Anyone who knows me understands that I have a passion for voting and immigration rights. It comes naturally to someone who earned the right to vote the moment I became a naturalized American citizen in 2015. Suffice to say I learned the hard way how easily constituents who do not call out irregular behaviors can have their voting rights stripped away.
And much in the same way as the national treatment of immigrants appalls me, I am alarmed by the behaviors we are starting to normalize locally in Forest Park, with political bullying, and bullying by bar owners aligned with the gambling lobby.
I was first drawn to Let Forest Park Vote because of voter suppression: 3,522 village residents signed a petition to place the issue of video gambling on the ballot. And the effort to prevent a vote was concluded with a last-ditch appeal by the gambling lobby to the Illinois Supreme Court, which declined to revisit the Appellate Court's unanimous ruling in favor of a vote.
Let Forest Park Vote is now part of case law in Illinois – and I take great satisfaction in that accomplishment by my fellow team members as a victory for the right to vote.
While I came to this issue thinking it was isolated to hyper-local voter suppression, the last few months have moved me from indifference to a full-throated support of the YES vote to prohibit video gambling in Forest Park.
Because the behaviors exhibited by our elected officials – intimidation, victim blaming, and not holding an elected official accountable for word and deed, are behaviors that cannot be normalized.
Because the incomes perceived by the Village amount to nothing more than 5 cents on the dollar, while the gambling terminal operators and bar owners make a combined total of 70 cents on the same dollar.
And because the latest quarterly report of funds from the opposition, posted October 15 on the Illinois State Board of Elections website, shows that of the almost $60,000 raised by the opposition, over $57,000 came from the gaming lobby, of which $15,000 came from a company based in New York which happens to own a casino in Rock Island, IL. $1,500, or less than 3%, came from bar owners.
None of this is normal.
Forest Park is the latest village in the cross-hairs of a gambling lobby who seeks to take over a town so as to remake it with a one-dimensional business model, that is neither family friendly, forward-facing, or in any way resembling that "small town charm" I have come to love.
The opposition has yet to present a reasonable plan for long-term sustainable economic growth for the Village – and I have given up on expecting one from the current officials in our Village Hall.
Local bars have no need to be dependent on the gambling lobby, when there is an emerging demographic in our village eager to embrace a more contemporary (and potentially more lucrative) alternative to a bar loaded down with one-armed bandits. A strong business development program can help local businesses re-invent themselves, attract new entrants with vision and gumption, and create new revenue streams that benefit all. There is opportunity with other demographics within our village and elsewhere: family-friendly environments, destination locations with attractions such as poetry slams, great food, and live music, or even just a quiet place for a craft drink where friends can gather to catch up.
Let Forest Park Vote is made up of your friends and neighbors. Some were born and raised in this village, others came from elsewhere, and some, like me, came from a different country to embrace the American dream. Personally, I will fight for your right to have a voice in this issue at the polls, much in the same way that I will continue to champion Forest Park and Illinois as a welcoming destination for all.
Early voting starts on October 22, and if you are not yet registered to vote, you can still do so through Election Day on November 6.
I urge you to join us in not normalizing these behaviors and tactics, all of which are ill-suited to our village.
We can aspire to be so much more in Forest Park.
I urge you to Vote YES to prohibit video gambling.
Forest Park Resident
Member of Let Forest Park Vote