As the only incumbent in the River Forest village board race, Respicio Vasquez is the only one that has experience to fall back on.
He said that, if re-elected, he hopes to continue with his priorities from over the past year – keeping River Forest fiscally responsible, helping residents and businesses weather the COVID-19 pandemic and doing his part to make the village more inclusive and equitable. He said that, as someone who moved to River Forest in March 2014 and only served one term as trustee, he “wasn’t tied to past history and open to new ideas.” He also said that, as an attorney who has served both in the public and private sector, he could understand both the taxpayer and government perspectives on various issues.
Vasquez was elected trustee in April 2017. He was a partner at Franczek P.C. law firm for 16 years, and he spent 15 years in the public sector, serving as Illinois State Superintendent of Education and an in-house general counsel for several Illinois colleges and school districts.
Vasquez said he was proud of his role in the village’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, pointing to his votes in favor of keeping the property tax levy flat, suspending restrictions on delivery hours, waiving business license fees for 90 days and making other fee suspensions and deadline extensions. He also touted the fact that he founded the River Forest COVID-19 Senior Task Force and chaired the village’s Age-Friendly Committee.
Vasquez expected COVID-19 to continue to be the major issue until herd immunity is achieved. He said that, if re-elected, he will support keeping the tax levy flat and assisting residents with getting vaccinated.
Several Chicago suburbs used the federal Community Development Block Grant funding to provide grants for local businesses, which is temporarily allowed under federal law to help address the fallout from the pandemic. Vasquez didn’t rule out supporting something like this for local businesses, should state or federal funding for it become available, but he also emphasized that his other major priority will be to make sure that the village “maintains its finances responsibly to continue operating efficiently with adequate financial resources,” so it could be ready for unexpected financial emergencies like the pandemic.
His third priority would be to improve equity and diversity in River Forest in general and the village government specifically. Vasquez said he wants to see more diversity in hiring in all village departments, including police and fire. He said it can be achieved by working with community organizations and job recruitment firms to “open a net a lot bigger and wider, so we can encourage more applications” from minority candidates.
Vasquez also supports investing in police training “that includes diversity, anti-racism and [discouraging] unnecessary use of police force.”
“Our officers are being trained to deal with social issues, and not just handle it the way police officers used to handle it, so we’re not always arresting everybody and putting them in jail,” he said.
Vasquez said he has been an advocate for equity, diversity and inclusion since he was young, and he sat on River Forest School District 90’s Inclusive Advisory Board. He supported the village’s racial and social justice partnership with the Dominican University, adding that he would like to see more villages join in.
As a trustee, Vasquez had to weigh various viewpoints among his fellow trustees and residents. He said he got an early lesson when he proposed a welcoming resolution during his first year in office.
“What helped me to move through this process was to maintain a professional and respectful debate, avoiding personal attacks and unprofessional discussions, trying to persuade [fellow trustees] based on objective data, reaching a consensus and ending with a majority decision after a fruitful debate,” Vasquez reflected, adding that he would “welcome all resident comments, viewpoints and perspectives in weighing and making any decision.”
He said that he tried to encourage residents who aren’t politically engaged to reach out to him by being “approachable and transparent.”
For now, one major decision looms on the horizon – the selection of the new village administrator. Vasquez said that he would be looking for someone who is knowledgeable about the inner workings of village governments, especially the way government operations are funded. Vasquez confirmed that, as with any village position, he wants River Forest to cast a wide net.
“Most importantly, we want someone who has a great personality to deal with residents,” he added. “By that, I mean [being] open to resident questions, open to resident comments, open to assisting residents. And I will say that our past administrator has been good about that.”