Calderone struggles with #MeToo, diversity

After recent comment some question mayor's commitment to diversity

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By Nona Tepper

A controversial statement made by Mayor Anthony Calderone on social media — which many interpreted as insulting to the #MeToo movement — has some questioning his commitment to inclusivity in Forest Park. In the nearly three years since the village's diversity committee was formed, the group's head said Calderone has never asked for advice on #MeToo — or any other matter — and has often ignored the group's suggestions. 

The #MeToo movement started in 2006, as a way to help survivors of sexual violence — particularly low-income women of color — find support, resources and a community. A decade later, the movement has received international recognition, particularly in late 2017 after several actresses accused media mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment. Actress Alyssa Milano — who accused Weinstein — encouraged those who have been victims of sexual assault to tweet their experience or solidarity with the hashtag #MeToo in October 2017. Several celebrities have since embraced the movement, and #MeToo has led to important conversations about male privilege and power across the world. The discussion has now found its way to Forest Park. 

On Dec. 25, Calderone posted on Facebook, "The drones started an It Too movement" with a laughing emoji, in response to a question about whether recreational drones can be used in town. Calderone later commented that he was referring to the movie It, which is about a killer clown. 

His Facebook comments struck resident Katherine Andersen Rialmo as "ignorant," and she said she did a double-take when she first saw them, to make sure that she wasn't misinterpreting what Calderone was saying. "It was just so blatantly obvious that #MeToo was what he was referencing," she said in a phone interview. As a victim of sexual assault who is now raising a daughter, Andersen Rialmo said she wants to set an example for her child, speak up for a movement she believes in and advocate for other survivors. 

"This is absolutely disgusting and insanely disrespectful to those affected by the Me Too movement, including myself," she posted in reply to Calderone's comment on Facebook. "I expect more from those who hold public office in our town, especially the mayor. You need to publicly apologize for your insulting comments."  

After she posted her comment, Andersen Rialmo said she received several messages to her personal and business social media pages, calling her "crazy," a "drama queen," and saying that "she needed to get laid." She said she reported the comments to Facebook and the internet company has deleted them. In addition to Calderone's offensive comments, she said his complete denial of her feelings — and those of other residents who were offended by his post — upset her. Andersen Rialmo believes this could have been a "teaching moment for Calderone," and he should have apologized to those whose feelings he upset. 

"He's not going to be re-elected, he's not running again, so that's awesome. I would just hope that whoever's coming in [should] just give a little bit of respect to the people who have been through this," Andersen Rialmo said.

"I feel like in Forest Park there's a pretty hard political divide, with the more liberal Democrats and the very conservative Republicans," she added. "There's not a whole lot of middle ground here. There's bound to be disagreements; often that can happen in a respectful way. Because #MeToo affects me so greatly, I'm not going to ignore it because if nobody else says anything, he's going to think that's OK, and it's going to happen again and again."  

In an email to the Forest Park Review on Dec. 27, Calderone said: "I would never, ever make fun of the MeToo movement; to even insinuate such a thing is simply absurd." 

This is not the first time Calderone has gotten in hot water over cultural insensitivity. In November 2014, Calderone attempted to pass the now-infamous "saggy pants" ordinance, which would have criminalized those whose pants drooped below the waistline. He faced local and regional pushback over the issue, with many saying he was advocating racial profiling. As a reaction, he promised to form a diversity commission in the village. After two years of waiting, the commission was finally formed, with resident Kate Webster appointed as its chairperson. Webster serves as director of student diversity and multicultural affairs at Rush University Medical Center. 

She was not surprised by Calderone's comment about the #MeToo movement, noting that it was reflective of a larger issue Forest Park has with diversity and that change is needed to make the village more inclusive. 

"You have to know as a political official there's going to be a lot of eyes on your comments," Webster said, "and to specifically use something that has had so much of positive impact to empower women, it's almost beyond poor taste. It's incredibly dismissive.

"I think it's reflective of a larger problem Forest Park has, of feeling like it's either one thing or another, Christian or not, old-school working class or not, which came up with the video gaming. It's incredibly binary, very, very outdated in the whole world of diversity and inclusion. You just can't roll like that anymore; too many people have too many intersecting identities." 

Webster said if she were an elected official, she would quickly reply to those hurt and apologize, clarifying that she didn't mean to offend and try to learn more about the movement. She wasn't surprised when Andersen Rialmo was instead personally and professionally attacked for pointing out Calderone's insensitivity. 

"It's easier for them to blast her as an evil person than to potentially believe that Calderone is an insensitive person who doesn't care about women who are victimized and harassed, which his comment could say," she said. 

"To the person who says, 'I'm walking on eggshells, everyone's too politically correct,' it's our job to be educated about the issues and to be curious and to ask questions. To be open."

When the diversity commission was created, Webster said, she was charged with serving as a voice for the community, advising the mayor and village council and helping craft policies related to inclusivity. But Calderone has "never reached out to me in my whole three years in office, never." 

In addition to a lack of use — "there's no guidance as to what type of programming or events. My wife works on the plan commission; they have a set agenda in reaction to things that come up. There's never any prescription for things coming forward," Webster said — Calderone also recently appointed two additional members to the commission without asking her, increasing the number of members to nine. 

"It made it much more difficult for us to have quorum," she said. "There's no discussion with me about who those two individuals are, what direction are you going in, what gaps do you see, do you want to expand to nine people. It was just, 'Here, you have two new members.'"  

Without a quorum — which is the minimum number of members necessary at any meeting to make the proceedings of that meeting valid — the diversity commission cannot enact any ideas discussed. 

Recently, the group recommended to Calderone that the digital sign outside the Howard Mohr Community Center read, "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas," since "it's a privilege I get my holiday off from work," Webster said. "Nobody wishes Happy Diwali or Kwanzaa. Happy holidays is a start of being aware of the other holidays. It's not a religious thing; it's about inclusion." 

Calderone ignored their recommendation and had "Merry Christmas" posted on the digital sign and sent to residents as a water bill notification. 

"Change is needed. More work needs to be done to build community consciousness and using issues as a springboard to talk about how we talk about sensitive issues, rather than blaming the individuals," Webster said. "Look at it as reflective of what we need to do better. When you cross the aisle, you also need to be open to others' perspectives." 

Come February, the diversity commission will meet on the second Thursday of the month.   

CONTACT: ntepper@wjinc.com

Reader Comments

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Comment Policy

Geoff Binns-Calvey  

Posted: January 11th, 2019 1:11 AM

Mary, thanks for the clarification!

Mary Win Connor  

Posted: January 9th, 2019 2:47 PM

Geoff, Yes the statute says "A signer MAY NOT sign petitions for a candidate of more than one political party for the same primary election. (10 ILCS 5/7-10)". However, as Ken Snyder and I discussed on Facebook several months ago that statute has been applied to opposing candidates in non-partisan elections. The petitions have to be challenged in order for the signatures to be voided which did not happen in this election. But Pam is correct that it could have happened.

Geoff Binns-Calvey  

Posted: January 9th, 2019 11:32 AM

Pam, the statute is pretty clear, if you look at the bottom of page 15. It applies to partisan primary elections. This is not such a case. Thanks!

Pam Fontana  

Posted: January 9th, 2019 10:23 AM

Geoff, if she signed both Harris and Hoskins petitions same applies.

Pam Fontana  

Posted: January 9th, 2019 10:22 AM

Geoff, partisan or not, you cannot sign petitions for more candidates than are running for the office. So if she signed for the slate, she could not sign another commissioner petition.

Kris McCoy  

Posted: January 8th, 2019 4:04 PM

Ms. Fitz-Henry, I applaud your open-mindedness and your commitment to fair and open elections. I cannot imagine why someone would sneer at or try to denigrate your actions.

Geoff Binns-Calvey  

Posted: January 8th, 2019 3:37 PM

Pam, you would be correct if ths was a partisan election. But this April 2nd ballot is non-partisan. I'm sure, like me, you want as many people to participate in our democracy as possible. Here's the code, see bottom of page 15. Thanks! https://www.elections.il.gov/Downloads/ElectionInformation/PDF/2019CanGuide.pdf

Pam Fontana  

Posted: January 7th, 2019 11:11 AM

Ms. Fitz-Henry said: "I was happy to sign a petition to run for office for a man that I stood next to at an election site even though he was handing out palm cards for video gambling and I was handing out palm cards against it." ...... I sure hope that you didn't also sign the slate of 4s petition because that would invalidate your signature on both petitions then.

Jan Stephens  

Posted: January 5th, 2019 8:09 PM

When the POTUS shows a complete inability to respect a huge variety of people, citizens engage in imitation. Now our soon to be former mayor misses yet another chance to show women a modicum of understanding. And of course, nasty villagers follow suit, calling a certain woman crazy, drama queen and on and on. It's so dismaying to see the baser aspects of mostly men on display in this discussion. Are you sick of it? Me too...

Mary Win Connor  

Posted: January 5th, 2019 8:48 AM

Amy, your comment goes along with what I have been saying for some t i'l me. The town is bitterly divided and any mayoral or commissioner candidate should be working on a plan to bring the factions together and create a town where we can agree to disagree.

Michelle Andres Fitz-Henry  

Posted: January 4th, 2019 7:49 PM

I agree. The upcoming election is an opportunity. I was so happy to read that no candidate challenged another candidate. Granted, if there is concern that something unethical happened - certainly challenge, but I have become so entirely sick of the challenges just to keep people off the ballot which has been done in the past. That kind of old school crap not only tried to discourage people from running for public office but left a bad taste in everyone's mouth to even be engaged in the community. I was happy to sign a petition to run for office for a man that I stood next to at an election site even though he was handing out palm cards for video gambling and I was handing out palm cards against it. We stood on opposite sides of an issue but that doesn't mean we stand on opposite sides of every issue and he seemed like a decent man. My stand on video gambling and his side on video gambling, although opposite, does not make me think he shouldn't run for office. Of course I might think differently if he tried to get that reinstated but I am open minded that he took the vote as it was and that he deserves a chance to throw his hat in the ring too. This is an opportunity to come together. We should take it. We would be fools not too.

Amy Binns-Calvey  

Posted: January 4th, 2019 1:15 PM

I think this situation is an opportunity for Forest Parkers in the upcoming election. I believe that our Mayor did not intend for people to be upset, but things devolved into another divisive situation (like the discussions over VG). We should ask the candidates how they would handle situations like this, and see if they have ideas to defuse conflict. We are not ever going to all agree (that's what makes our village vibrant). What we need in the next administration are strategies to help us find common ground and to avoid these kinds of storms.

Michelle Andres Fitz-Henry  

Posted: January 3rd, 2019 11:02 PM

@Mary Win Conner - that sounds so good- and I agree. If only it didn't come from you - I might have bought into that.

Gina Garrison  

Posted: January 3rd, 2019 10:42 PM

@Mary Win Connor - lead by example? That's all we can do, right?

Geoff Binns-Calvey  

Posted: January 3rd, 2019 10:21 PM

Mary, if I come across as "snarky or sarcastic" here, be assured that my gut response was much less gentle, after seeing some of the derisive and dismissive posts below.

Mary Win Connor  

Posted: January 3rd, 2019 8:48 PM

Unfortunately IMHO the biggest struggle in Forest Park right now is the inability for people to have a civil conversation while disagreeing. Snark, sarcasm, profanity and deriding the views of others is the new norm. Perhaps we could start a movement geared towards giving respect to ideas and opinions of everyone regardless of whether we agree with them or not.

Brian Kuhr  

Posted: January 3rd, 2019 6:28 PM

I appreciate the Review taking time to cover this story. In the past, misogynistic remarks were not always deemed worthy of coverage here: https://www.bettergov.org/news/suburban-mayor-blames-alleged-assault-victim

Geoff Binns-Calvey  

Posted: January 3rd, 2019 5:47 PM

Steve and JJ, I just wanted thank you for the clarification. You're probably right. See, I had thought that these women were Forest Parkers and neighbors, who, after years of silently suffering institutionalized, consequence free, sexual harassment, had finally found a voice in the MeToo movement, which simply says this behavior is wrong, and has to stop. And those women got all upset, when a local leader trivialized the MeToo movement with an offhand bad joke, and didn't acknowledge the hurt that it brought. See, I thought it was all complicated like that. But you're probably right. These women are just... "crazies". Thanks for the heads up!

Steven Woltman  

Posted: January 3rd, 2019 4:11 PM

Ms. Fitz-Henry, there are a lot of people, myself included, who are very offended by this abject practice of letting ones rear end be publicly displayed, and the whole issue was blown out of proportion by the crazies. Nothing was done to the Mayor of Maywood when he adopted the ordinance (which occurred before our Mayor brought it forward). Not one word by their community or by local or national news. He wasn't accused of being racist like our Mayor was. We Forest Parkers should have been angry that our Mayor was so blatantly targeted and villainized for trying to create a more wholesome environment for our children. Instead, the crazies jumped right on that bandwagon. Yet, it remains illegal in Maywood, without controversy.

John Gorny  

Posted: January 2nd, 2019 8:33 PM

I wonder if the mayor and Anderson-Rialmo would ever sit down and talk to each other face to face about this?

Michelle Andres Fitz-Henry  

Posted: January 2nd, 2019 7:22 PM

In my opinion the reason the mayor has not reached out EVER to the Diversity Committee is because the only reason there is a Diversity Committee is because of his lack of community understanding in trying to pass a "saggy pants" ordinance. He didn't see the backlash coming and when it did he promised a "Diversity Committee." It took him YEARS to authorize that committee and, please correct me if I am wrong, and when his feet where put to the fire as to where that stood he did authorize a diversity committee that was virtually all white. In regard to the message on the digital sign, Merry Christmas is good (and I dig that) as long as others have not suggested that they too be recognized. They did. They weren't. Why not? Why not just put them all on the digital sign? Just to dig your heals in? Good way to alienate an community that is more diverse than ever. I read the post the mayor offered. I did see that it reflected the #metoo movement. I have not suffered from that but could easily see that was in poor taste. I agree that an apology would have gone a long way ?" especially if it was not intended that way. I simple "I didn't intend it that way" would have cleared things up for those of us who were wondering. There was no apology so it seems as though it may have been intended. Didn't win the battle. Didn't win the war. Saying something that is even close to "I didn't mean it that way" or "I'm sorry" is not the "Forest Park Way." For now.

JJ Harrington  

Posted: January 2nd, 2019 5:42 PM

The mayor has absolutely nothing to apologize for. The fact is it appears that one person in this town took a conversation on social media out of context and had a meltdown and the rest of the self-absorbed progressive community including this newspaper jumps on board and makes a disgusting attempt to vilify the mayor. By the way this is not reporting, it is a thinly veiled attempt to give one group a platform to lash out at public officials and other citizens who they feel do not conform sufficiently to their views on issues.

Steven Woltman  

Posted: January 2nd, 2019 4:31 PM

Wow! I've read some crazy stuff over the years but this one takes the cake. This lady is waaaay too sensitive. People often use common catch phrases and play on those words to describe another circumstance. It's not unusual but IT IS unusual to get offended so easily. "Sticks and Stones," folks. Get some thicker skin for God's sake and don't be such a drama queen. As for Ms. Webster, if the Mayor needs to lead your group, what does he need you for? He doesn't set the agenda, you do. And, you're specifically charged with a duty by ordinance. The Mayor isn't supposed to seek you out for guidance, however you're supposed to be providing guidance via reports back to the Village Council. Have you made any recommendations? Have you done ANYTHING yet with your Commission? You're supposed to be conducting seminars and partnering with other organizations to help educate the community on diversity and inclusion. You don't need his input or permission. It's your job as defined by ordinance. Must the Mayor call you into his office and give you a pep talk in order for you to proceed with the tasks you've been given? How old are you? I cannot believe you're in charge of any professional office. Grow up. And, finally, as for the Merry Christmas drama, just to ensure that we're clear here, it is the Christmas holiday season and has been since the birth of Christianity. Duh. It's time for everyone to chill out.

Amy Binns-Calvey  

Posted: January 2nd, 2019 4:29 PM

If the mayor had made a sincere apology, I believe this would have been resolved. I understand that he might not have known how upsetting the post was, and if that was the case, stating that, and apologizing, would have gone a long way in helping. Instead he basically said it was ridiculous to be upset, thereby dismissing people's concerns. The #MeToo movement is important to many people, myself included.

Linda Fairbanks from FOREST PARK  

Posted: January 2nd, 2019 4:24 PM

How about programing the sign to read both Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays? I'd love to see greeting and good wishes appropriate to the various religious communities FP enjoys.

Chuck Taddeo  

Posted: January 2nd, 2019 4:00 PM

It looks like our only local newspaper is trying to find another divisive issue to bring us together in 2019 and start the year off on the right foot. Foisting the VG issue on us wasn't enough. Stirring the pot sells newspapers, and if you can promote an agenda at the same time, well, thats what I call power.

Gus Calderone  

Posted: January 2nd, 2019 12:42 PM

Nona you forgot to add the amazing respectful post by Rialmo "December 25, 2018 at 11:35 AM When is this piece of shit out of office? Mayor APOLOGY NEEDS TO HAPPEN IMMEDIATELY. oh, and two newspapers have already contacted me for interviews and I will be doing them."

Gus Calderone  

Posted: January 2nd, 2019 12:38 PM

Hey Kate.. It's Merry Christmas.. Also IT is not ME, maybe some people should understand how two people can have two totally different outlooks on something, but to give ONE person a front page article on their privileged outrage is what the review loves to do.

Pam Fontana  

Posted: January 2nd, 2019 12:26 PM

I think this village has collectively lost its mind. Now there's an issue with Merry Christmas being on a sign in town? And Ms. Webster, what's with 'it's a privilege I get my holiday off from work' even mean? As for the original intent of this 'article', it's unreal that this turned into what it turned into. Here is what she so generously posted on a Facebook page about the whole thing; "When is this piece of shit out of office? Mayor APOLOGY NEEDS TO HAPPEN IMMEDIATELY. oh, and two newspapers have already contacted me for interviews and I will be doing them." This woman takes offense easily it seems and uses swear words with abandon in her posts. Very hard to take her seriously but obviously the Review, with its profound dislike of the current council jumped right on it.

Kate Nolan  

Posted: January 2nd, 2019 9:22 AM

An excellent piece. One amendment: Tarana Burke is the founder of #MeToo, though Milano amplified it. The work of Black women is too often erased. And big kudos to Andersen-Rialmo for highlighting this offensive post and to Kate Webster for showing us how the next mayor can improve the use of this very important commission. The lack of leadership on issues of diversity is one important reason why it is time for a new mayor.

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