Shnay: Fine line, but line nonetheless, in Park Forest political spat
By Jerry Shnay Citizen Journalistfirstname.lastname@example.org April 18, 2013 9:18AM
Updated: May 22, 2013 6:10AM
If you made a movie of the recent election campaign in Park Forest, we suggest it be titled, “JeRome and Gary’s Strange Adventure.”
We are referring to village trustee-elect JeRome Brown and Trustee Gary Kopycinski, who runs a website dedicated to affairs of the village and the south suburbs.
In its annual meeting, the Committee for Non-Partisan Local Government took up the issue of Brown posting what reads like an endorsement of two other trustee wanna-bes on his Facebook page, as well as the use of Kopycinski’s website to support three other candidates.
The committee also questioned a flier that endorsed a slate of local and congressional candidates but could not determine who was responsible for it.
The committee has been part of the political process in Park Forest for more than two generations and views with apparent alarm any effort to publicly endorse candidates who are running as a group. It seems determined to keep alive the village’s nonpartisan election process.
That’s a laudable goal, but one that often has been compromised in the past. If nonpartisan voting is still alive, there are times one can barely detect a pulse from the patient.
The underlying question is whether there was a difference between the Brown and Kopycinski endorsements. It’s a question I was asked after I disapproved in a recent column of Brown’s support while merely mentioning the backing given on Kopycinski’s site.
Both endorsements seemed to violate Park Forest’s long tradition of nonpartisan campaigning. Why was Brown held to a different standard than Kopycinski — especially when it seems that because of the latter’s trustee seat, the digital publication has been viewed by some as an arm of village government?
The questions need an answer. Although Brown’s Facebook page and Kopycinski’s website both have free speech protection, the content is different.
Candidates who want to take part in the committee’s election forums agree not to run as part of a slate. In his defense, Brown said “someone else” put the endorsement on his page. On Election Day, a newer post urged voters to vote for him without any mention of other candidates. The older post was still there, however.
Kopycinski’s digital newspaper, whether you agree or not, has the same right to comment on issues as the paper in which this column appears. The endorsement was a “commentary” written and signed by Associate Editor Rosemary Piser.
In the letter to the committee, Kopycinski said he agreed that “full disclosure is good journalism” and in the future he would “clarify” that Piser was writing in her “official capacity.”
Kopycinski treads a fine line. In the past, his publication has dismayed village officials and angered this writer.
“The perception is that it is the official publication of the village is wrong,” Mayor John Ostenburg told the nonpartisan committee, adding that Kopycinski should clear up any confusion by “removing himself from the process.”
Brown thinks that’s not good enough.
He believes the publication “is a slap in the face” to everyone in Park Forest, likening it to the television commercial that mockingly says “if you read it on the Internet it must be true.”
One last comment. Play nice, guys. Remember that you now share oars on the same boat.