Dean Koldenhoven, former mayor of Palos Heights, Illinois, was honored for his political courage in speaking out against religious discrimination and calling for tolerance within his community.
In May 2000, three years into his term, Mayor Koldenhoven confronted a crisis of intolerance in Palos Heights when plans to open a mosque in the Chicago suburb upset many residents and exploded into controversy within the town. Mayor Koldenhoven supported the sale of a vacant Christian church to the Al Salam Mosque Foundation, knowing it would be a test of his leadership. When an antagonistic city council failed to deter the sale, the council offered the Foundation a $200,000 buy-out to abandon its plans. To the ire of his colleagues and constituents, Mayor Koldenhoven vetoed the payoff, calling it an embarrassment and an insult to the Muslim community. “Government has no place in this issue,” he told city council members.
The mayor’s opposition drew national attention, resulting in a fierce public backlash against the middle-class community of 12,000. Residents blamed the mayor for bringing unwanted attention to the town and damaging its reputation. Ultimately, the Al Salam Mosque Foundation decided against moving to Palos Heights, and the town voted against purchasing the property.
Dean Koldenhoven lost his bid for re-election; many believed his defeat was due to the controversy surrounding his defense of religious freedom and tolerance.