As many snuggle inside to enjoy the coziness of winter, political hopefuls have spring on their minds. Three village trustee seats will be up for grabs in both Oak Park and River Forest this April. Some incumbents are campaigning for second terms, while two newcomers are hoping to earn a nod from voters. Other incumbents haven’t made up their minds and a former trustee is planning a comeback.
First-time candidates Michael Santoro and Brian Straw are making a play for trustee in River Forest and Oak Park, respectively. Santoro, a third-generation River Forester, wants to keep property taxes manageable for River Forest residents and bring in family-friendly business ventures. Straw serves on the Oak Park Transportation Commission and wants to make Oak Park streets safer and more accessible for cyclists and pedestrians, which he believes will make the village more equitable and lessen its carbon footprint.
River Forest Trustees Bob O’Connell and Katie Brennan are both seeking reelection. The two have been collecting petition signatures to secure spots on the April 4 ballot. While Brennan declined to share any more information regarding her campaign, O’Connell told Wednesday Journal he hopes to usher in more economic development if elected again. Economic development, O’Connell said, was his “strong suit.”
Developments which occurred during O’Connell’s time on the board include the opening of the Sheridan in River Forest, an assisted living community for seniors. O’Connell called the Sheridan a “beautiful, wonderful facility.”
The Village of River Forest will soon be demolishing the Lutheran Children and Family Services building on Madison Street to make way for what O’Connell hopes will be a “tax generating operation.”
Like O’Connell and Brennan, River Forest Trustee Erika Bachner’s term will end in April. Whether she will seek reelection, as her contemporaries are, is unclear. Bachner did not wish to make a comment.
The same goes for Oak Park Trustee Jim Taglia, who has served the longest of any current Oak Park village board member. He was appointed in 2017 by former mayor Anan Abu-Taleb to fill the remainder of Adam Salzman’s term. Taglia then won a full four-year village trustee term in 2019. Before that, he spent six years on the Oak Park Township board of trustees.
At the present moment, however, Taglia said he is focused on the Village of Oak Park’s 2023 fiscal year budget, which will be adopted before the end of the year. He has not yet decided if he will run for another term this spring.
“I’m certainly leaning toward it, but I will say I haven’t made a final decision yet,” Taglia said.
Oak Park Trustee Susan Buchanan, who was elected alongside Taglia, has confirmed she intends to run for a second term this spring. Finding the work of a trustee “really stimulating,” her goals as a candidate align with those of the village board, including pushing for more sustainability initiatives and more equitable policing. If elected again, she also wishes to continue cultivating the relationship between the business community and the village board and shepherding in “wise developments.”
“I think the work I’m doing is helping Oak Park move forward in areas that the majority of people want us to move forward in,” she said.
Cory Wesley was appointed to the village board in October and his term will expire in April. He was appointed to fill the seat vacated by Arti Walker-Peddakotla who had resigned the seat. Wesley narrowly lost to Walker-Peddakotla in the 2019 trustee election. While Wesley had already announced his intentions to seek a full term, his brief time in office has strengthened his resolve to do so.
“It’s all about doing the hard work of governing Oak Park to make it better for everyone who lives here, and all the people who might want to come here,” Wesley said. “I find that exciting.”
Rounding out the trustee contenders is Simone Boutet. The former Oak Park trustee told Wednesday Journal she has finished collecting her petition signatures. Boutet previously applied for the appointment that went to Wesley. Her priorities, if elected, include crime prevention and relationship-based policing, among others.
Boutet’s last bid for office was mired with controversy. During her 2021 run for village president, Boutet baffled voters by dropping out of the race, then reentering, only to drop out again a few weeks later.
“I don’t foresee doing that again,” Boutet said.