By Nona Tepper
A slate of prospective commissioners has coalesced around Rory Hoskins, who announced his plan to run for mayor in early October. Hoskins is a former village commissioner, president of the Proviso Township Democratic Organization, and member of the Illinois Municipal League. If elected to the mayoral post, he would be the first person of color to take the seat.
Hoskins is also the first prospective mayoral candidate to come forward for the April 2 election. Joining him on the slate are residents Jon Kubricht; Julianne Bonwit; Jessica Voogd; and Mark Boroughf, many of whom said they were motivated to run for public office because of the village's handling of the video gaming debate.
Of the four, only Jon Kubricht has attempted a run for village government before — in 2011 he ran for village commissioner, although his petitions did not survive a signature challenge by Elsie Radtke, the mother of current Village Commissioner Thomas Mannix. Mannix has said he will not seek re-election.
"I think the biggest challenge the village is facing is bringing everybody back together again," Kubricht said. "This whole video gaming thing has divided the village tremendously. Both sides need to find a happy middle ground. Even in the last two elections we've seen the division has been pretty extreme, pretty strong."
Kubricht disapproves of the way the Forest Park Village Council brought video gaming into town, legalizing the practice after a majority of residents voted against it in a non-binding referendum and through a survey on a water bill.
"I do have an issue with that process and that's why I voted Yes" to prohibit video gaming, he said.
In 2009, he also sued the village, accusing officials of illegally denying requests for records filed under the Freedom of Information Act. In that case, a judge ruled in the village's favor.
After losing his chance to run for village commissioner in 2011, he said he helped Hoskins campaign for commissioner, and then for state representative in 2012. Kubricht believes Hoskins is the right person to move the village forward, saying he supports a more transparent and responsive village government, as well as a long-term economic plan.
"We need a comprehensive budget that goes out five or 10 years," he said. "I really believe any community with the amount of revenue and income that we have needs to use it wisely and really map out areas that we could cut costs, save money and build up better reserves."
He believes the yearly budget process should be done at a time when residents can attend the meeting, so their feedback and perspective can be noted as the village plans its budget. If elected, Kubricht said he would also aim to post the village council's twice-monthly agendas a week in advance, rather than just the 48 hours required by law. A local property investor, he also owns an imported jewelry store in Chicago, and pointed to his experience working with business partners as an asset.
"I'll listen. I'm very respectful of other people's viewpoints," he said. "Even if they don't agree with my own, I'm there to do not necessarily what I want all the time, but what I hear people in this community asking to be done."
Pointing to her experience as a social worker, Julianne Bonwit said, "I feel like I have pretty strong communication skills. I think that can really help in building up some relationships throughout the different departments in the village."
Once the debate on video gaming is resolved, she believes there will be a need for leaders who are strong relationship-builders to help bridge the gap in town. She noted she was able to bridge the gap between District 91 schools — Bonwit has served on the Citizens Advisory Council's parent interest group — and village, after she successfully campaigned to get a stop sign installed near Garfield Elementary School, at the intersection of Jackson Boulevard and Hannah Avenue. This experience inspired her to get more involved with local politics.
"I'm a mom and a social worker," she said, "and I think those two things are all about, again, relationship building and consensus forming. I'm very solution-focused."
Bonwit appreciates that Hoskins has previously served as a village commissioner, understands village processes for getting things done and knows employees at village hall. During the nine years she's lived in the village, she finds it disheartening to see Commissioner Rachell Entler as the only woman on the board.
"I think that is a huge disadvantage," Bonwit said. "I think it would be great to have an equal board of men and women. It would be great if we could have more people of color on our board, Spanish-speaking people on our board, I think we need more inclusion."
She added that she is highly motivated by the women's movement. "It's easy to do the marches and maybe sit and call people but the harder [thing] is to actually do the work. I think it's time for all of us to step up and take responsibility and I want to do that."
A buyer and set director for various TV shows and movies, Jessica Voogd likewise believes the community would be stronger if the village, Park District of Forest Park and schools worked together.
"The more the community is involved, the better and stronger we all are. I think involving them and listening to them is definitely a key step," she said. "I think we can deal with anything if we're listening to each other, supporting each other and working together."
Voogd said she felt inspired to run for village commissioner after watching how the current village council mishandled the video gaming debate.
"I feel like that was something where if we listened to the citizens, and put it to a vote earlier, maybe it wouldn't have gotten so divisive," she said.
Voogd volunteered with Let Forest Park Vote on Video Gaming, a ballot initiative committee that supported a referendum on the practice in town.
She wants to see a more approachable and responsive village council, and more work done in the area of economic development. Before she moved to the village in 2015, she would frequently travel from her home in Chicago to go shopping at Forest Park's antique shops.
"It's just such a charming, great town; it's just figuring out ways to promote that," she said.
Naming the village's $1.9 million projected budget shortfall as the greatest challenge the village faces, Mark Boroughf said increased transparency in the village's bidding process and how officials award contracts would reduce expenses.
"We've got some big budget challenges ahead, a multimillion-dollar deficit. You can't do that too many years in a row where you're going to survive," he said. "So the timing certainly is right to have a critical eye on how the government's running fiscally."
As an asset to the post, he pointed to his experience as owner of the Roselle-based Printing Plus firm, where he said he negotiates with vendors, builds consensus with company stakeholders, and keeps a keen eye on contracts. Before his family started Printing Plus, his grandfather opened Rex Paint & Wallpaper Co., now the site of another paint shop on Madison Street. Boroughf added that he served as president of his condominium association in Chicago for 10 years, where he shepherded owners through bankruptcy on the part of the developer, assumption of building ownership by the residents, and a $1.1 million renovation of the property.
He, too, felt motivated to run for the post after watching how the village handled the video gaming debate.
"I'm inspired by those people who have been before me and emboldened by the support of the community," he said.
Resident Jordan Kuehn is acting as the group's campaign manager. Kuehn was the chairman of Let Forest Park Vote.
As of Nov. 5, the following political candidate groups were active: "Citizens for Anthony Calderone," which holds about $15,000 in its campaign war chest; "Citizens for Daniel J. Novak," which holds $911; "Citizens for Rachell Entler," which has $867; and "Citizens for Chris Harris," which has an empty balance, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.
In an email, Harris said he has been asked to run.
"I am concerned about the direction the village is headed," he said, "concerned about the things I was fighting for and warned about when I was in office … things that are only getting worse [fiscal health, transparency, long term planning, acceptance of public input]. I have been asked to run for commissioner as well as mayor, and I am seriously considering it. I will be talking to voters at the polls and listening to see if they have the same concerns."
A former village commissioner, Harris challenged Calderone in the 2015 mayoral race and lost by about 115 votes, according to the Cook County Clerk.
None of the other prospective candidates responded to interview requests about their intentions for the upcoming election.