Below are candidate-submitted answers to a biographical survey the Forest Park Review sent out to all mayoral candidates running in this year’s elections. Candidates full, unedited responses are printed.
Don’t miss your chance to hear mayoral candidates debate the issues.
The Forest Park Review is partnering with the Forest Park Public Library to host a mayor candidates forum from 1:30 to 3 p.m. on March 10 at the library, 7555 Jackson Blvd.
The Review is also partnering with the Chamber of Commerce to host another mayoral candidates forum at 6:30 p.m. on March 21 at Forest Park Middle School, 925 Beloit Ave.
Previous political experience: Forest Park Commissioner 2011 – 2015
Previous community experience: Previous and Current – Kiwanis Club President, Kiwanis Club Chairman, Kiwanis Foundation Chair, Forest Park Eagle, Forest Park Historical Society, WCMC Transportation Committee, Park District volunteer, Chair of annual Wounded Warrior fundraiser
Occupation: Chris Harris Media & Marketing – proprietor
Education: WIU – BA Communications, Northwestern University – Post Baccalaureate Political Science
1. What is the present state of the village of Forest Park’s financial situation? What is being done and what should the mayor’s role be in promoting economic development? What are the best tools for doing so and what else can the mayor to help recruit new businesses and maintain the ones already here?
It is worrisome, and it is continuing to trend in the wrong direction. We are operating in the red and have been for years. We borrow from funds to help the general fund and that is not healthy. We have some major financial holes that must be filled and we must approach that with candor. I have always believed it is not only the mayor’s job to be involved with any active economic development committee but also be the person making the calls, pressing the flesh, and recruiting business. Neighboring towns like Berwyn have done this for years, with the support of a very active EDC. When a business gets a call from the mayor, it has a certain gravitas that is needed, not that it is all on him, but the mayor needs to be ‘all in’ with the effort. Forest Park recently dismantled their EDC, and the Chamber is trying to reform and rebrand it with limited village assistance. I don’t agree with that. In talking with everyone from leaders at the bank to developers in town, they want to know that village hall is on board and has bought in, and I couldn’t agree more. The mayor has to be the leader, the salesman, the cheerleader, and torchbearer of the village.
2. A representative from the National Park Service has spent the last year interviewing residents and designing a plan for how to develop the village-owned Altenheim property. How should the mayor now proceed?
I believe the back area of the Altenheim should remain green space. I am honored that Ralph DiFebo cites a town hall I put together in 2012 as his inspiration to ‘start moving the ball forward’ on, what at the time was, a basic but inventive park plan that resident Jennifer Wolfe presented at the town hall and that I backed via the Rec Board. When DiFebo was frustrated about not getting traction I helped him ‘take it to the people’ by encouraging him and hosting town halls to get the word out. (Mind you, I don’t take credit for DiFebo and his teams’ work, but I am a supporter). Forest Park has below average green space per capita than what is recommended, which is even cited in our 2015 comprehensive report. I believe it is time to move to phase one (removal of existing buildings and land testing and excavation) now.
3. Video gaming was the talk of the town over the past year. Did you have a stance on this issue? The debate seems to have divided the town. How do you think the village should move forward and heal?
I was open to discussing the idea. I knew, first hand, how tight the village budget was/is and how revenue sources are needed. I do not like how, say, Berwyn has put it forward with gaudy signage and what seems to be endless parlors. I thought there was a way it could be implemented in a classier way, and for the most part, it was for the year plus we had it. I cannot have a moral debate with someone about gambling. I don’t play the machines, and I can’t tell you whether it is right or wrong – that is for each individual to decide. Moving forward, it is settled law, however. The citizens spoke and their voice should be respected. And we do need to heal. I see people who live two doors down from each other fighting online like its a battle between their college football teams when just a year ago they would ask each other how their kids were doing over the back yard fence. Getting people back out in town and together – reminding them what a great town we live in, whether it has gaming or not – is how we start to mend the rift.
4. Flooding continues to be an issue in the village. How can this problem be addressed? And paid for?
Thank you for asking this question! We have a major problem that needs immediate attention, we have crumbing combined sewers (storm/waste) that need to be updated and separated. When we raised the village sales tax by .5% in 2014 I said I would only vote for it if we put that in a dedicated sewer tax fund, I couldn’t even get a second on the motion (including from my opponent). That was irresponsible and without reserve funds for matching grants to show these agencies that we have skin in the game it is nearly impossible to get those grants. Sure, you can piecemeal something together over years and years but that, to me, is not the proper way to do it. On top of separating our sewers, we also need to alleviate ground water issues by maximizing ‘green’ efforts to resurface all village properties/lots in a permeable fashion and insist new private developments and projects are built to maximize green technology. We need to get the water into the ground in every way possible.
5. What is Forest Park’s role as it concerns Proviso Township District 209 High Schools, if any?
Simple: Maximum support, minimal interference. D209 operates as its own entity, and we need to respect that. If they need help with extending hours and village police assistance, etc., then, yes, that’s easy. But the village should not interfere with the continued efforts throughout the district. Support the district, the parents, the teachers, and of course the students.
6. Transparency has been repeatedly noted by candidates and residents as an issue with the village. Do you believe Forest Park has a transparency problem? If so, how would you address it?
No one likes to hear things are happening ‘behind the curtain’ without resident input. I think for years that was happening. I ran for commissioner in 2011 in part because I wanted to see more transparency. I wanted to pull the curtain back. I would continue that if elected. More town halls, more participatory budget sessions, more going into detail at council meetings, and I would hold standard open door office hours a couple of days a week and deliver a yearly state of the Village address. I think its important to not only inform, but to engage the citizens.
7. If you had to write a mission or vision statement for the village of Forest Park, what would they be?
Respect our history and embrace our future. Our village is packed with cool, and sometimes funky, history. We are not Oak Park with Frank Lloyd Wright tours and Hemingway. We’re cemetery tours and Ed’s Way. And there is always room for making ‘new history’ by embracing our location, affordability, and quirkiness.
8. Should Forest Park remain a commissioner form of government, or change to a village manager form?
In an ideal world, we could easily switch, but it’s not that easy. This would be a referendum issue. In this form, you do need an active, dedicated, and all-in mayor. Being mayor is a 24-hour, 7-day a week job. It’s meetings with IDOT at 9am and then being woken out of bed at 3am because of a condo fire and the need to helped displaced seniors. You can delegate basic day-to-day activities, but you have to be ready and available.
9. What issues should the village’s Diversity Commission be charged to pursue?
I would like to see the commission be moved to a reporting commission, where items from the council would be given to the commission for their review and recommendation. This would give them power to have a say in everything from village policy to village events.
10. What other issues do you feel will be important for the next mayor to address? How should they be addressed?
I think it’s important for the mayor to be involved with the police department in a leadership role to continue to reduce lawsuits and, I firmly believe, implement a full-scale community policing program. Crime is an issue in Forest Park. Safety is an issue. Getting our guys off the street and on the sidewalk a bit more helps everyone by building trust and relationships.
And lastly you can’t talk about Forest Park and not talk about parking. I have talked with people in our parking department, and even they think we can use some updated policies. When you limit street parking, which certainly has its plusses, you create a shortage that needs to be addressed and whether its creating limited street parking, more lots or a forgiveness program – that discussion needs to be had and needs to be public.