A current village trustee and a former trustee stated their intentions, Monday, to run in the April 2009 village board election.
Current Trustee Russ Nummer said he will stand for re-election. Former trustee Michael O’Connell, who served from 2003-2007, said he will run either for trustee or village president.
“All I can tell you at this point is we’ve decided to form an exploratory committee,” said O’Connell. That committee will be chaired by longtime village activist George Parry.
O’Connell said the committee will assess not whether he’ll run, but what office he’ll seek. While he has “strong opinions regarding the village and where I want it to go,” O’Connell said he’s most concerned that he be in a role which “optimizes” his time on the board and allows him to be most effective addressing what he considers key issues. Whether that is as village president setting the agenda or as a trustee voting on it remains to be seen, he said.
The assessment of how he could best serve the village will be left to Parry and the committee. “I hope to have an answer from the committee sooner rather than later,” said O’Connell, who added he’s already prepared nominating petitions for both village offices. Those petitions can legally be circulated starting Tuesday, Oct. 28.
Five offices are open in next April’s election, including village president, three trustee seats and village clerk. Current Village Clerk Catherine Adduci has already announced her candidacy for trustee. Four-term President Frank Paris, who turns 70 this year, has indicated he will not run for re-election.
Parry said Tuesday that two people have already agreed to be part of the exploratory committee, whose members will identify at least two other board candidates-for trustee and village clerk.
“We’re searching for a cross-section of people who have some leadership with various voting blocs and who are not candidates for office,” said Parry. He said each committee member “will be capable of canvassing a large number of village residents regarding their views on [village] issues.”
Both O’Connell and Nummer emphasized that the village’s financial condition must be a primary focus of the new board. Nummer, who frequently sided with O’Connell on various board votes from 2005 to 2007, said he wants to “follow through” on several issues addressed in his first term, including the re-development of Madison Street, focusing on the condition of police and fire pension funding, and the overall functioning of the police department.
“It’s no secret we have not been funding the pension funds to the point we could have or should have,” Nummer said. “That’s coming around to haunt us.” He called pensions “a major issue-as is the whole financial picture in the village.”
O’Connell said, “We have some real financial issues in this village. Everything else takes a back seat to that.” He also listed economic development and maintaining village services as top issues.
O’Connell, who routinely found himself outvoted 5-1 and 4-2, admitted he was initially too optimistic regarding whatever change he could affect when he came on the village board in May 2003.
“There was really an entrenched mentality on the board,” he recalled. He was forced to focus on smaller issues such as traffic.
“I was satisfied with smaller wins,” he said. This time around though, he expects more.
“Effectiveness is key,” he said. “You can see from the [current] dynamic on the board, being president doesn’t have a lot of utility when the board is divided. When you have a voice and a vote, you can have an effect.”
Nummer said he was prepared to run as an independent, as he did in his first campaign, but is open to being part of a slate.
“I won’t rule it out,” he said.
O’Connell acknowledged he was willing to run on a slate if one is formed, but noted things are still very much in flux.
“Things are still up in the air. There’s a lot of things at work here.”
Trustee Steve Hoke, who has led a minority faction on the board for the past 18 months that has forced several issues, said Monday he was happy to see O’Connell’s hat in the ring, whichever office he decides to pursue.
“I think that’s great news, whatever Mike and the committee decide,” said Hoke. “Whatever capacity he serves in will be a good thing for the village.”
Like O’Connell and Nummer, Hoke said he believes the village’s finances will be the central issue for the new board. Whoever is on that board, he said, must be prepared to work hard.
“I agree this is a critical time for River Forest,” said Hoke. “The next four years are not going to be easy. We’re in a serious time both nationally and locally.”
“The next set of challenges for the village board will be tremendous challenges,” said O’Connell, who added that a key task will be educating the public about the state of the village’s finances.
“Some realities have to be explained to the residents,” he said.