This is an exciting time to be part of River Forest village government. We know that because nearly every candidate for village trustee has mentioned “excitement” as a motivation for running, naming interest in the village’s recently instituted tax-increment financing (TIF) districts, approval of developments at Lake and Lathrop and Chicago and Harlem, and community engagement and communication.
Five individuals have announced their candidacy for the three open spaces come election in April. Based on endorsement interviews, questionnaires and village board meetings, we believe Erika Bachner, Katie Brennan and Robert O’Connell will best lead the village over the next four years.
Bachner lives in a townhome that could be affected by the new North Avenue TIF, and was inspired to run, in part, so she could have a say in how this entity is developed. As the only woman of color running, as well as the only potential trustee who lives in a townhome, Bachner offers a diverse perspective that should be represented on the board — local government should reflect its community. Bachner has also advocated for better communication with residents, by holding informal opportunities for community members to meet board members, as well as live-streaming board meetings. We believe the village already does a generally good job communicating information but agree there’s room for improvement. Bachner is involved in several community groups including PASO West Suburban Action immigrant advocacy group, Indivisible and serves on the Roosevelt Middle School PTO. She was also the only candidate to mention equity. Bachner’s community involvement is admirable, and we believe she could serve as a bridge and thoughtful voice for community members who may not traditionally be thought of when it comes to River Forest.
Katie Brennan, meanwhile, already has experience serving the village of River Forest. Two years ago, Brennan helped form the village’s sustainability commission and has since served as the group’s head. She has seen incredible success by partnering the village commission with other groups. Her ability to collaborate to get things done – including helping make Park District of River Forest events zero waste — will help as the village explores new uses for the Civic Center through an intergovernmental agreement with other taxing bodies. In her professional life, Brennan operates a law practice in the village. She is an effective communicator who could use those skills to better inform and engage residents. She named promoting the village’s quarterly public safety meetings as an example. She also said she’d be interested in exploring grant opportunities to institute green technology in the police department. Brennan takes plans and runs with them. We’re excited to see how this momentum translates into success for River Forest.
Robert O’Connell’s professional experience as the national real estate lead for McDonald’s means he knows business. And, as River Forest watches development of two recent — and big — projects at Lake and Lathrop and Chicago and Harlem, O’Connell’s professional experience will be a huge asset in getting these projects done successfully. We are also inspired by his vision for economic development in River Forest. He also believes the village should help local businesses train and retain employees, saying excellent service could help transform River Forest into a shopping destination for repeat customers. O’Connell has clearly learned from his time as head of the village’s economic development committee.
It’s hard to argue against another term for incumbent Mike Gibbs but in a competitive race we have to make a cut. Gibbs offers institutional knowledge and private sector experience that will help as the village focuses in on completing recent developments. He’s an affable guy, loud advocate for causes he believes in and has maybe missed two board meetings in all his years on the board. The village would certainly benefit from another term from Gibbs.
Wednesday Journal cannot endorse Gregg Kuenster for trustee. He is currently embroiled in a legal battle with the village over his home which, we feel, is one of the main reasons he’s running. Kuenster also struggles to effectively engage with others. He’s not the right person to represent River Forest.