Oak Park resident and Triton board candidate Thomas Gary answered several big questions during a candidate’s forum in Maywood Monday evening, but raised an even bigger one in the process.
Gary, one of three candidates who showed up for the forum sponsored by the Triton Faculty Association, confirmed in his candidate questionnaire that he was endorsed not only by State Senator and Oak Park Township Committeeman Don Harmon and Proviso Township Committeeman Karen Yarbrough, but also by longtime Triton Board Chairman Mark Stephens and the two incumbents who strongly support Stephens’ agenda.
“In an effort to build consensus, I have also received the support of Chairman Mark Stephens and Trustees Diane Viverito and [Stephen] Kubiczky,” Gary wrote in answer to a question about his political support.
The development confirmed the belief of several local political observers who have insisted that a deal had been cut to push incumbent trustee Irene Del Guidice off the Stephens-backed slate and throw support to a candidate backed by Harmon.
Such a development, they said, would hopefully limit any changes to the Triton board to one person and shield Stephens from criticism that the board lacks diversity and doesn’t represent the Oak Park or Proviso townships.
Two weeks ago River Forest resident Dolores Tapia-Reyes withdrew as a candidate for the Triton board. Harmon said at the time that he had nothing to do with her decision and might have supported her if he’d known of her candidacy.
Others, though, said Tapia-Reyes was coerced.
“She was told it was in her best interest to remove her name from the ballot,” one source contended. Another said Tapia-Reyes was faced with little or no support from establishment politicians.
While declining to speak in detail of her decision, Tapia-Reyes has acknowledged the lack of political support and that she was “disappointed at a personal level.”
Gary boasts strong credentials as a former DeKalb County Board member, former congressional staffer, management level state employee, union member and military reservist.
Calling himself “a consensus builder,” Gary said he had been talking with Stephens and the others for several months and had “grown comfortable” that the board was willing to move in a different direction from past practices.
His audience, however, was clearly uncomfortable with Gary’s comfort.
Some faculty members, who have long chafed under what they claim is Stephens’ autocratic rule, appeared to want a more critical voice who would vow to oppose the board majority.
While candidates Al McKinnor and Del Guidice castigated the current Triton board for a host of shortcomings, Gary said the past is past, and vowed to work with whoever is on the next board to correct past mistakes.
Asked what it means for him to have Stephens’ support, Gary replied, “It means we’re trying to work together as a team. It doesn’t mean I’ve shed my individual thoughts, my individual concerns.”
While acknowledging that Gary’s move was “politically astute,” Triton faculty leader Maggie Hahn Wade said Tuesday that she was stunned by his admission.
“If Thomas Gary is going to be an independent voice, that’s a good thing,” she said. “But this puts into question his independent stance.
“Do I think building a consensus is a good thing?” Hahn-Wade asked rhetorically. “Yes. Do I think building it before you’re elected is [a good thing]? That I question.”
The two Stephens-backed incumbents were no-shows at the forum. Kubiczky, Riverside resident, sent a card stating that he had communicated his positions on the questionnaire’s 11 issues via “campus mail.” Viverito wrote that she felt that “my attendance at any forum sponsored by an employee group may give the public appearance of impropriety.”