What awaits our new 'Fab Five'

Opinion: Columns

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

A simple sign is on display at Moran's Garage, at Desplaines and Randolph. It reads, "Thanks, Tony, You Gave Us 20 Years +." I echo that sentiment. Regardless of what you think of his leadership, Forest Park's longtime mayor gave us over two decades of public service. 

Now he's making a graceful exit and leaving behind a possible legacy: the Altenheim property. Many residents hope to preserve a portion of this green space as a park. It was Tony's intention to protect the property from developers. 

Now that he's moving on, I hope it will be the end of politics as usual in Forest Park. For far too long, who you know has been more important than who you are. This kind of insider power isn't unique to Forest Park but it's not inclusive and can lend itself to corruption. 

For years, I was hoping a "fellowship of the ring" would rise up. They would be a group of citizens who better reflected the village's demographics. They would destroy the insider power but not for the purpose of grabbing personal power. They would be transparent in their dealings and keep villagers closely involved in decision-making. 

There's only one problem. J.R.R. Tolkien's original ring quest "fellowship" had nine members and we only have five elected officials. But my brain's chemistry has been altered by hours of watching basketball, so I don't want a fellowship, I want a basketball team. For a basketball team, or any team, to be successful, it has to have good chemistry. It has to have the right mix of veterans and younger players.

Therefore, we should consider electing two veterans and two rookies to the commissioner positions. We need seasoned players, who know the fundamentals of village government and are savvy at building long-term relationships. We need rookies to bring fresh ideas and a more modern approach to government. But another player is needed to round out the lineup.

We need a mayor to play point guard. This new mayor would be a facilitator who distributes the ball and sets up teammates for makeable shots. This mayor would delegate duties and place subordinates in positions where they can succeed. This kind of collaborative leader will be needed because the new mayor will be inheriting many longtime officials and staff members. 

The council will also be inheriting a fiscal deficit — the most-discussed issue at the candidate forums. There is no easy solution. Plans included proposals to cut costs and find new sources of revenue. Candidates also promised to seek grants and government funding. 

The other hot-button topic was the fate of the Altenheim property. There is huge interest in whether the property will be developed for residential use or preserved as green space. A packed meeting was recently held to discuss the future of the property. We heard from members of the Cultural Park Committee, residents of The Grove and Altenheim residents. Any successful plan will have to please constituencies with very different interests. 

It will be a difficult balancing act but preserving a portion as a park fits with the vision of Forest Park founder Ferdinand Haase, who created a park along the banks of the Des Plaines River. Mayor Calderone embraced this vision when he persuaded the village to purchase the property. 

Now that it's almost paid off, our starting five needs to find a way to create a green space that will serve all of us, without infringing on its neighbors. 

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries. Jrice1038@aol.com

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