Reflecting on his upbringing in Melrose Park, recently elected Willow Springs Mayor John M. Carpino says, “I realize when my grandparents immigrated they helped one another. The community came together and I never forgot the need to help others.”
Carpino was raised by his mother and grandmother, his grandfather and father having passed away while he was still a child. He attended Holy Cross High School and Triton Junior College before embarking on a 40-year career in law enforcement.
He worked his way up from cadet to officer to detective for the Addison Police. He continued to work his way up through the ranks, serving six different communities and heading the police departments in both Willow Springs and Westchester.
“Was it worth being a cop?” he says, looking back. “In my heart I know it was. It is a profession. You’re dedicated and have to be ready to take a bullet.”
His many years in law enforcement proved to be good preparation for a life in local politics for Carpino, and yet the rigors of the campaign and day-to-day governance hasn’t been without significant challenges.
He retired from police work in 2016, but was approached by former colleagues in Willow Springs, where he served as chief of police from 2002 to 2004. They told him about the chaotic state of affairs in the village. Especially disturbing was the case of a police officer who became a whistleblower, bringing many problems to light and getting him fired for his trouble.
“I told my wife Patti about the whistleblower and asked her if I should run for mayor and that’s how the campaign began,” Carpino explains.
An entrenched leadership ruled a deeply divided village that was split along socio-economic lines. The Fire Department was eliminated after a transition to a fire district, some police officers had been terminated without just cause, and the village was bleeding cash as a result of poor decision-making and waste.
“I put together a coalition of people from across the village, but politics is a brutal, brutal business and some people remembered me from when I was a cop and because I am Italian-American,” Carpino says. “It was ‘Oh, he’s Al Capone’s cousin or corrupt or not to be trusted.’ Well, yes, I was born and raised in Melrose Park but I’m not apologizing for this. I am proud of my roots.”
He ran on a platform of integrity and transparency, beating his a 12-year incumbent by a 54-46 margin. Almost three years into his term he has rooted out corruption and financial excess and has not hesitated to extensively rebuild the village structure. Under his leadership, Willow Springs has reduced its debt from $16.2 million to $9 million with additional steady decreases on the horizon.
— Terry Quilico