The stage for Tony Santucci’s 27-year career as a police officer was set early on, when he was growing up in northwest suburban Norridge. A neighbor’s son was a Norridge police officer, whom Santucci looked up to as a role model.
Santucci, 56, graduated from Ridgewood High School and attended Triton College before serving as a patrol officer for the Broadview Police Department, from which he retired in 2021.
He moved to North Riverside, where he lives with his wife, Dana, and his daughter Danielle, a sophomore at Riverside-Brookfield High School, 20 years ago and says he had long followed village politics.
“It was something I’d looked into and was interested in, but with the schedule that I had there was no way I could commit to doing anything,” Santucci said.
Now retired from the police service and working in security for a Broadview company, Santucci has the time. He has liked what he has seen from the village’s political establishment – first the VIP Party and now from its successor, North Riverside United – which recruited him to run for trustee.
On Feb. 1, Santucci sat down for a face-to-face interview with the Riverside-Brookfield Landmark at the North Riverside Village Commons. It’s the Landmark’s intent to interview all seven candidates individually.
Santucci is one of three candidates running as a part of North Riverside United’s slate, along with Nicholas Tricoci and Deborah Czajka, for the three open trustee seats up for election on April 4. Three other candidates – Marybelle Mandel, Sandra Greicius and Joseph Maruska – are running on a slate called the Municipal Integrity Party. Jose Del Angel, whom the Landmark profiled in the Feb. 1 edition, is running as an independent.
“Seeing how things were done in other places, and seeing how they were done here [in North Riverside] is total night and day,” Santucci said. “We’ve got a great community. Sure, you’re not going to make everybody happy, but for the most part this village is strong, family-orientated.”
Due to his background, Santucci is unsurprisingly very interested in North Riverside’s public safety services, particularly the police department. He said as a trustee candidate the most important issue for him is ensuring residents remain safe.
“Safety is my main thing,” Santucci said. “I want people to be comfortable sitting on their front porch, sitting in their backyard, being out and not having to worry about something happening.”
In 2020, the civil unrest sparked by the outrage following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, manifested itself in North Riverside. One person was shot dead during the looting of the mall that May and two other, non-fatal shootings followed later that year.
While some in North Riverside see the mall as a problem, Santucci disagrees.
“It’s not just here, it happens everywhere,” said Santucci regarding crime at the mall. “Retail thefts occur. They occur in Oak Brook, Yorktown. Nicer communities people think that nothing happens. It happens there.”
Santucci suggested the village heighten police visibility at the mall – both mall and village officials agreed to do that in the wake of the 2020 violence – to make local residents more comfortable going there.
“Maybe change that whole perspective of the mall being bad,” he said.
Another way to reassure residents, Santucci said, was greater interaction between police and the community through periodic informal resident meetings with police commanders or making available to residents individual officers who they can call directly with neighborhood issues instead of calling 911.
“This way they have that direct contact and they feel comfortable with that officer,’ Santucci said.
Santucci also said he wants North Riverside to enforce property maintenance standards.
“I want to keep the community looking good, take pride in the community,” Santucci said. “You have nice property, neighbors are going to continue to keep this going. … [The village needs] a plan in action for those violations and deal with them so we can curb the problem.”
A common theme for any candidate for office in North Riverside is the village’s ability to attract and retain businesses that provide its most critical revenue stream, sales taxes. But, Santucci also said the businesses entering should “fit the community and have to be something that can stay for a while.”
“You don’t want to get a small store just to fill space and then it’s going in three or four months, because it didn’t do well,” Santucci said, while acknowledging that the village can’t control who private property owners lease to if those commercial uses are allowed by the code.
Asked what the village can do to attract the kinds of businesses it desires, Santucci said communication was the key in addition to offering incentives, though he said he did not have a preferred way of making incentives available.
He also believes that the large commercial properties along Harlem Avenue and Cermak Road could be transformed into an entertainment district and could leverage village property, like its parks, to offer more entertainment.
In terms of the village producing more revenue or cutting costs to balance its budgets in the future, Santucci said those decisions had to be “a team effort” among local officials.
“Sitting down with all the department heads, seeing what is actually needed, where maybe some things could be cut to save, if we provide a safe community that will hopefully bring people to want to come here, businesses want to come here and we can benefit from that taxes that would help out,” he said. “We’d have to sit down to see where we can tighten our belts.”
Santucci said he was familiar with prior village board conversations regarding home rule, which allows municipal governments more taxing authority not available to smaller non-home rule towns like North Riverside. But home rule is not something he has investigated deeply so far.
Any contemplation of raising property taxes either by seeking home rule status or asking voters to approve a tax hike to fund village operation or its $4 million-a-year pension obligations would need careful consideration, he said.
“It would have to be explained very well so they understand what that increase would be for,” Santucci said. “A lot of people are using that pension as the main thing, but there’s other things that the village needs also.”
Santucci said any such decision on putting a referendum to voters would not simply be up to him but a team decision.
One potential revenue enhancement Santucci does not favor at this time is expanding the number of licenses for standalone video gambling parlors from the existing 10.
“I’m happy with the amount that we have,” Santucci said. “If we have to think about adding a few more, maybe we look at that somewhere else down the line, but right now I think we’re OK.”