The last four years have been sluggish and divisive for the village of Forest Park, with the long, bitter court battle and vote on video gaming dominating commissioners’ time on the board. Debate over the village deficit — which video gaming was supposed to address but which has only grown — along with council members’ unanimous votes on modest fee increases, have made a few headlines. But it’s time for new ideas, and fresh momentum, to push Forest Park into the future.
Nine candidates have thrown their name in the ring for the four commissioner spaces open in April. All are well-intentioned, knowledgeable and bring unique strengths to the race. However, based on endorsement interviews, questionnaires, board meetings and candidate forums, the Review endorses Dan Novak, Martin Tellalian, Jessica Voogd and Mark Boroughf as the best choices to lead the village over the next four years.
Novak’s professional experience as head of the Wheaton Park District would certainly help as village discussion on the Altenheim property’s future continues. Novak is also a smart guy who holds a solid understanding of village operations, as well as deep ties to the community. He is clearly invested in Forest Park’s future.
But as we’ve said in these pages and face-to-face, he needs to be a bolder, more direct leader if reelected.
Martin Tellalian is a model that Novak could look to as an example of how to successfully advocate for change, even when it’s unpopular. During the four years Tellalian served as commissioner, he often cast the lone dissenting vote on issues. Tellalian also built up a reputation as a “fiscal hawk,” which will help as the next council looks for ways to save money without cutting services. He also understands the limits but opportunity the Altenheim property presents the village. When he was commissioner, Tellalian was actually reprimanded for taking initiative and looking for a productive use for the property.
Tellalian has lived in town forever but has made connections to those who just arrived. We believe he will be able to successfully engage different segments of the community so Forest Park can move forward together.
Jessica Voogd used to visit Forest Park when she was in college in Chicago. Now she’s made the village her home. This campaign cycle, Voogd has thrown herself into learning the details of village administration, offering suggestions on how to develop the Altenheim property and vacant lots into pocket parks. These are innovative ways to plug the village deficit, curb flooding and drive community. We also agree that the village website is underused, and believe posting the village budget publicly is an important transparency measure.
The Review also feels it’s important to have a woman on the board, so village government can better reflect its constituents. At the debate, Voogd said Forest Park needed “a respectful responsiveness” from its elected officials. We trust her to bring this professional perspective to village operations.
Voogd, along with candidate Mark Boroughf, is a member of the Forest Park Forward slate.
Boroughf is an approachable guy who moved into town a few years ago but has deep ties to Forest Park. Years ago, his grandfather used to operate Rex Paint & Wallpaper Co. (now Paulson’s) on Madison Street. We view Boroughf as a moderate, consensus builder who knows how to lead.
At the commissioner debate, Boroughf said the town could work together by building on its successes, like volunteering for the Proviso Together slate to build a stronger public high school system. We agree engaging with village events and volunteer opportunities to drive unity is the way to go. Boroughf has also called for a closer eye to how village contract bids are awarded, along with better advertising of assets like its federal Small Business Administration office, as a way to drive development and decrease the village deficit.
It’s hard to argue against incumbent Joe Byrnes serving another term as village commissioner but in a tough field he does not make our cut. Byrnes is probably the most decent guy in town. Whether he’s buying cookies from the Girl Scouts, or attending the Cub Scouts pancake dinner, he’s engaged with every segment of the community. His time in the Air Force and decades on the Forest Park police department have shaped his attitude of service. He has the capacity to bridge the gap between those for- and against-video gaming, as well as those who have proudly lived in town for generations and more recent arrivals.
Newcomer Julianne Bonwit also has showed great potential this election cycle. Her involvement with many different groups — like the public schools, Diversity Commission, Housing Forward, and more — and would act as a great bridge for many different groups. Bonwit was inspired to run after receiving poor communication over how to increase traffic control near Garfield Elementary School. Her instinct for running — to make village government easier to navigate — is well-intentioned and necessary.
Ryan Russ, meanwhile, is an approachable ball of energy, a candidate who is liked by everyone he meets. Russ grew up in town and now works at the park district. He would be the perfect person to partner the council with other groups and community institutions, since his dedication to the town is so obvious.
Ryan Nero is a well-spoken professional who has a strong understanding of village operations. It’s obvious he’s learned from his time as head of the village’s traffic and safety commission. He also is a member of the ad hoc committee on the Altenheim property. He would be the perfect person to advocate for Forest Park down in Springfield, since he is a knowledgeable professional and effective communicator.
Jon Kubricht is a passionate resident who wants to be a part of village government. His voice should be heard and respected.