By Nona Tepper
Ryan Russ is running for village commissioner, campaigning on the issues of unity, economic development and supporting the public high schools. A lifelong Forest Parker, he works as maintenance foreman at the Park District of Forest Park.
"The divide over the video gaming vote is huge, and it just needs to be gotten over and we need to start moving forward. Unfortunately, it's going from that into an election, which will either compound it or somebody has to step up and smooth it over. I feel like I can be that kind of person," he said. "I want to bring people together; I think that's one of my strong suits. I don't take myself too seriously."
When it comes to video gaming, Russ said he feels residents should have let elected officials decide on the practice, but understands those who campaigned for a vote. A majority of residents voted video gambling out of Forest Park in November. The vote was historic — Forest Park is the first village to publicly vote the practice down after the machines had already been installed.
Russ cited his "high energy" personality as a positive trait that could bridge the gap between those who voted for, and those who voted against, the practice.
"We need to talk about it, we need to figure it out; one side needs to talk to the other side instead of Facebook messaging and going and being internet warriors," he said. "That's what Forest Park is — it's always been a community. Even if you don't like somebody, we're neighbors. That's life. It's gotten to a point where people are just so upset about this; let's do something about it. Let's turn negative energy into positive energy."
Now that the revenue from video gaming is gone, Russ said, the village will need to find a new revenue source to fill the void. But the village needs to come together, he said, before any economic development can occur. If elected to the post, he promised he will not force issues down residents' throats.
"We can't just say, 'This is how it has to be,' because that's the problem. ... We need to listen to each other and talk and figure out as a collective group what can be done."
Russ was inspired to run by those who came before him, naming Mayor Anthony Calderone, Commissioner Rachell Entler, and former commissioner and mayoral candidate Rory Hoskins as a few examples.
He said he will not run with a slate.
"If I get elected to be on the village council, I will work with whoever I'm elected with. I kind of have an issue with the slate-y thing, personally. You should vote for the best person, not just 'I vote for this group,'" Russ said.
As the father of two young children, he said he's also concerned about the quality of Proviso Township District 209 High Schools, and "enjoyed the energy" of the Proviso Together campaign last election, saying that he found candidates Nathan Wagner, Theresa Kelly and Claudia Media "very, very positive." They are running for re-election this election cycle.
"Whether it's East or PMSA, students should have the confidence to know they're going to get a good education, no matter where you go. High school should not have to be a kid's worry or parent's worry," said Russ, who grew up on the 500 block of Hannah, hanging out with the same group of 10 friends from first grade to high school. He hopes his kids can grow up in the same vein, creating lifelong friends and learning the values of respect and collaboration.
"The real people who know they're going to stay here and have equity in this town, they're the ones I'm concerned about," he said. "We need to be able to have our kids grow up and go to their friend's weddings. If you meet someone in Forest Park, you know them your whole life. It's through and through; it's thicker than politics for me."