Matt Walsh was only 18 and an honor student at St. Ignatius High School when he ran for village commissioner in Forest Park in April 2011 and received 997 votes. But he’ll be 20 when he takes on his newest Forest Park campaign: running for the park district board.
Two seats, currently occupied by John Doss and Sam Alonzo, are open in the April 9, 2013 election.
This time around, Walsh will also have a lot more experience in politics: A DePaul student, he spent the autumn as a field organizer for the Obama presidential campaign located in a strip mall in Hampton, Va.
“On weekends we were knocking on doors, in the field and making phone calls,” said Walsh, adding that he was inspired to run, in part, because of the board’s decision to cancel the 4th of July fireworks.
“It’s important to recognize the board’s decision,” he said. “But I’d like to find out what the actual reason was. Was it safety, or a fireworks code violation, or overcrowding, or cost?”
Walsh likened the fireworks to the South Side of Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. “Cancel it for a year and calm it down, then build it back up. I want to get to the root of the problem and make sure they’re back in 2014.”
Park board President John Doss said he welcomed Walsh’s candidacy.
“Sam Alonzo, who I didn’t know before serving on the board, is a great guy. I think Matt’s a fine young man; I know his family,” Doss said. “The town is lucky to have three good candidates running for park board.”
Growing up in The Park, he played Little League and soccer; his father, Will Walsh, was president of the youth soccer league.
Walsh said he didn’t know what his family would do this year on the Fourth. “I doubt we’ll find a better thing to do than be with our neighbors and friends at The Park.”
Walsh also has strong opinions on the fate of the Roos building. He’s been to all the meetings where the park board released plans and updated the public on negotiations, he said.
“We have the money and Harris Bank is dragging their feet. It’s kind of depressing to have the board realize they’re at the mercy of the bank. That’s not a position anyone likes to be in.”
Walsh said the building is an eyesore. “My first instinct was to tear down, but I like the plan the park district put forward.” A wish list for Walsh in a new park facility there would be “space for indoor basketball, floor hockey and volleyball,” he said. “There were issues with our outdoor basketball facility with gangs and guns. But basketball is pretty popular.”
Walsh said his organizing skills on a national campaign could help get the bank to “make the sale a priority.” He advocated asking state legislators and Congressman Danny Davis (D-7th) for help.
Walsh said he hoped to use some of those skills in his new campaign, especially at the Circle stop on the Blue Line. He hoped to energize his old park buddies who are still in town and his sister Nikki’s friends from Nazareth Academy. He also hopes to march in the Forest Park St. Patrick’s Day Parade but said he learned from the presidential campaign that “talking to voters” is most important, as is making sure they get to the polls.
The park board term is six years, he said, but he’s not worried that a six-year commitment to Forest Park would trim his job prospects after he graduates from college.
“Six years is a little intimidating,” he admitted, “but I’ve loved Forest Park my whole life. I’ll still have enough opportunities in Chicago if I stay in the community. Plus, being on the board would help me.”