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If you haven’t heard, the Forest Park Review is fact-checking every campaign flier this election season, in an effort to inform voters. Keep in touch: ntepper@wjinc.com or jill@oakpark.com.

Flier Name: “It’s a Swell Place to Live Now!”

Specs: 8½-by-11, glossy, two-sided

Submitted to the Forest Park Review: Oct. 2

The first side of the flier features two flappers whispering, “Can you believe a few folks are still pushing Prohibition?” “Prohibition??? Well I say NO!”

Michael Sherry, a history professor at Northwestern University, said it is a “decent comparison” to compare the movement against video gaming in Forest Park to the U.S. movement of Prohibition, although a more obvious comparison would have been to compare the historical attempts to ban gambling. 

“It is true that historically, in the run up to Prohibition, people who wanted Prohibition were also often opposed to gambling, and gambling was associated with bars and saloons and the like,” Sherry said. “So there’s a loose connection there, but it’s kind of loose. After all, the proposal isn’t to ban alcohol in Forest Park. I think it’s a fairly standard political tactic to reach for something that would help the cause, but doesn’t have a lot of historical weight to it.”

Sherry noted that women’s organizations and anti-Irish and anti-Catholic movements were “critical” to getting Prohibition passed. The most important factor, however, was the American entry into World War I against Germany, which turned popular tide against the German-American beer and liquor industry, which was the “single most important source of resistance to Prohibition,” he said.  

“It wasn’t so much from 1917 to 1918 there was a new tide in favor of prohibiting it, it was more the resistance to Prohibition was fatally compromised at that moment with Germany and German-American groups,” Sherry said. 

The second side of the flier pairs an old photo of the intersection of Madison Street and Desplaines Avenue in 1939 with a present-day photo of the corner, and offers a few claims:

1)   “Since video gaming has been allowed, property values are UP!” MISLEADING

John Lawrence, founder of the Oak Park-based Weichert Realtors Nickel Group and president of the Oak Park Area Association of Realtors, credited new construction and high property taxes in neighboring towns to driving up the local sales prices. Weichert sells homes in Forest Park and other western suburbs of Chicago.

“I couldn’t possibly draw any correlation to video gaming and the rise in property values. If it was a decrease I personally wouldn’t be able to draw a correlation,” Lawrence said. “Our near west suburbs, Oak Park, River Forest, Forest Park, are all desirable communities. Forest Park has invested a lot into growing the community over the last 15 or 20 years. I feel like there’s a lot of good properties in Forest Park, so the trend has been positive for a few years.”

The flier cites an article by Crain’s Chicago Business, which states that Forest Park’s average home sales price increased 10.4 percent year over year.

2)   “Burglary and theft, the crimes allegedly associated with video gaming, went DOWN!” The article cites statistics from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program. TRUE, BUT…

Incidents of theft declined to 320 in 2017, down 24 percent from 423 in 2016, according to UCR data.

In 2017, police reported 59 burglaries, down 22 percent from 74 in 2016. An offender commits a burglary when they unlawfully enter a building or vehicle with the intent of committing a crime. One of the burglaries in 2017 was related to video gaming, said Police Chief Thomas Aftanas.

Patrick J. McManus, of Forest Park, pleaded guilty to burglary of the then-Chalk bar, which has since been renamed to Murphy’s Pub, after breaking in to 7414 Madison St. about 3:40 a.m. on May 23, 2017, Aftanas said. He also pleaded guilty to five counts of possession of a controlled substance and possession with intent to deliver and possession of burglary tools. He received probation, Aftanas said.

Aftanas said that before video gaming was approved in Forest Park, Mayor Anthony Calderone asked him to check with other area police chiefs to see how the practice impacted their town since “there was a definite concern it was going to bring crime and seedy characters to the village, to the gaming machines,” he said.

Aftanas said he talked to police departments from some 30 municipalities and found that most towns didn’t have any incidents related to video gaming. Like Forest Park, those that did have crime related to video gaming experienced burglaries to establishments, or bar machines broken into. Some also had theft of winners’ jackpot tickets. 

“When I did talk with the chiefs and deputy chiefs, they’d say we had one incident in the last two or three years. It doesn’t impact their crime stats in a negative way,” he said.

3)   “Video gaming has resulted in nearly $300,000 in new revenue, which decreases reliance on those lousy property taxes” TRUE, BUT…

Village Administrator Tim Gillian said video gaming “definitely” decreases reliance on property taxes, although the village has nothing to do with how property taxes are assessed. The Cook County Assessor is in charge of property assessments in Forest Park.

“We have no ability to tell them to raise them or lower them. That said, the county gives us a finite amount of money each year and any year that I have revenue from someplace else, then, of course, we rely on that revenue,” Gillian said.

Calderone added that the ordinance allowing video gaming specifies that revenue from the practice be used for police and fire pensions, along with economic development and infrastructure improvements.

“All sources of revenue have an impact on our reliance of property taxes,” he wrote in an email to the Review.

The ordinance allowing video gaming is silent on how revenue the village receives from video gaming must be used.

Video gaming money received goes into the village’s General Fund, which funds “basic services,” according to the 2017 auditors’ report.

As of Sept. 17, the total amount the village has made so far from video gaming is $287,097, according to data provided by the village of Forest Park, which includes all license fees, permits, and the village’s share of the terminal income.

In fiscal year 2019, which runs from May 1, 2018 to April 30, 2019, the village has so far earned $104,035 from video gaming.

In fiscal year 2018, which ran from May 1, 2017 to April 30, 2018, the village earned $165,141 from video gaming. In fiscal year 2017, which ran from May 1, 2016 to April 30, 2017, the village earned $17,921 from video gaming.

SENT BY: Let Forest Park Grow-Vote No, which is a ballot initiative committee established Aug. 22 with the aim of supporting licensed video gaming in the village.

James Watts, owner of O’Sullivan’s Public House and the bar owner who brought the local battle over video gaming to the state Supreme Court, is listed as its chairperson. Let Forest Park Grow’s headquarters is listed as 545 Beloit Ave., a residential property Watts owns, according to property records.

As of the most recent committee earnings report filed on Aug. 22, Let Forest Park Grow had $35,200 in its bank account.

CONTACT: ntepper@wjinc.com

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