In a first, River Forest elects Latinx woman to village board

Erika Bachner received approximately 26 percent of the vote

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By Nona Tepper

Voters took to the polls April 2 to elect Erika Bachner as River Forest trustee, in what many believe is the first women of color to serve on the village's board. Bachner, who identifies as Latinx, assumes office May 13. 

"I think it is tough for anybody to make the decision to run for office, but I think it is especially tough for people of color if they haven't seen that before," she said. "I think that we are seeing people step up to the plate and understand the importance of us having that representation, and so I think that we will just see more and more of this. It felt like a little bit of a watershed moment."

Kathleen "Katie" Brennan received the most votes, securing approximately 29 percent of the spread. Robert O'Connell came in third, receiving about 21 percent of the vote and ousting longtime incumbent Michael Gibbs, who served two terms on the board.

Bachner said she was celebrating at a supporter's house in River Forest when the results came in, cheering with the approximately 35 people—including her mother and father—when she saw she won. Bachner received approximately 26 percent of the vote, coming in second for most votes realized. She said her experience growing up with immigrant parents on the edge of poverty will inform her decision-making while on the board.

"My mom is from El Salvador, my father's from Colombia, and when they came here my mom didn't know English. She came here at a very young age, in her teens, and just knew that she wanted a better life for herself, and that being in El Salvador that wasn't going to happen."

Growing up, Bachner said her mother had children at a young age, and that her father worked for more than 25 years on a factory floor, commuting often late at night from Chicago to their home in Glencoe. She said he would drive the back streets home and be stopped by police a couple times a week "because he was darker and he didn't have as nice of a car."

"Having that history and understanding what happens to people is important, and that is first-hand knowledge, so it's all these different things that make it important to be in a position of power, where decisions are being made," Bachner said.

She said more than 70 people donated to her campaign online, with contributions averaging $50 each. "It really spoke to the community reaching out and saying, 'We support you,'" she said.

In addition to likely being the first woman of color to serve on the board, Bachner also said living in a townhome and having a moderate income brings a different perspective to the table. When Bachner first moved to River Forest, she said a plan proposed eminent domain of her townhome. When trustees approved the North Avenue tax increment financing (TIF) district, they added a clause that protected single-family homes from eminent domain but did not protect multi-family units.

As the village plans development for the North Avenue tax increment financing (TIF) district, she said neighbors will trust her to have the best interest of the area, since she lives adjacent to the TIF. She said she will also look to bring creative ways to expand conversations around economic development to community members not currently engaged in village government.

"I'm going to make the best decision for the community and not to say that other people won't, but again, I live in that space and I know what it's like and I think I can understand why things would impact us in a different way and can speak to that," she said.

Bachner is treasurer of PASO West Suburban Action Project, an immigrant advocacy group, and co-leads an area Indivisible group. This is her first time serving in elected office.

She is not the first person of color to serve on the board, however. Trustee Respicio Vazquez is a person of color and currently serves on the board.

CONTACT: ntepper@wjinc.com

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