Tokar ready to take the helm
BY STEVE METSCH firstname.lastname@example.org May 3, 2013 9:58AM
Incoming Chicago Ridge mayor and longtime village clerk Chuck Tokar. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 3, 2013 1:47PM
Chuck Tokar has been training for his new job for nearly 40 years.
In fact, he spent the last 24 years working about 20 feet from his new office at the Chicago Ridge Village Hall.
Tokar, 59, who previously was a village trustee for 14 years, has been village clerk since 1989. And last month, Chicago Ridge voters elected him to be their new mayor.
Yes, it does seem odd to have the words “new mayor” and “Chicago Ridge” in the same sentence. After all, those words haven’t been uttered since 1975.
But Gene Siegel decided to not seek re-election, ending his long run as mayor. His hand-picked successor has been his right-hand man for a long, long time.
“I think Chuck is well-prepared for the job. He’ll do fine,” Siegel said.
Residents apparently agree since nobody ran against Tokar in the April 9 election.
“(I am) moving about 20 feet. It should be interesting,” Tokar said.
“It’s pretty exciting. It’s going to be a challenge, I know that. But I think I’ve had one of the best mentors an incoming mayor could have.
“Gene and I have been together all that time, first (with me being) a trustee and then as clerk. We each have our styles, but he has taught me an awful lot.
“I’ve not stepped on his toes, and he’s given me a lot of responsibility here in the office. We don’t argue very much. Since my dad passed away in ’95, he’s almost been like a second father to me,” Tokar said.
Tokar said he learned from watching the way Siegel handles people.
“He’s a great government service person. He believes in helping people, in treating people the way you want them to treat you,” Tokar said.
Siegel’s empty shoes are big, but Tokar has plans.
“Most communities like us are struggling with the economy for the last five years. Certainly, we’ll do our part to revitalize areas that could be a TIF (tax increment financing) district,” he said.
“The Harlem Avenue properties between Southwest Highway and the Interstate 294 overpass, which include (the vacant) Yellow Freight site, are ripe for a TIF district,” Tokar said.
“Plus there are properties like where the Aldi store used to be.
“There’s a lot of potential there. We’ve talked to some developers, and they are excited. We could see a mixed-use development that would bring jobs in,” he said.
Like any mayor, he’s looking for new revenue sources for his community. Far be it better if out-of-towners foot the bill for village services by paying sales taxes than by boosting property taxes, he said.
At Chicago Ridge Mall over the holidays, he’d stroll through the lot, checking vehicle stickers.
“About five of 10 were from Chicago. Maybe one or two of 10 were Chicago Ridge. The rest were from surrounding suburbs,” he said.
“If that’s the case, and the mall is our biggest source of revenue, our people are not getting hit as hard,” he said.
As clerk, he also was the budget officer. That gives more insight over someone, for example, who never held public office in the village.
“It definitely helps,” said Tokar, who will be sworn in May 28.
Tokar grew up in Chicago Ridge, where his family ran Tokar’s Supper Club for 25 years.
After he was elected clerk, he helped start the popular summer event, RidgeFest, and still chairs the committee.
Tokar earned a master’s degree in public administration from Governors State University in 1982, and graduated from the Northern Illinois University Law School in 1978.
He is the divorced father of one son. “My pride and joy,” Charlie, 24, is working on his master’s in finance at DePaul University, he said.