By Nona Tepper
Sparks flew as mayoral candidates Chris Harris and Rory Hoskins called each other political animals at a debate on March 21, clashing over alleged secret council meetings and the other's commitment to diversity. The election is April 2.
"The campaign has already gotten dirty. There was an implication about a master plan and I think there was someone suggesting there was a manifesto," Hoskins said at the debate, which was sponsored by the Forest Park Review and Forest Park Chamber of Commerce.
Hoskins, a former village commissioner and president of the Proviso Township Democratic Organization, is part of a progressive slate of commissioner candidates calling themselves Forest Park Forward.
"People have said me and Forest Park Forward have a manifesto, that's not true," Hoskins said. "People have said that 'Rory Hoskins wants to shut down bars at 11 o'clock.' That's not true. There was an internet article that attributes a quote from me disparaging Sen. Dick Durbin, and it suggested I was a supporter of [Republican Sen. Jim] Oberweis -- that was a fabricated news article that appeared online."
Harris said that the campaign had gotten dirty months ago, alleging that an internet troll in support of his opponent had been trying to undermine his campaign.
"Rory has someone, I don't know if it's an official campaign volunteer, a well-known internet troll is going around and trying to undermine things, [personal messaging] people, goes online and tries to post things, and it just takes oxygen to try and swat it down because it's all nonsense," Harris said at the debate. "I don't know if it's approved by Rory, I would hope not."
Hoskins asked Harris to name the internet troll. Harris declined saying, "I don't want to even give him credit to put his name out there, honestly he doesn't deserve the attention." Hoskins countered that Harris was the one who brought him up.
Hoskins said that he had met, by invitation, with the Forest Park Diversity Commission recently and said that, if elected, he would give the group a calendar to work with, a larger budget and let them decide what events they would like to hold in town. He said Harris declined to meet with the group.
"Take them seriously," Hoskins said. "If they invite you to a meeting, go to the meeting."
Harris countered that he hadn't denied any invitation from the Diversity Commission -- calling the allegation "absolutely ridiculous" -- and attributed his absence to a scheduling conflict. He said he sent a surrogate in his place.
"I've attended multiple Diversity Commission meetings before," Harris said. "I'm glad Rory could finally get to one, because I've never seen him at one before."
Harris, also a former village commissioner, accused his opponent of "stabbing him in the back" during his time on the council, alleging that Hoskins decided issues before the official council meetings.
As an example, Harris named the run-up to the infamous "saggy pants" ordinance -- which would have criminalized those whose pants drooped below the waistline -- and alleged that Hoskins was a part of a "pre-meeting" of commissioners, where the group agreed to immediately table the ordinance without discussion.
"I don't think it takes a genius to realize that when someone's a political animal, they're a political animal," Harris said. "The last year with Calderone was pretty much every meeting with 4-1 votes."
Harris added: "The saggy pants ordinance, I had my own way to go and it was Rory Hoskins that immediately made the motion to table. Now when there is a motion to table, there is no discussion. So at that point my notes are out the window, and TV cameras are sitting in front of us for the 10 o'clock news."
Calderone faced local and regional pushback over the proposed ordinance, with many saying he was advocating racial profiling.
Hoskins said that right before the board was to vote on the saggy pants legislation, "some of us realized it was a bad idea and it was hurriedly decided to go ahead and table it right away."
If he and other board members had known about the ordinance before it appeared on the night's agenda, Hoskins said they would have questioned it earlier. He said he would empower the village administrator to share information with the council via regular reports.
"That way they can ask questions, receive feedback. That way there wouldn't be the need to kind of huddle up," he said. Hoskins added that he didn't owe anything to Harris since "I'm not that close to you" and "you're not my wife."
Hoskins then went on to call his opponent a "political animal," citing Harris' circulation of petitions for both commissioner and mayor this election and prior runs for Cook County commissioner, village commissioner, mayor and state representative as examples.
After serving one four-year term on the village council, Harris went on to challenge Mayor Anthony Calderone for the village's top spot in 2015. He lost that race, and Hoskins endorsed Calderone. Both Hoskins and Harris went on to unsuccessfully challenge Emanuel "Chris" Welch for state representative of the 7th District.
Harris said that his views have never changed.
"It has nothing to do with what offices you run for if your decisions, and your platform, and what you believe in stays the same," he said.