear to have a clear-cut resolution. And as this fight continues, it only reinforces and deepens the genuine rift that has grown in this small town between the proponents and the opponents of video gaming.

This did not have to be.


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