Ben Sells, who is entering the home stretch of his second term as Riverside’s president, will not run for re-election in 2021, instead throwing his support behind Joseph Ballerine, who has confirmed he will be running for the village’s top post.
Ballerine, 61, who has been involved in village government in some form almost continuously for the past 30 years, would be a formidable opponent should anyone choose to run against him.
“I don’t want people to think that this is old to me, because of that [experience],” Ballerine said. “I’ve seen a lot and have a lot of institutional knowledge. … I’ve forged some good relationships and think a lot of people in town respect the way I work with them, even if we disagree.”
The 2017 Riverside Person of the Year and co-founder with Sells and others of the Riverside Friends of the Fourth, Ballerine was elected twice, in 2011 and 2015, as village trustee and served two more years after being appointed to that post in the 1990s.
Ballerine also spent 15 years on the Riverside Parks and Recreation Board, serving as its chairman.
“Once Joe determined he wanted to run, then I didn’t see any reason to,” said Sells, who served as a village trustee for six years before running for his first term as president in 2013. “The idea of a contested election between me and Joe doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Sells said he had been talking to Ballerine about his plans for months, but that it was only in the past couple of weeks that Ballerine informed him that he’d be going through the Riverside Community Caucus’ candidate interview process and seeking their support.
“People know what kind of a man he is, his judgment,” Sells said of Ballerine. “You know exactly what you’re getting. He has a stellar record of serving his town.”
Ballerine said that were he to be elected, the transition between Sells’ administration and his would be smooth. Ballerine is familiar with and has longstanding relationships with the village’s department heads, and as a trustee faced many of the issues that will remain for the new president to tackle.
“We’ve spent a lot of work getting together the administrative team we have,” Ballerine said. “It’s important for [the transition] to be seamless.”
Ballerine said that if he were elected president, he would work to forge closer ties with other taxing bodies, like Riverside Township and the local school districts. He pointed to successes such as the Riverside TV Commission broadcasting District 96 and township board meetings as an example of that kind of cooperation. He also pointed to the village’s recreation department providing before and after school services for District 96 students.
“That’s the kind of stuff we have to do to mitigate the tax issues we have,” Ballerine said. “The more we work together, the better.”
Ballerine said “it’s really time” to engage with landlords in the village to try to make progress on addressing longstanding problem properties.
“If we can sit down and find mutual, common ground, I think we can do that,” Ballerine said.
The transition between administrations in Riverside has not always been smooth. Sells was elected running unopposed in 2013, but his candidacy was in opposition to the sometimes tumultuous one that immediately preceded it.
Ballerine was on that village board for two years before Sells was elected president. The two were allied on that board, along with then-Trustee Jean Sussman, and have become close friends. When Sells was unable to preside over village board meetings, Ballerine stepped into the role as president-pro-tem.
In September 2018, Ballerine got firsthand experience in handing a hostile crowd, which had come out to complain about a home being used as a vacation rental on Michaux Road.
“I believe I did what Ben would have done, defuse the crowd,” Ballerine said.
Sells introduced a sense of calm to village board proceedings. While the village has faced some contentious issues in the past seven years – from video gambling to recreational cannabis to residential holiday rentals to a still-pending flood wall initiative – Sells has shown a knack for disarming hostility by demonstrating that he’s open to hearing opposing points of view.
“I wanted to create a shift in village government,” said Sells, who said he took his cues from Riverside’s founder, Frederick Law Olmsted.
“I wanted to use beauty as a touchstone, beauty in the deeper sense of things being well-ordered and carefully crafted,” Sells said. “I wanted to try to show people what government can be, how it can be run to maintain its purpose. It’s about empowering residents and leaving a better place than you came in with.”
Ballerine, said Sells, “has the same kind of depth of attachment and friendship in this town that I do. It’d be a seamless transition.”
If Ballerine ends up running unopposed, said Sells, that transition would begin sooner than Election Day next April.
“I told Joe, once we get past filing [in December], if he’s unopposed, the transition will begin more formally,” Sells said.
The closeness between the two men will be an asset, Ballerine said, if he is elected.
“The other quality I think I have is, I have Ben. … I’ll have a friend to rely on to give me his advice,” Ballerine said, referring to past administration changes that were less cordial.
“I think that’s important, especially in the first two years of those administrations,” Ballerine said. “Those were tumultuous, and it sucks a lot of the oxygen out of the air in a community that small. If we’re working for two years just trying to get through the day, we’re not getting anything done.”