Two of the five people running for three seats on the River Forest village board have dropped out of the race. Trustee candidates Michael O’Connell and Collene Mears officially withdrew from the race Thursday, a development which makes it a certainty that current Village Clerk Susan Conti and newcomers Stephen Hoke and Stephen Dudek will be elected River Forest village trustees this April.

Hoke recently served as co-chair of the ad hoc Home Rule Study Commission, writing the minority opinion. Dudek is currently serving out a six-year term as a park district commissioner, the last two as board president. Conti was elected village clerk in 2005. Village President Frank Paris will now deal with the task of identifying a person to replace Conti by appointment.

Current Trustee O’Connell, a senior vice president for corporate and institutional services at Northern Trust Bank, said Friday his decision was “really tough.” It was increasingly apparent, he said, that he’d have inadequate time to prepare for board meetings due to his job responsibilities.

“I’ve been thinking about it for a long time,” he said. “My work responsibilities have been increasing steadily, and there’s pressure to travel [internationally] more extensively.”

While noting that “it’s always better to have a contested election,” O’Connell said he’s encouraged by what he sees as a “balance of people,” still running for the board.

While O’Connell’s decision was due to work-related demands, Mears’ was far more black-and-white. She made her decision to withdraw after her son was diagnosed earlier last week with a rare and life-threatening cerebral aneurism.

“It pretty much turned our world upside down,” Mears said Friday. Though she characterized the current situation as “really horrible,” she said she’s grateful doctors believe her son’s condition is treatable.

“We’re blessed that it’s operable,” said Mears, who flew to New York on Monday with her husband and their son to meet with the top expert in the field to begin treatment.

Village President Frank Paris said he had no idea O’Connell was considering not running again.

“I was just totally surprised by it,” he said. With Conti assured of election to the village board, Paris must now turn his attention to selecting a person to appoint as her replacement. Though he said he didn’t currently have anyone in mind, he expected to make an appointment soon after the election on April 17.

Hoke praised O’Connell’s performance as a trustee Friday, saying he added a needed “element of transparency” to board proceedings.

“I think Mike did a phenomenal job the past fours years,” Hoke said. “I hope to carry on his good work.”

O’Connell said there are things he’ll miss and things he won’t miss about board service.

“I’ll miss making a difference,” he said. “I’ll miss the contributions I can make civically.”

But he still has plans for Monday nights.

“I love 24, so I’m not going to miss the time slot.”

Hinting that he wasn’t through with elected office, O’Connell also said he considers his current decision to step away from the board “a sabbatical.”

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