The final candidate forum before Tuesday’s election was held on March 28 at the American Legion Hall but only six of the 11 candidates for village office showed up. Absent was mayoral candidate Rory Hoskins and the rest of his Forest Park Forward slate, which includes commissioner candidates Julianne Bonwit, Mark Boroughf, Jon Kubricht, and Jessica Voogd.
“I had a previously scheduled campaign event,” Hoskins told the Review Friday morning. “I had something scheduled that had been in the works for like over a month and we didn’t have very much notice of the American Legion event.”
Hoskins said that he didn’t receive the invitation to the American Legion forum until last Saturday.
He declined to say where his previously scheduled, private campaign event was except to say that it was at a private residence.
“It was just a private campaign event that has been in the works for several weeks,” Hoskins said.
Hoskins’s opponent in the mayoral race, former village commissioner Chris Harris who unsuccessfully changed mayor Tony Calderone four years ago, was at the forum along with five commissioner candidates: incumbents Joe Byrnes and Dan Novak, former commissioner Martin Tellalian, and first-time candidates Ryan Nero and Ryan Russ.
Although this was the fourth candidate forum of the campaign, Harris said that he still thought it was important to attend.
“I think we all have commitments during campaigns,” Harris said after the forum. “I know when I got the invite from the Legion it was important to me to be at the event, and I did have to move some things around, but I thought it was important.”
During the forum, which attracted an audience of only 20 people, Harris said that it was important to give voters every opportunity to hear from candidates.
“You can never have too many forums, can never have too many chances to talk,” Harris said at the beginning of the forum.
The forum was moderated by current Mayor Anthony Calderone, who is stepping down this year after 20 years as mayor. Calderone has not made any formal endorsements yet in the race but has campaign signs for Byrnes and Nero in the front yard of his home.
“I don’t have any bias here, I don’t come with any preconceived notions,” said Calderone at the forum.
The forum lasted for nearly 2 ½ hours and Calderone asked questions that were submitted by audience members but sometimes provided additional background information.
Calderone said afterwards that he found moderating the forum enjoyable and inspiring.
“I’m glad I was asked to do it,” Calderone said.
The candidates at the forum, who are all running independent campaigns, were asked what they thought about candidates running as a slate, like Hoskins and the four Forest Park Forward commissioner candidates.
Harris said that he doesn’t think slates are a good idea in Forest Park.
“I believe in independence,” Harris said. “Independence is important, having different ideas is important.”
Harris said that it would not be good to have a village council come in with all the members having previously agreed on a manifesto or position paper as he said the Forest Park Forward slate has done.
“That’s really monolithic thinking and I think that’s kind of scary for a small village and a council to have people kind of come in with that one thought mentality,” Harris said.
Tellalian, who was often allied with Hoskins when they both served on the village board, said that he could have been on the Hoskins slate but chose to run independently.
“I know those people, I know Rory, they talked about me being part of their slate, but philosophically I’m opposed to slates for a small town like Forest Park,” said Tellalian adding that he doesn’t think it’s good for commissioners to come into office with pre-existing alliances.
“I think what happens is that you end up with alliances with people that you carry into office and I think that’s unhealthy,” Tellalian said. “I think the council is more effective if there aren’t those kinds of alliances.”
Russ, a maintenance foreman for the Park District of Forest Park, also said that he doesn’t think slates are a good idea in a small town like Forest Park.
“You have to be independent voices and be able to come together,” Russ said. “You can’t be together and have independent thinking.”
Novak, who ran as an independent four years ago, said that he was running to represent Forest Park as a whole.
“If you’re running as a slate, you’re creating allegiances,” Novak said. “I don’t want to go down that slippery slope or road.”
Byrnes, who ran on a slate head by Calderone four years ago, said that he couldn’t criticize running as a slate, adding that it helps fundraising and campaigning but noted that this time around he is running independently.
Nero praised all the candidates in the race for positive campaigns.
“It’s been a very clean campaign,” said Nero, who has lived in Forest Park for 18 years and serves as the chairman of the village’s Safety & Traffic Committee and also serves on ad hoc Cultural Park committee.
There wasn’t much disagreement among the candidates at the forum, although the subject of what to do with the village-owned, 11-acre Altenheim property generated some discussion.
Many candidates said that they wanted to preserve as much of the land as possible as green space but noted that the village must come up with a plan and get going on developing the property.
Harris said that he would like to sell off some of the back portion of the land for a boutique hotel and preserve the rest as green space and some type of cultural park.
Tellalian said that the idea of using the entire property as a vast cultural park and music venue is just not practical given the financial condition of the village.
“To think that we are going to spend millions of dollars on developing this green space in its entirety without selling a portion of it I think you’re doing the residents of Forest Park a disservice if you do not specifically say how you’re going to get there,” said Tellalian noting that only eight acres of the 11-acre plot can really be developed.
Tellalian said that he would like to sell off a portion of the property to a developer and he could see even a few single-family homes in the back portion while preserving the front portion as green space.
“You can sell portions of it and bring in development,” Tellalian said. “We need to have some income generation on that property and by selling a portion a portion half of it or more can be a nice park, cultural park.”
Byrnes said that allowing residential housing on the Altenheim property could cost the village as much in additional services as the tax revenue it would bring in.
All the candidates said that they favor keeping the ban on overnight street parking but Byrnes and Tellalian said they favored exceptions for residents who live near Madison Street. Byrnes noted that allowing overnight resident parking on streets near Madison could force those going to bars and restaurants on Madison to park in village-owned parking lots generating revenue for the village.
Russ said that he would bring diversity to the village council.
“I believe that I’m the face of diversity in this race,” said Russ, who is black.
Russ grew up in Forest Park as a next-door neighbor to and close friend of Novak. Russ said he loves Forest Park and that he is a positive person who can bring people together.
“My energy and passion for this town is my best trait,” Russ said. “We need to have people who know this town. The history of this town, where this town has been, where this town is, and where the residents of this town want to go.”
Nero, who described himself as the newcomer on the block, said his best quality is his energy and enthusiasm.
Nero is also a good friend of Novak and Novak noted that he has vacationed with both Russ and Nero.
Tellalian said that he believes Forest Park should ditch the commission form of government and switch to the council/village manager form of government that is used by most of the suburbs in Chicago. Under the commission form of government council members are responsible for specific departments while under the village manager form of government council members have no administrative responsivities and just set policy.
“I think that the commission form of government puts a lot of strain on the employees,” Tellalian said. “I think it’s difficult for them to have to go through the amount of change every four years knowing that the commissioners are coming in, knowing that there is going to be new administration coming in.”