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Shnay: Upcoming election proof Park Forest politics have changed

Updated: January 17, 2013 6:18AM



We will begin with a little history lesson.

When Park Forest was still in its infancy, Mayor Henry Dietch stated the case for keeping political parties out of local elections. There was no Democratic way to sweep the streets and no Republican way to pick up garbage.

Holding to that theory, Park Forest’s Committee for Non-Partisan Local Government has kept that tradition alive, playing traffic cop in every local election by organizing forums and scheduling appearances for all candidates running for village office.

The only requirement the committee demanded was that all aspirants for office sign a pledge to run independent of party affiliation. The committee said it was not responsible for what the candidates said or wrote; only that each must run independently.

Newspaper deadlines being what they are, we can only report that as of Dec. 10, 20 people signed petitions for three places on the board of trustees, and six took petitions to run for three places on the library board. Because incumbent Trustees Bonita Dillard and Ken Kramer will not be running, there will be two new faces on the board next year, come what may.

There is no telling how many of the potential candidates will turn in petitions. Residents are passing petitions for more than one candidate, and it is suspected — but not yet proven — some are getting signatures for unannounced candidates.

It’s even more confusing since three people want to run for both village trustee and library board. Since the village controls library finances, should anyone win in both races, they need to choose which office they want.

For more than 50 years, local elections were held yearly with village trustees serving staggered three-year terms so that two positions on the board were up for election each April. Then, the Non-Partisan Committee played a strong role.

It was a time when candidates attended forums and coffees throughout the community. Citizen interest was high, and when you held one of these candidate coffees in your home, you made sure there was good attendance. It was not unusual for candidates to speak at eight to 10 such meetings in the weeks preceding an election.

Eight years ago, voters approved a referendum that changed terms of trustees to four years, with elections to be held every other year. In 2011, Mayor John Ostenburg won re-election over challenger JeRome Brown. That was the only contest. Three trustee candidates were unopposed, as were the two members of the library board. There was even one vacancy for the library that was unfilled.

This year things have changed, and that poses a problem for the Non-Partisan Committee, which in these days of declining voter interest is seeking ways to re-invent itself.

“We’ve been criticized for not getting more people interested in elections,” said board member Jack Donohue, “and we are looking how we can do this faced with this kind of election.”

Two years ago, four candidate forums were held with a format where each aspirant for office made a two-minute statement followed by a moderator asking each candidate written questions from the audience.

If all or most of the 26 people running for office file petitions (only some 130 signatures are needed), the Non-Partisan Committee is faced with the difficult challenge of trying to squeeze all candidates into these forums without it getting to be a free-for-all.

Filing of petitions will take place at village hall from Monday through Dec. 26.

Stay tuned for further developments.



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