By Nona Tepper
The head of the economic development committee is vying for one of three seats on the River Forest Village Board come April 2.
Robert O'Connell, who works in national real estate for McDonald's USA, is one of five challengers in the race. He said he was inspired to run after conversations with Village President Cathy Adduci and Trustee Tom Cargie, believing that his professional experience could help the village complete recent developments successfully and thoughtfully.
"When you look at the issues facing River Forest today, my expertise played right into it," he said. "There's a lot of development actually occurring in the village. You have what's going on at Lake and Lathrop, at Chicago and Harlem, which I think is going to be a win-win for the village. I feel like I could add some value."
O'Connell said he understands development as bringing new buildings like the senior home at Chicago and Harlem avenues, as well as the mixed-use development at Lake Street and Lathrop Avenue to the village. But he also views the process as attracting new retailers to fill some of the village's vacant spaces, and quality employees to work in the village's stores.
"How do we attract workers to the community? If you go through the River Forest Town Center, several of the businesses have 'Help Wanted' signs in the window. So if there's something we can do, or the village can encourage and better help the employees to better serve the customers, [that will] keep the customers shopping in River Forest."
He named keeping River Forest affordable as the village's greatest challenge.
"We are a landlocked community, so whatever decisions we make are going to be decisions that impact us a long time," O'Connell said. "If there's a way to bring users, not just development but other things to the community, I think that helps all of the residents, making it a comfortable place to live that's still relatively affordable."
O'Connell said he is passionate about making sure village staff — like the village administrator, as well as police — have the tools they need for keeping the streets safe, as well as operating in a more cost-effective and efficient manner. He would like to continue the "great job" the village does communicating information to residents, with monthly newsletters, posting the board packet ahead of village board meetings, text messages and more.
"When you look at the issues around development, we need to do a good job communicating what these developments are going to look like, and what effect it's going to have on their property because we all own properties," he said. "What's positive for not only them, but for the village."
A native of Oak Park, O'Connell has served as chairman of the River Forest Economic Development Committee for about a year. He was appointed to the committee about two years ago. This is his first time running for elected office. His wife serves on the River Forest Township Board of Trustees.
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