By Jim Bowman
Last night at the library, Oak Park village president Anan Abu-Taleb said he sees "no light at the end of the [fiscal] tunnel" for Oak Park, except for the lights of an oncoming train. He had told of the 2012 audit of village finances that showed a miserable $145,000 cash balance, which he called the key signal to credit agencies of Oak Park's dangerous situation.
A man in the audience of about 40 people gave chapter and verse on how a proposed zoning change would cut in half the value of a building which he intends to buy. Anan, supporting the change as putting unused land into play as revenue-generator, responded with reference to the not-in-my-back-yard syndrome as thwarting what's best for the village.
He spoke at one of his patented town meetings, his fourth in a year, accompanied by a newly appointed trustee and the recently appointed executive pro-tem of the village's recently created economic development mechanism — the man who a year ago opposed him in the electoral race for village board president.
Anan's mark is on everything. He praised the former opponent, a longtime villager with decades of public service, as effective in this new role. With him to field questions was the young professional mother of two pre-schoolers whom he had picked to replace a longtime much-admired trustee who had moved for business reasons.
A woman warned of coming economic hard times for the village and country, sounding a fiscally accountable note that mirrored Anan's. A man warned of coming hundred-degree days and asked what plans the village had if generators go down, interjecting high praise for Anan's town meetings, in which the constant has been the fiscal issue.
Contrast this with Chicago's Mayor Rahm Emanuel as depicted in a stunning signed column by a member of the Chicago Tribune's editorial board — "an arrogant person . . . an ass-kicker" whom we would celebrate if he got results.
"The strutting. The finger-pointing. The swearing. Come on. We loved it," writes Kristen McQueary. But Rahm "his arrogance is oversized for the record he has amassed. He's beyond bossy. He's a walking personality disorder. . . . his audacity exceeds his accomplishments."
His main failure is his continuance of Chicago mayors' excessive borrowing to make ends meet. In his three years, "the city has only nipped and tucked at its debt and deficit spending." In February, for instance, after nearly three years in office, he "pushed a $900 million borrowing plan through the Chicago City Council."
It was a pattern for his predecessors. It's a pattern for him, a reliance on "expensive taxable bonds with high interest rates." The Trib's 2013 series "Broken Bonds" spelled this out, McQueary wrote, "including an unexpected $12 million cost" to cover "the disastrous parking meter debacle," a deal "that will end up costing taxpayers at least $30 million."
He promised to fix the problem, and unions opposed him accordingly. But he's become a problem. Which is a major difference between him and the Oak Park president, who made fiscal responsibility the foundation of his campaign and has followed through, doubling down on what he said then, as he did last night at the library.