By Nona Tepper
Forest Park elected its first black mayor on April 2, with record numbers of voters flooding the polls to make sure Rory Hoskins got into office. Hoskins received the most votes of any mayoral candidate in at least 20 years, winning every precinct in the village.
In a village with a difficult racial history, Hoskins said he believes his win is significant, particularly for black residents who have lived in the village for a long time. He will take office May 13.
"For older African-American residents of Forest Park who remember things like segregation, whether legal or de facto, it's extremely significant to have an African-American serving as mayor," Hoskins said.
"Just given the fact that Forest Park is a community that has experienced a lot of integration in the last two decades, to go from a community with no African-American elected officials in a long time to suddenly having an African-American mayor, it just shows the community is open to electing a more diverse group of people."
He feels strongly about increasing local transparency and lobbying Springfield for Forest Park causes, with his main priority upon assuming office being to secure state money to knock down the dilapidated village-owned Altenheim buildings.
"I'm passionate about bringing people in Forest Park together; I'm passionate about molding this new council and getting together to work with my colleagues," Hoskins said, noting that outgoing Mayor Anthony Calderone called him after the election.
From 2007 to 2015, Hoskins served as village commissioner under Calderone, and was the first black representative to fill that post. During the campaign, Hoskins racked up a number of high-profile endorsements, particularly from Congressman Danny Davis (7th), who pledged to help him fundraise. But he did not receive the green light of Calderone. Instead he endorsed Chris Harris, who went on to receive the lowest number of votes of any mayoral candidate in at least 20 years. Harris also ran an unsuccessful and antagonistic bid for mayor against Calderone in 2015.
In response to an interview request about his next steps, Harris pointed to a letter he wrote in this week's Review, which states, "I know some are angry and are saying extreme things like they have given up faith or are leaving town — I say don't."
He wrote that he will continue to be involved with the Kiwanis Club of Forest Park, hold town halls and volunteer around the village.
"We have some good people who won, some people I know who want the best for Forest Park. We should give them a chance … and hold them accountable when needed," Harris wrote.
Hoskins said he has not spoken to Harris yet.
Hoskins captured nearly 59 percent of the vote, compared to Harris' 41 percent, which also represents the greatest spread between candidates in two decades.
Hoskins pointed to easier access to the polls as to why he racked up a historically high number of votes and also pointed to his experience in the community.
"I'll let my actions speak louder than my words," Hoskins said about how he could sway Harris' supporters. "I'm going to be a good mayor. Hopefully they can recognize that."
Hoskins is a soccer coach and parent of four, including a third-grader at Field-Stevenson Intermediate Elementary School. He works as an attorney and ran with a progressive slate of commissioner candidates named Forest Park Forward. Of that slate, only Jessica Voogd was elected in the crowded commissioner race.
"I want to give a shout out to Forest Park Forward, all the commissioner candidates; they worked really hard," Hoskins said at Shanahan's on April 2.
In a separate phone interview, Voogd said she was still processing the results. She was the third-highest vote getter in the election, with incumbent Dan Novak capturing the most, newcomer Ryan Nero coming in second and incumbent Joe Byrnes finishing fourth.
"If we can be candid with each other in discussions, open to new ideas, I think we can find some success," she said of the new commissioner mix.
Voogd said she wants to drive economic development and sustainability in Forest Park, updating the village website and creating a mobile app, "making us approachable and easily accessible." She thanked Forest Park Forward for supporting her in the campaign.
"We had different opinions and different perspectives and I just really truly hope that I can give some life to that and make that a reality in the next four years," she said.
Byrnes, who served the last four years, said he felt good about being elected to his second term.
"Everybody ran a clean campaign," he said of the commissioner's race.
He thanked his family — calling out his wife, daughter and son — as well as Mike Thompson, who runs the American Legion, and "all the friends who devoted time to help me go door-to-door and pass out information."
"I was blessed a lot," he said.
The first thing commissioners need to do, he said, is sit down and get to know each other.
"This is a unique situation; this is the first time we had a different mayor in 20 years," Byrnes said. "Management style and things like that will be different, so we just have to sit down, probably have a special meeting and discuss what positions people have and what should we be working on right off the bat, so we can come out on a roll and get things done."
He said commissioner candidate Ryan Russ is a great guy with a future in politics. Russ did not respond to interview requests about the election.
A lifelong Forest Parker, Russ aligned his campaign with Novak and Byrnes.
"I'm not going anywhere and looking forward to a positive, productive Forest Park future," he posted on social media.
Novak was unavailable for an interview about his win. Nero did not respond to interview requests.