Park Forest, IL-(ENEWSPF)- Mayor John Ostenburg will not seek re-election in the upcoming April 2019 consolidated election. After 20 years, another will wield the gavel in Park Forest. eNews Park Forest learned of this Saturday at Kiwanis Pancake Day as Mayor Ostenburg sat with his wife Jackie and his immediate predecessor, former Village President Pat Kelly.
Mayor Ostenburg will have served 20 years in his current position. The mayor told eNews Park Forest Tuesday night he told people when he ran the last time that “this would probably be my last term.”
“It’s been 20 years. Twenty years is a long time,” he said. “Twenty years as mayor, seven years as a trustee, two years as a state legislator: that’s 29 years, probably as much as anybody I’m familiar with has given to government. It was really kind of time in my mind.”
Mr. Ostenburg said there are only a few reasons he debated about possibly running again, “One of which was that I have been in line to become the new chairman of the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus for the coming year. The fact that there has not been a south suburbanite for some time in that role — I think Ed Zabrocki may have been the last person, I’m not sure — I thought, do I owe it to the South Suburban Mayors and Managers to stick it out and try another time? And I did weigh the possibility of running again just on that premise. But, in the final analysis, it was just a case of where I didn’t think that that was significant enough for me to try to do another term.”
“I don’t know that there was anything that’s earth shaking about it,” he continued. “I had told a number of people at different times that the 20-year mark was really kind of a milestone.”
His thoughts about 29 years in public service?
“Well, it’s been a good ride,” he laughed. “Actually, I was first elected as a trustee in ’85 and served five years, first a two year term and then a three year term. After a couple of close runs at the legislature, I managed to serve two years there, then coming back to the board in ’97, and then being elected in ’99.
“I think it’s been a good opportunity to serve the community. I tried to do that to the best extent that I can,” he said.
“These are not easy times to be in office in the South Suburbs,” the mayor reflected. “Until we begin to see some significant changes in [Cook] County tax system and in how we fund schools statewide, the South Suburbs are going to continue to struggle. That’s a challenge for everyone of our communities. It’s a challenge for the elected officials in every one of the communities.”
“The public simply is not aware of how much time and energy is devoted to trying to solve the tax issue among the South Suburban Mayors Association, individual mayors, in a variety of different ways,” Mr. Ostenburg said. “The structure is just overpowering. It’s the structure itself that needs to change and being able to motivate the people who are in positions to make that change is increasingly more difficult.”
“The truth of the matter is, three-quarters of Chicagoland isn’t necessarily affected by it. It’s the South Suburbs that are affected by it,” he said. “You go to the other areas of Chicagoland and you see all kinds of commercial development and things of that sort. And, of course, with the tax structure in Cook County being the way it is, the more commercial development you have, the less that the homeowners pay in taxes and the less that the individuals pay in taxes.”
“And then you come south,” he continued, “where there’s absolutely no commerce, and so who bears the burden? The homeowners bear it over and over.”
“Many of us have been struggling and fighting to try to get some kind of change in that system. And, while there’s a lot of lip service, the truth of the matter is that nobody’s ever willing to bite the bullet and make the changes that are necessary.”
Our interview went on for another half hour. We will share in another article Mayor Ostenburg’s thoughts on Park Forest, the South Suburbs, Illinois, his time in office, his plans for the future (e.g. spending quality time with Jackie without having to run to the next meeting), some of the joys he’s experienced in office (first and foremost, working for the people of Park Forest), and some things he wished he could have accomplished.
The bottom line for today? After 20 years, someone else will wield the gavel at Village Board meetings sometime in April 2019.