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: Village Commissioner 2007-2015
Previous community experience:
1. Forest Park Youth Soccer Association (involved since 2005) Coaching: 2005-2009 & 2017-present
2. Annual Juneteenth Family Pool Party; 2008-2018
3. Historical Society of Forest Park, Board Member 2016-1017
4. Dist. 91 regular volunteer/chaperone for National Junior Honor Society trips, regular classroom fieldtrips, “Real Men Read”, annual All School Picnics, Covenant Harbor 3-day trip to Geneva Lake, WI
5. Annual “No Gloves” 16″ Softball Tournament volunteer
6. Worked with Loyola University Chicago School of Social Work and D. 91 to facilitate the introduction of PBIS
7. Chicago Bar Association, Judicial Evaluation Committee
8. Chicago Council on Global Affairs: helped to facilitate the Sister City ceremony between Forest Park and Cork Ireland held in 2009
9. Proviso Twp. Democratic Organization, former president
Occupation: Attorney (Insurance Insolvency, Insurance Regulatory)
• University of Texas at Austin, B.A. 1992
• Loyola University Chicago, MSW 1999
• Loyola University Chicago, J.D. 2012
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?
Forest Park’s financial position is not sustainable. The most recent audit states that declining revenues and recognition of pension obligation has impacted our position for consecutive years. That said, I am optimistic that Forest Park can reverse the negative trend. Our community has a talented population that can assist in helping to chart our economic and fiscal course once the next village council begins its work. Over the last two months, I have been contacted by residents wishing to be involved our long-term economic planning. Our tools for promoting economic development include existing groups such as the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce and our consultant who chairs the Chamber’s Economic Development committee. There are other tools available to support Forest Park and to help our community grow. For example, I have some experience in the field of economic development.
I was employed by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity from 2000-2006. I was part of the team that worked to attract headquarters, manufacturing, distribution centers and other business operations to Illinois when companies may have been considering other states. My DCEO responsibilities also required working to retain existing businesses who may have been inclined to leave Illinois. From 2006-2009, I worked for one of the “Big Four” global accounting firms as a tax credits and incentives consultant. This role included working with economic development authorities in Illinois and around the country. Accordingly, I have extensive contacts with economic development professionals in counties throughout Illinois and in neighboring states.
As mayor, I will contact many of my former colleagues to let them know about Forest Park. I will emphasize our town’s attributes such as proximity to major airports, the availability of public transportation, efficient snow removal, public safety, and our diverse population. I believe that promoting Forest Park is part of the mayor’s role.
At present, The Forest Park Chamber of Commerce is reconstituting its committee focused on economic development. It is my understanding that the owners of the Forest Park Mall are focused on maintaining that 33 acre property and evaluating growth opportunities. As mayor, I will leverage my relationships to support businesses in Forest Park and the Chamber so they can generally achieve their goals.
Because the mayor serves as the contact to external entities, I will look for opportunities to collaborate with the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, World Business Chicago, Cook County Economic Development and other regional stakeholders for the benefit of Forest Park. For example, as mayor I would not miss the chance to address a group of economic development professionals for the purposes of promoting Forest Park.
Additionally, I will look for opportunities to expose the members of the next Village Council to the various economic development entities and to introduce council members to these agencies’ most influential employees. A key manager from Cook County’s economic development office recently retired. This person is a friend, and knows Forest Park very well. One of my short term objectives would be to have this person meet with our staff, hired consultant and elected officials to discuss opportunities to work with Cook County’s economic development authority.
The mayor should be prepared to support existing economic development efforts and to set innovative policies that staff, once adequately trained, can fully develop and implement.
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?
The mayor should review the National Park Service’s work product and consider other opportunities for the Altenheim. While maintaining green space is reasonable, there may be opportunities to develop portions of the 11 acres owned by the village that are not inconsistent with maintaining some green space. The sale contract provides that no more than eight acres of the Altenheim land owned by the village can be developed. The mayor and council should make it a priority to demolish the vacant buildings on the village owned land.
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 know that some people had their livelihoods impacted by the referendum’s outcome. I have talked with stakeholders who took strong positions on sides of the issue who are ready to move forward for the good of Forest Park. The village is healing and it will continue to do so.
4. Flooding continues to be an issue in the village. How can this problem be addressed? And paid for?
Forest Park has to fix its antiquated combined sewer system. The estimates that I have heard are approximately $60 million. I believe that flooding is worse in some parts of Forest Park than in others. The flooding is being addressed incrementally by the village’s engineering consultants. Funding for such a large cost will have to be part of some externally sourced infrastructure grant.
5. What is Forest Park’s role as it concerns Proviso Township District 209 High Schools, if any?
As the parent of a 16 year old son, I am always inclined to support the local schools. I have worked with many of the Forest Park kids attending D. 209 schools. I believe that Forest Park should support Dist. 209 to the extent that doing so is not contrary to the village’s interests.
PMSA sits within our corporate limits. Forest Park therefore has more input with respect to use of PMSA and related concerns such as traffic and other safety issues. As mayor, I plan to maintain my personal relationships with all of the members of the D. 209 board and the superintendent. There may be formal or informal ways to support the teachers and students of D. 209. The mayor and council should be open to any such opportunity. An example of one such opportunity is welcoming D. 209 to stage a homecoming parade in our community and participating in the parade.
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?
Yes. The village can do a better job of communicating. The next mayor and council should consider whether it is feasible to post council agendas at an earlier time than it does today. There may also be ways to better utilize social media to communicate with residents and businesses. It may also be advisable to hold budget meetings in the evenings so that people who work regular business hours can attend.
7. If you had to write a mission or vision statement for the village of Forest Park, what would they be?
The mission statement would articulate that village priorities include providing core services related to health and safety, providing police protection, fire suppression, and maintaining streets, infrastructure and traffic flows for the benefit of residents and businesses located in Forest Park. Next, it would state that we will provide services in an efficient and professional manner where official actions are governed by local ordinances and state laws. Further, the statement would recognize that the village has diversity with regards to age, race, languages, gender-identity, education and income levels and that non-core services provided by the village should be planned in a manner that reflects, recognizes and responds to our diverse population. Accordingly, the village should invest in its community center and its public library as these facilities serve our residents with the fewest resources. Finally, the mission statement would reflect that Forest Park is not island unto itself and that there will likely be opportunities to support and partner with the park district and schools.
8. Should Forest Park remain a commissioner form of government, or change to a village manager form?
The success of Forest Park is not solely based on the form of government. Although some believe that the commissioner form of government is not ideal for this community, people are still moving to Forest Park. I believe that electing good people to serve in village government, combined with a competent and professional workforce, yields positive outcomes. That said, it would not be unreasonable to determine whether village residents want to change to a village manager form. There may be merits to having more elected members serving on a village board and to having staggered elections for our village government. It appears that the prospect of a completely new village council may have unsettled some residents and village employees. This cycle repeats itself every four years and contributes to confusion and anxiety in the run-up to our municipal elections.
9. What issues should the village’s Diversity Commission be charged to pursue?
The Diversity Commission should chart its own course based on its own deliberations and community feedback. I believe that the residents who applied to serve on the Diversity Council, and submitted information as part of the appointment process, likely had reasons for seeking their appointment. I have always supported the idea of the village creating a diversity commission. I do not believe that the mayor should decide which particular issues it addresses. Instead, the Diversity Commission should operate within the parameters of its mission statement. I would like to quickly describe the input that I offered to Mayor Calderone and a past village council that advanced the notion that Forest Park should have a diversity commission.
I began discreetly advocating for this village to establish a diversity commission as far back as 2010. This was soon after I worked with a group of residents and the Park District to establish Forest Park’s annual Juneteenth tradition and had hired the first Spanish speaking employee to work in the village clerk’s office
Sometime around 2013, I visited Hanover Park’s municipal building. That community has a diversity commission that had been permitted to put a display in the main hall of the building. Hanover Park at that time chose to highlight two of that community’s “sister city’ partnerships. The display had photos and gifts from cities in Mexico and Ghana. It was apparent that delegations from Hanover Park had visited their sister cities. I do not know how such visits were paid for. I have discreetly encouraged one current member of the Forest Park Diversity Council to research what similar bodies have done and are doing in neighboring suburbs. A sister city relationship could be an opportunity for the village to partner with D. 91.
I have purposely avoided attending the current Diversity Commission meetings because I do not want be perceived as seeking to interfere in its activity.
10. What other issues do you feel will be important for the next mayor to address? How should they be addressed?
Trustworthiness and having an understanding of the larger community will be important issues. To the extent that there is some lingering resentment over the November referendum, the mayor should be able to bring people together and should be a person regarded as reasonable, predictable, and trustworthy.
The next mayor should have experience working with officials at the federal, state, and county levels of government in the event that the legislature authorizes capital spending. Funding for infrastructure improvements will most likely be secured by collaborating with leaders from neighboring villages.
Negotiating skills will also be important. There could be opportunities to work with the Altenheim board, the CTA and representatives of the adjacent property owners to come to an agreement for the use of the property.