By Nona Tepper
A crowd of about 70 packed the auditorium of Forest Park Middle School on Feb. 19, listening to mayoral candidates Rory Hoskins and Chris Harris broadly outline their platforms.
Both Hoskins and Harris served as commissioners on the village council—Hoskins for eight years and Harris for four years—and went on to unsuccessfully challenge Emanuel "Chris" Welch for state representative of the seventh district. In 2015, Harris also challenged Mayor Anthony Calderone for the village's top spot. He lost that race, and Hoskins endorsed Calderone.
"I hope that my time spent on the board [maximized] that every person who was in the minority, or felt like they were in the minority, I like to think that I was their voice. I spoke truth to power when necessary and advanced the ideas that I think we all believe in," Harris said at the forum, which was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Oak Park and River Forest. After serving as commissioner, Harris said he went on to serve as president of the Kiwanis Club of Forest Park for two years, as well as hold resident forums to discuss topics such as video gaming.
He said he believes the state will legalize adult use of recreational marijuana, which will help fill the approximately $300,000 budget hole video gambling left. He called the village's budget shortfall a "major issue," saying that the village needs to aggressively pursue grant funding, collect unpaid village tickets, and invest in the Chamber of Commerce. The village has projected a $1.89 million budget shortfall this fiscal year.
"Right now, the chamber has restarted the economic development committee (EDC) without the complete support of village hall, which I think is a little bit of a mistake. I think you need an all-in approach," Harris said. "I think you need the local banks in with the village, I think you need to be, as a mayor, you're out recruiting businesses individually. It's not just an effort of the EDC."
Hoskins said expanding the village's economic base was its "number one problem," saying that he'd like to reduce the village's operating expenses, see the village engage in a marketing campaign similar to Bedford Park's commercials on WBBM radio, consistently support the Chamber of Commerce and develop a section of the Altenheim property. He called developing a portion of the village-owned property his first priority as mayor.
"Expanding our economic base by developing portions of that property does not have to be mutually exclusive from keeping green space there," he said, calling the ad hoc Cultural Park committee's proposal for how to develop the space a "great starting point."
Harris said he's "100 percent" behind the ad hoc Cultural Park committee's plans, and likewise believes the front part of the property that faces Madison Street could be sold off and developed into a boutique hotel, which he said could help fund the plans for the back.
"Our events, our getting together, our interacting with our neighbors, that's one of our strengths," Harris said. "Fourth of July, RibFest, these are the things that bring us together and getting people out from behind their keyboards and back talking to each other is a very important thing."
He said face-to-face conversations were key to healing "the divide in town."
Hoskins said he believed healing over the video gaming referendum would happen organically.
"You have to make everyone feel like they're heard, you have to continue dialogue, you have to make people feel like they're involved in the village planning," he said. "The next mayor should just be accessible, should be a good listener and should work to hear all sides of peoples concerns."
He called for increasing funding to the village's Diversity Commission—"their budget is a mere $2,000 and that's not a lot for a year's worth of programming."
Harris said the Diversity Commission should be placed in a reporting role to the village council and "run through the village's hiring policies." He also said he would support Proviso High Schools District 209 "in any way possible," naming providing police support for traffic control at them as an example.
"The interaction that's happened in the past through Proviso and municipal governments has all been bad, you need to have minimum interference and maximum support," he said.
Hoskins said he would support Proviso East having its homecoming parade in Forest Park again, sending its band to play at Park District of Forest Park events, look into creating "non-traditional learning opportunities" for students at village hall and more.
During his time on the council, Hoskins said he felt proud that he was able to provide resources to the local schools, advocate for the creation of the Roos Recreation Center and bring home state money for road improvements. After he left the post, Hoskins said he continued to coach soccer at the park district, served on the board of the Historical Society of Forest Park for a year, and volunteered on Chris Kennedy's campaign for governor.
"We have our own unique village, we have Ribfest, we have the annual Juneteenth event, and we have such a small school system, that parents can have a lot of impact on our school system," he said, adding: "I feel like my time on the village was a positive impact to the village, and I'd like to bring that back to Forest Park."