Arlington Heights chamber boss forms exploratory committee for possible mayoral run

Jon Ridler

Longtime Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jon Ridler announced Thursday he is forming an exploratory committee for a possible run for mayor.

Ridler made the public announcement after meeting with the chamber board of directors Thursday morning, and informing other village leaders, including 11-year incumbent Mayor Tom Hayes.

“It simply is to take next steps in what I think as a resident and a leader in town should be, before whether I would think about running for mayor or I would support another candidate,” Ridler said. “It does not mean anything negative towards the current mayor or (village) board or situation. It’s really just to have a conversation of what’s next and visioning and looking at it strategically.”

Ridler, 56, says he plans to conduct strategic visioning sessions with residents, business leaders and village staff over the next eight weeks before deciding whether to declare an official run for mayor. Candidates will begin circulating petitions in September, then must file those in December to get on the April 1, 2025 ballot.

Hayes said he hasn’t decided whether to seek a fourth term, but will make an announcement one way or another early this summer. He confirmed Ridler sent him an email with attached news release about the exploratory committee Thursday morning.

Tom Hayes

“I appreciate him doing that,” Hayes said. “Certainly this is part of the process. We have to run every four years. … It’s open to anyone and everyone who wants to serve. That’s his prerogative.”

Hayes has been unopposed the last two elections. He bested two other candidates to become mayor in 2013 after Arlene Mulder’s retirement.

The head of the chamber since 2004 and an Arlington Heights resident since 2013, Ridler said the focus of his visioning sessions will be to craft an updated mayoral job description, including whether the village should shift from the current $8,000-a-year part-time mayoral role to a full-time position.

Discussions also would likely center on whether Ridler, who late last year inked a new five-year contract to remain at the helm of the chamber through 2028, could keep his chamber job and serve as mayor at the same time, or if it would be a conflict of interest.

Jon Ridler has been Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce executive director since 2004.
Daily Herald File Photo, 2019

“The reason I’m looking at it now is because of my role in the community, because of my continued activity full-time in the community — that’s where I think I have the strengths to look at serving Arlington Heights. But also there’s some questions that need to be answered for making a living at the same time running the community as the mayor, which is a very part-time position,” Ridler said. “The job description and the expectations of the community — Has that changed? Is there an interest in that changing? — are the questions that we want to ask.”

Hayes, 67, is an attorney in toxic tort litigation with Chicago law firm McKenna Storer. He said he’s been able to manage his job and mayoral position, attributing it to the discipline he received as a West Point graduate and 22 years in the Army.

He also admits having two jobs at one time can be challenging. And after 33 years on the village board — first, as a trustee elected in 1991 — he said his age and desire to spend more time with his two grandchildren will factor into his decision about whether to run again.

Another major factor: the status of the Bears stadium and Arlington Park redevelopment, which is now in limbo amid team President and CEO Kevin Warren’s announced shift back to the Chicago lakefront for a potential future home of the Bears.

“I always look to see what’s going on and what’s in the best interest of the community,” said Hayes, who decided in 2020 to seek a third term to help the community navigate the pandemic, despite originally planning to serve only two.

“I would have to gauge in terms of what’s going on and my comfort level in terms of who would be best to lead the village through challenging times,” Hayes continued.

Ridler said his announcement Thursday wasn’t prompted by the Bears stadium issue.

The fate of the Arlington Park property is likely to be a key issue in a potential mayoral race in 2025.
Paul Valade/

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