The beginning of 2019 found Forest Park still healing from the rift created by video gaming in town, which was perhaps one of the biggest village-wide debates in recent history. Although video gaming was officially voted out in Nov. 2018, the tension carried over into the new year.
A new mayor and two new commissioners elected in the spring gave the village a chance to take a breath and focus on next steps to bring revenue to town and ensure a solid future for Forest Park. 2019 was filled with changes, some of the biggest highlighted below.
Politics and personnel
The April 2019 elections in Forest Park were historic and changed the landscape of politics in town. It was the mayoral election that brought the biggest shift to the decision-making processes in town, with Rory Hoskins elected as mayor and Anthony Calderone choosing not to run after 20 years as the leader in Forest Park.
In 2018, Calderone announced his decision not to run again, and he finished his fifth term as mayor in 2019.
In his long tenure as mayor, Calderone saw Forest Park through many changes, including the revitalization of Madison Street, improvements to Roosevelt Road and the purchase of the Altenheim property, the future of which will most likely play out in 2020.
Under Calderone’s watch, important promotions were made, including that of Police Chief Tom Aftanas, Director of Public Works John Doss, and Director of the Howard Mohr Community Center Karen Dylewski.
In 2019, current Mayor Rory Hoskins was victorious against Chris Harris with a 59 percent to 41 percent spread. The race was fairly contentious, and the two engaged in several heated public debates. In the end, however, Hoskins received the most votes of any Forest Park mayoral candidate in at least 20 years.
Hoskins’ win was historic: he is the first black mayor in Forest Park’s history, after being the first black village commissioner, a position he filled from 2007 to 2015.
Hoskins’ top priorities after winning were to lobby the state for resources to knock down decrepit structures on the Altenheim property, increase local transparency and bring people in Forest Park together.
Early in his career as mayor he hired lobbyist Michael Axelrod, son of David Axelrod, former chief strategist and senior advisor to President Barack Obama, to assist with local and state issues. He brought an anti-nepotism policy to the council, which adopted it in a 4-1 vote. And he has been proactively working to bring recreational marijuana businesses – and their social equity and tax dollars – to town through public meetings to gauge resident opinion while working with village staff to get proposed zoning amendments written. These will be voted on by the village council in the new year.
A proponent of inclusion, Hoskins also championed the Hispanic Heritage Month celebration, the first annual event of its kind in the village.
Changes to the commissioner line-up were decided in the April 2019 election as well. Incumbents Dan Novak, who received the highest number of votes, and Joe Byrnes kept their seats on the council. One member of the Forest Park Forward progressive slate won: Jessica Voogd, who received the third highest number of votes in the crowded commissioner race. The fourth commissioner is Ryan Nero, who received the second highest number of votes.
The Forest Park Police Department saw big changes too, with Mike Keating retiring from his position as deputy chief after being with the department for over 34 years. In October, Kenneth Gross was promoted to deputy chief to fill the position, and Peter Morrissette was promoted to lieutenant.
The social scene
The Forest Park Arts Alliance (FPAA) made itself known in 2019, bringing strong, visible and well-attended arts events to town, events that not only showcased creativity but helped build community. The FPAA hosted the annual Garage Galleries event but brought new events to Forest Park as well. Stoop Sessions, which features local musicians playing on the front porches of houses around town, was an avenue to bring music to the neighborhoods. And spoken word in the form of a series of comedy shows raised money for a large-scale mural project near the Roos Recreation Center. A new not-for-profit, the FPAA has goals of making Forest Park an epicenter of artistic activity, including visual, literary, spoken word and other forms of creation and expression.
The Forest Park Chamber of Commerce, led by executive director Laurie Kokenes, held its annual events, including The Casket Races, the Holiday Walk, and two wine walks, one in the spring and one in the fall.
Diversity and inclusivity
Diversity was celebrated in new ways in 2019. The Diversity Commission brought two first-time events to town – the first annual Pride Event, which celebrated LGBTQ+ individuals, and the Hispanic Heritage Festival.
D91 ditched “Columbus Day,” opting instead to call it “Indigenous People’s Day.” This was done as part of the district’s ongoing work with the National Equity Project.
The “No Human is Illegal” mural on the Circle Avenue bridge was defaced multiple times, with the suspect or suspects painting over or otherwise covering up a portion of the words. Interpreted by many as a hate act, it is uncertain not only who is doing it but why. In response to one of the incidents, Hoskins had Community Center staff put the message “No Human is Illegal” on the electronic billboard for several days, causing several complaints that the sign shouldn’t be used for political messages.
Environmentalism and sustainability
Awareness of environmental concerns and changes regarding sustainability were made in Forest Park in 2019. The year saw a record number of residents installing solar panels and energy systems on their homes, both out of the recognition that environmentally responsible choices and changes must be made and also to take advantage of state and federal incentives and to save money in the long run.
In April, the village council created the Sustainability Commission, the aim of which is making the community greener. Doing so gave official recognition and support to the informal group “Go Green Forest Park,” which was crafted by Lucia Whalen and former mayor Calderone.
The village’s commitment to sustainability was also seen in adding tree care and management to its Public Ways and Property code, and in the recycling forum held in November to discuss reducing waste as well as how to properly recycle in order to ensure that recyclable items aren’t contaminated and end up in landfills, though there was some debate after the event about whether the information presented by Republic Services was accurate.
A new green alley replaced the existing alley in the 900 block between Marengo and Elgin, with the assistance of a grant from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD). The village also applied for a grant from the MWRD to repave the parking lot at 510 Desplaines Ave. with permeable pavers.
Business and zoning
Notable zoning changes were made in 2019, the aim being to facilitate the opening of new businesses to town. Among these were changing incubator kitchens, massage parlors and restaurants from conditional use to permitted use in the Downtown Business District, thereby allowing these types of businesses to open without appearing before the Zoning Board of Appeals and the village council.
“We’re keeping pace with the times,” said Village Administrator Tim Gillian about these changes. “We want to make sure we’re not preventing new businesses from coming to town.”
Homeowners can benefit from zoning changes made this year too. A new zoning amendment approved by the village council made it possible for 700 to 1,000 homes in town to build additions, homes that previously were disqualified from doing so due to nonconforming side-yard setbacks.
“Behind everything there is a person,” said Steve Glinke, Director of Public Health and Safety, which oversees zoning in the village. “People want to stay in their homes, and we want to help them do that.”
Other important zoning amendments are those currently being written to regulate what kinds of recreational marijuana facilities can open and operate in Forest Park and where they can be located. In December, the ZBA voted on zoning for cannabis, and the village council will make the final vote on the proposed amendments in January.
The Forest Park Chamber of Commerce re-introduced its economic development committee, planning meetings for each month at which members would focus on identifying what would help businesses succeed and finding ways to act on those findings. Discussions about the town’s economy and monitoring trends are also committee goals.
The District 91 school board race in April was highly contested, with a larger number of candidates than the town had seen in years. Incumbent Shannon Wood was reelected, and newcomers Monique Cotton Yancy and Katherine Valleau were chosen through resident vote to serve on the board of education.
Tinisa Huff, vice principal at the Forest Park Middle School, was named as the new principal at Betsy Ross Elementary School, beginning in July 2020. She will replace William Milnamow, who has been principal there since 2000 and is retiring at the end of the school year.
All three Proviso Together candidates – Claudia Medina, Theresa Kelly and Nathan “Ned” Wagner – were reelected in April to serve on the Proviso Township High Schools District 209 school board.
District 209 announced it will open Math and Science Academy branches at Proviso East and Proviso West, allowing it to expand the International Baccalaureate program and open it to more students in the district.
In December, District 209 Superintendent Jesse Rodriguez announced he will be leaving the district to take an opportunity closer to his home.
Parks and recreation
The Park District of Forest Park, with the help of a Cook County grant, redid the paths around the park, including everything along Harrison Street from Circle Avenue to Desplaines Avenue and all internal paths.
The park board also voted to apply for a grant to expand the Roos Recreation Center, which will happen in the new year if the grant is awarded.
In 2019 the Roos Recreation center experienced an unanticipated number of memberships, which prompted discussions about needing more space for the fitness room and other program offerings.
The Forest Park Public Library began an approximately $1 million renovation, which will be completed in February 2020. The plans include creating “a modern space that fits the needs of the community,” including a quiet reading room, additional study rooms, a new program room on the main level, updated bathrooms, a youth services activity room and updated services areas.