When he was first elected mayor in 1999 Anthony Calderone had no idea that he would serve as mayor for the next 20 years, becoming the longest-serving mayor in village history. He merely wanted to get his hometown moving again and stop what he considered the decay of the town. But once in office he found that he loved the job, and he also seemed to enjoy the power that came with it. He went on to serve five terms and defeated four opponents along the way, parting with an emotional goodbye at the May 13 Village Council meeting.
On Monday night he spoke with the Forest Park Review in an extended telephone interview about his time in office and what it feels like to no longer hold the post.
Calderone said that he immensely enjoyed being mayor, which is likely no surprise to anyone who ever watched him preside over a meeting.
"My heart, gut, soul was all the way in to being mayor," Calderone told the Review. "Forest Park's been my life and (being) mayor ended up becoming my passion. I never thought I would be mayor 20 years but after you start serving and you find out that you can do good at what you're doing it tends to grow on you so I truly feel like I left part of my heart at the village."
Calderone said that he takes pride in the revitalization of Madison Street, the professionalization of village operations, and all sorts of improvements to Forest Park.
Very few ever questioned Calderone's love for Forest Park, where he has lived his entire life.
"I think Tony was a good mayor," said Calderone's successor Rory Hoskins, who started as an ally of Calderone's but later turned a critic. "I think he certainly cared about Forest Park. He knew Forest Park very well."
Calderone prided himself on being a mayor who got things done. He wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty.
After a terrible flood in 2011, garbage and water damaged furniture piled up around town. When the village's waste hauler couldn't send a truck out to help Calderone took matters into his own hands and quickly arranged for the village to hire a garbage truck to come out. And Calderone spent a long day walking behind the garbage truck tossing all kinds of things into it.
"I never ever thought I would end up working behind a garbage truck," Calderone said at his last Village Council meeting.
While Calderone might have dropped out of Proviso East High School, he used his business smarts and hard work to benefit the village. He dropped by Village Hall almost every day during his time as mayor, although some say that his commitment waned over the last couple of years and that he had sort of tuned out.
Village Administrator Tim Gillian, a childhood friend who delivered newspapers with Calderone as a boy and then became a long-time political ally, disputed the notion that Calderone tuned out at the end.
"As someone who worked with him every day, I don't think that's true," Gillian said. "I talked to Tony a minimum of once a day every day and most of those included Saturdays and Sundays."
His long-time administrative assistant Sally Cody said that Calderone was an extremely knowledgeable and involved mayor.
"He was very hands on and very detailed orientated," said Cody who also is retiring. "There wasn't a lot that slipped by him."
Critics say he was too involved for a small town, part-time mayor, and that he too often interfered with staff. But Calderone liked delving into the details.
Calderone especially enjoyed working with other elected officials, which was apparent when the former mayors of Westchester and Elmhurst — who, like Calderone, are both Italian — and Cook County Clerk Karen Yarborough attended and praised Calderone at his final village council meeting.
Calderone started his own alarm company, Illinois Alarm, when he was just 22 years old. Before becoming mayor Calderone served as an auxiliary police officer and in 1992 was appointed to the Police and Fire Commission by then-mayor Lorraine Popelka. He and Gillian were elected to the Village Council in 1995. In 1999 he challenged Popelka, who was running for her fourth term as mayor, and defeated her in a very tough race winning 55.66 percent of the vote.
In 2003 Calderone was unopposed but by 2007 Forest Park was divided into pro- and anti-Calderone camps and Calderone was challenged by his next-door neighbor and onetime school classmate Theresa Steinbach who had supported Calderone in 1999. Calderone defeated Steinbach winning 53.42 percent of the vote and bitter feelings lingered. But they might be thawing a bit.
"Recently she started to wave to me, so maybe that's a good sign," Calderone said.
Calderone won his last two mayoral races by similar solid but not large margins, defeating Marty Tellalian with 53.78 percent of the vote in 2011 and winning 52.01 percent of the vote to defeat Chris Harris in 2015.
Calderone said that age, he is 63, not fear of defeat was the main reason he decided not to run for another term as mayor.
"As time marches on the community changes, in people, in business, in revenues and, let's face it, I'm not getting any younger and so the ability to put in, literally, between the couple hats I was wearing easily 80 hours a week," Calderone said. "That gets a little more challenging as time marches on so that was a factor."
A few days before the April election Calderone endorsed Harris, even though the two had a bitter race between them four years ago and had feuded on social media. Some felt that Calderone's support of Harris was more of a rebuke to his competitor Hoskins, rather than an actual endorsement of Harris' candidacy.
"Campaigns are always spirited and time, I believe, sometimes mends, heals wounds and certainly I felt that Chris matured in the last four years and frankly he asked for my support," Calderone said of his decision to endorse Harris. "Chris was the only one that personally asked me for my support."
Calderone, who was strongly supported by this newspaper when he ran for mayor in 1999, has had an often difficult and contentious relationship with the Forest Park Review for at least the past 12 years. At times Calderone has refused to talk to the Review. He could be very sensitive to criticism.
Calderone said that he simply got tired of dealing with a constantly changing cast of editors and felt that some of them just assumed that there was wrongdoing going on.
"The editor's position has been like a revolving door and there's been good ones and there's been some not good ones," Calderone said.
Calderone said that some Review editors just assumed that wrongdoing was going on and didn't carefully check their facts.
"But if you're going to be an investigative reporter thinking that there's always something kinky going on, I think it's best that you always do your fact checking," Calderone said.
He said he also got tired of having to educate a new editor every couple of years, or even more frequently.
"In early days I would take the time to educate and reeducate and fully inform and then over the years I found myself having to do a lot of extra work for a newspaper that really should have been doing the work on their own," Calderone said. "It's weird to be constantly teaching. I don't think that's our role."
Calderone has left office after presiding over a few years of budget deficits. Forest Park has run budget deficits largely because of declining sales tax revenue, Calderone said. Calderone also angered those on both sides of the controversial video gaming issue first by not pushing for it and then quietly supporting adding it in 2016 in the face of an advisory referendum that opposed it by a two to one margin in 2013. Voters eliminated video gambling in a binding referendum last year and Calderone said that village will miss the revenue that video gambling generated, especially given the village's budget problems.
But that's not his problem anymore.
Looking ahead Calderone will spend more time with his two grandsons, one aged three and another who was born about a month ago.
He says it will take time for him to get accustomed to not being mayor.
"I need to just decompress," Calderone said. "I am certainly not going to be showing up at meetings. I don't think that's my place. There's a new regime there now and it's up to them to do whatever the future of Forest Park is going to be."