When Fernando Flores swore his oath of office and took his place at the board table on May 1, he made history. The 17-year resident of North Riverside became the village’s first Hispanic trustee.
Flores finished second in a six-person race for three village trustee seats on April 4. He and fellow VIP Party candidates Theresa Sarro, who was the top vote-getter, and incumbent Joseph Mengoni rounded out the field of winners, topping the fourth-place finisher by more than 400 votes.
The three joined Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr., who won a second term, taking the oath of office from Cook County Circuit Court Judge Edward Maloney.
As he sat in the second row of seats inside the council chambers at the North Riverside Village Commons with his wife and children waiting to be sworn in, Flores admitted being nervous.
“Somehow being sworn in was like a relief,” said Flores. “It was emotional, exciting. It felt great to be there.”
The 56-year-old Flores, who grew up in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago and attended St. Rita High School on the South Side, said he was aware that he was breaking new ground in North Riverside government. While he isn’t the first Hispanic candidate to run for a spot on the village board, he is the first to sit at the board table.
“I’m very proud to be the first Hispanic trustee in town,” said Flores, who became more involved politically in recent years as a charter member of the Hispanic Organization of North Riverside.
That organization formed in 2015 to create a civic organization to foster more Hispanic involvement in North Riverside and give Hispanic residents, who have not traditionally played a large role in the political structure of the village, a voice.
“We need a voice in the village,” said Flores, who started his career at ComEd in the mail room at age 19, right out of high school. Now, 37 years later, Flores is still at ComEd, working as an electrical inspector.
Flores said there is still a segment of the Hispanic population in North Riverside that is not fluent in English, and that he can be an ear for those residents in village government.
“They need someone to be there to help out,” Flores said
The Hispanic population of North Riverside has grown dramatically in the past 17 years. In 2000, Hispanic residents made up just 8.13 percent of the population, according to U.S. Census figures. By 2010, the Hispanic population of North Riverside had more than doubled to 24 percent, and demographic information from the local school district would seem to indicate that trend has continued.
In 2016, Hispanic students represented 40 percent of the enrollment at Komarek School in North Riverside, up from 10.6 percent in 2000.
“The Hispanic population is just growing everywhere,” Flores said.
Flores not only won election to the village board, but Hermanek immediately made him chairman of an important and influential board committee – the Police and Fire Committee.
Flores said the appointment surprised him, but said he hopes he can play a role in helping end the standoff between the village’s administration and union firefighters, who have worked without a contract since May 1, 2014.
Flores has been a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers for more than three decades.
“I’m union,” Flores said. “My goal is to get this resolved.”