Ryan Russ, the former superintendent of parks at the Park District of Forest Park, didn’t get elected village commissioner in 2019 – and that’s one of the reasons why he decided to try again this year.
“Obviously, I’d like to run and complete the mission of having the seat at the table,” he said, adding that the other major reason is to serve the community that “raised” him.
Throughout an interview with the Review, one concept that kept coming up is the importance of having conversations and working collaboratively. Russ promised that, as a commissioner, he would be accessible to residents, and that he would encourage all Forest Park governing bodies to meet regularly and work together. He also wants to support the growth of the Madison Street and Roosevelt Road corridors and update the 2014 village comprehensive plan.
Russ previously told the Review that he attended the park district’s summer camp growing up. He worked as a pool attendant in high school and switched to working maintenance during the summer after he graduated. In 2006, after the birth of his son, Russ left the park district for a full-time job elsewhere, but he returned to the park district in 2012, this time as a maintenance foreman. Over the next eight years, he worked his way up the ranks, becoming the parks superintendent in August 2020.
But Russ was fired from his job in June 2022. At the time, the park district said that it doesn’t comment on employee issues as a matter of policy. Russ declined to share the details, saying only that he was “hurt by the situation.”
“At this point, I don’t feel like it has anything to do with me running for village commissioner,” Russ added. “It’s not indicative of who I am and why I’m running for commissioner.
He went on to work as a facilities manager at the Broader Urban Involvement & Leadership Development (BUILD) Chicago, a youth support and development nonprofit based in the city’s Austin neighborhood.
In 2019, Russ campaigned for greater collaboration, encouraging economic development and supporting the village’s public schools. At the time, he said he would serve as a consensus-builder on the council. Nine candidates competed for four seats, and he ended up finishing sixth.
Looking back, Russ believes where he fell short was that he believed that his reputation locally would be enough.
“I was raised in this town, so I assumed I knew a lot of people, and I do know a lot of people, but this time around, I know I’ll have to hit the pavement a bit harder and knock on a lot of doors,” he said.
In terms of his platform, Russ said that economic development would be a major priority, adding that, while the Madison Street corridor is important, he wanted to see Forest Park invest more in the Roosevelt Road corridor, which he described as a “hidden gem.” Russ said he would “support our Chamber of Commerce and make sure they’re able to have the resources that they need. It was important for him to make sure that the Chamber and the village are on the same page, and he wanted to see more collaboration between the village and other taxing bodies.
“There’s not a group vision – there are many little visions,” Russ said. “I think if we just get together and kind of talk, we can continue to figure it out. But the Chamber of Commerce is a huge piece of the puzzle. Without them being able to bring in businesses – it’s tough.”
He believes that, while the village, the library, the park district and the school districts still talk to each other, there used to be a greater sense of collaboration and camaraderie. Russ said he wants to bring it back. He would like to see representatives of each body meet “once a month or quarterly” to discuss their needs and how they can help each other.
“That’s where everything starts – a conversation,” he said.
The closest thing Forest Park currently has to such an arrangement is the TIF Joint Review Board where representatives of all taxing bodies meet once a year to review how the village’s Tax Increment Financing districts are doing.
Russ also believes it will be important for Forest Park to update the village’s 2014 Comprehensive Plan.
“We’re going on [for] almost a decade,” he said. “I think that needs to be looked at again and brought back to the forefront. I’m sure that there are things that [still work], but I’m sure there are things we haven’t done and maybe some things we’d have to scratch. Ten years is a long gap.”
When it comes to the redevelopment of the village-owned portion of the Altenheim property, Russ said he looked forward to what the Altenheim Advisory Committee comes up with – but he noted that he was asked about the site four years ago, and he would like to sort the issue out, one way or another, by 2027.
“It’s just – whoever is sitting on [the village council] in the next four years – we need to come together and do something,” Russ said.
When it comes to another major project, the former U.S. Army Reserve base, 7402 Roosevelt Road, he would like the village to test the site for soil contamination and other environmental hazards before committing to anything – but if everything checks out, he would like for at least some of the property to be converted into a public green space.
Russ said he hopes that all eligible Forest Parkers would vote, even if they don’t vote for him.
“I think the most important thing is that everyone get out and vote,” he said. “That’s the most important thing, in any election, but especially in our election. The people that we vote into the office should emulate the people in our community. They should be that voice.”