Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar
Tokar to step down as Chicago Ridge mayor
By Dermot Connolly
Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar is retiring this month, after nearly 50 years in local government.
Tokar, a lifelong resident of Chicago Ridge, presided over his last Village Board meeting on Oct. 3, and said he would be watching the next one on Oct. 17 from the audience.
“I’ve been contemplating this decision for some months now, and I feel that after spending close to half a century as an elected official here in my hometown, I believe it is time for me to step aside and let new leadership step up to the plate and keep Chicago Ridge moving forward,” Tokar said during his closing remarks at the Oct. 3 meeting.
He said afterward that it will be up to the six trustees on the Village Board to vote on who will replace him until the next election in 2025.
“The rules say they have to choose among themselves—it can’t be the village clerk, or any random person from the audience,” he noted.
The most experienced trustee on the board is John “Jack” Lind, who, like Tokar, is a lifelong resident of the village. But all the trustees have an equal chance at the job. Lind has also served as public works director in Chicago Ridge, and currently fulfills the same role on a part-time basis in Merrionette Park.
“Although I am retiring in about two weeks, I am not selling my house and moving to wherever, as some silly rumors suggest. I do expect to keep an eye on things as a member of the audience, and I might even have something to say once in a while during public comment,” said Tokar, generating laughs from the audience.
He also refuted another rumor going around that he must be sick since he announced at the last meeting in September that he planned to retire.
“I am in perfect health. I just think 48 and a half years is long enough. I believe I am leaving the village in very good hands, with the trustees and all the department heads, and the leadership in the police and fire departments,” said Tokar, who noted that he will be turning 70 in November.
Tokar grew up working in his family’s Tokar’s Supper Club, which his parents, George and Cecilia, operated on the site of what is now the headquarters of International Union of Elevator Constructors Local 2, 5860 W. 111th St.
A Marist High School graduate, Tokar said he became a trustee at 21, “way back in 1975,” fresh out of Knox College in Galesburg with a degree in political science and international relations. “I guess I thought I knew a lot about politics, but I really knew next to nothing. Luckily, Mayor (Eugene) Siegel took a chance on me and supported me for a trustee spot on his coalition ticket.”
He went on to earn a law degree from Northern Illinois University in 1978 and a master’s degree in public administration from Governors State University in 1992.
After 14 years as trustee, he was elected village clerk in 1989. He remained in that position until 2013, when he was elected to his first term as mayor when Siegel retired .
“I have spent the last 10 years as mayor and I must say it has been a true honor and a real pleasure filling this challenging role,” Tokar said, before getting a standing ovation at the meeting.
“The role of mayor comes with many challenges, but without the support of the many trustees I have worked with over the years, Chicago Ridge would not have seen the success that it has in the years to come.”
Among his duties as mayor, Tokar has been serving as budget director. But Tokar said he was confident that the trustees and other village staff would be able to come up with a balanced budget before the deadline at the end of this year.
Toward that end, the board on Oct. 3 approved hiring the Kasperek accounting firm to work on the municipal budget.
Also, Tokar noted that newly hired office manager Krista Macewko has experience working on budgets for Columbia College in Chicago.
“She knows how to work with people. It takes a lot of meetings with department heads but between her and the village board, I am confident they will continue to keep taxes down,” said Tokar. “It takes compromising,” he added, pointing out that there has been $10 million in capital development over the past six years.
Tokar said he was proud of all the economic development he has been involved in with the village, despite its relatively small size and population, with just 14,500 residents.
This includes Dick’s Sporting Goods filling a vacancy at Chicago Ridge Mall, as well as Miller’s Ale House, Chili’s and other restaurants around the mall. He said One Allegiance Brewery and Starbucks, relatively recent additions to Harlem Avene, will be just the beginning of redevelopments on that thoroughfare.
He pointed out that following the purchase by Crown Enterprises of the expansive Yellow Freight property on Harlem, construction has begun on what will be a logistics business on that site south of 103rd Street. Future plans call for retail development on that site as well.
“That will generate a lot of tax revenue.”
“Being mayor is a challenge, but I have always liked challenges,” said Tokar, who lost his left hand in an accident at his family restaurant at age 3.
“I don’t even remember it. It didn’t stop me from learning to play the organ,” he added. He played dinner music at the restaurant as a teenager, and did recitals while in high school at Marist. “I can still play.”
“I appreciate all the experiences being mayor has allowed me to have,” said Tokar—chief among them his role booking the musical acts and other entertainment for the annual RidgeFest, which was held the last weekend of July from 1989 until 2022.
“I was sorry that the board felt it necessary to cancel RidgeFest this year, due to the disturbances in Tinley Park and elsewhere. Hopefully it will return in the future.”
Tokar said among his treasured memories as mayor is a T-shirt listing all the dozens of musical acts that have appeared at RidgeFest over the years. He also has a signed photo of actor and musician Gary Sinise, known for helping veterans and others.
“He is one of the nicest people. I got him to play for the Municipal Clerks of Illinois,” said Tokar. “I just asked and he did it.”
Besides playing the organ, Tokar said he and his wife, Denise, plan to do a bit more traveling to visit family around the country following his retirement.
“We bought a condo in Gulf Shores, Fla., about two years ago, and I have only been there a couple of times,” said the mayor.
His son, Charlie, currently lives in Utah but has plans to come back to the area. “I hope we can get out to see him at least once before he moves back here,” said Tokar.
“We also have family in Kentucky and New York. I don’t like flying so we will be driving a lot,” he said.
“There are a lot of family we haven’t seen in a while. We just thought it was time,” said his wife, Denise. They both plan to stay involved in the local Lions Club, which they helped found a few years ago.
“Maybe I will use my connections and get a music festival started in Gulf Shores, too,” said Tokar.
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