Congressman Sean Casten speaks to a crowd during a town hall meeting in Orland Park. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Congressman Sean Casten speaks to a crowd during a town hall meeting in Orland Park. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Casten still learning the lay of the land in the south suburbs

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By Jeff Vorva

Sean Casten is getting to know his new mayors.

Casten, the Democratic Congressman of the revamped 6th District, has been spending a lot of time meeting 40 mayors in recent weeks after he was sworn into office in January.

Casten beat out Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau in the November election, but the 6th District had changed so much, the congressman needed some getting-to-know-you time.

He held a town hall meeting at the Orland Park Library on Thursday, March 16, in front of 150-plus people and many who had questions quizzed him on issues of state and national concern.

After the meeting, he talked with reporters about getting to know his new digs, which includes Orland Park, Palos Heights, Palos Park, Palos Hills, Oak Lawn, Hickory Hills, Evergreen Park, Worth, Chicago Ridge, Bridgeview, Bedford Park, Willow Springs, Countryside, Hodgkins and portions of Chicago’s Clearing and Garfield Ridge neighborhoods.

“I must say it’s been fascinating,” Casten said. “The district that I still represent a part of – the old 6th District if you will – was predominantly commuter suburbs that commuted to Chicago. It was places where people lived but not really where people worked. Barrington, Hinsdale, Wheaton, Downers Grove, Glen Ellyn…the South Side has more places where people work. Yes, people live there as well, but a lot of these communities have both.”

Listening to various mayors educated Casten about the variety of needs each town has.

“I talked to the mayor of Alsip and Alsip is a manufacturing town with homes in it, as opposed to Wheaton, which is a bunch of homes with a few small businesses. It’s been fascinating to see the dynamics of how the issues of a mayor’s life are different.

“You talk to towns like Hometown who are really struggling to figure out how to cover the property tax base that has to provide services that is well beyond what they can provide. Then a stone’s throw away, you go to Bedford Park, and they have so much industrial money coming through. The benefits to somebody living in Bedford Park, where you have all of these perks…it’s much more of a diverse set of economic issues for the mayors out here.”

He said he wanted to start building relationships with the 73% of the communities in the district that are new to him and that there are windows opened for projects in some of those communities.

He said some communities have shared the same problems.

“There is a broad stretch from LaGrange and Western Springs down through Oak Lawn where there are flooding issues and water management issues. Everybody’s dealing with a piece of the problem,” Casten said.

“There are problems upstream and downstream and we have to prioritize what we will do.”

Some of the topics Casten talked about during the one-hour town hall included some of the banking issues and reforming immigration laws.

While most of the night was civil, there were a few small outbursts when Casten talked about the always hot-button topic of immigration.

When Casten said an “overwhelming” majority of undocumented immigrants came into the country legally, one person in the audience yelled “You got stats for that?”

At another point, Casten was mocked by an audience member for saying several immigrants work on farms and are being paid off the books in exchange for “getting us cheap food.”

“Where’s the cheap food at?” the audience member yelled.

Overall, Casten said these town hall meetings are helpful.

“I’m a huge, huge fan of town halls, I think they are the best because it helps me do my job well,” he told the audience. “It’s a chance to talk and have a two-way dialogue. It’s also a chance to share some of the interesting and complicated things in Washington.

“As long as you all keep showing up, I’ll keep doing them.”

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