After waiting to make sure she didn't get kicked off the ballot, Lynn Kessen officially announced her candidacy for a spot on the Oak Park village board last week.
An Oak Park resident since 2000, Kessen works in government affairs for an engineering-related company, and she has been vocally opposed to high-profile towers that were built or proposed in the village's downtown district over the past five years.
Kessen, 45, said she was inspired to run for a spot on the board back in June, a few months after the village board gave approval to a 20-story hotel development planned for the corner of Lake and Forest. All seven of the current members of the village board were slated by the Village Manager Association, and Kessen said she felt unheard by local elected officials.
"I realized that we really are not represented on the village board," she said. "Unless you believe in what the VMA is about, then you're not represented. I know they say that they have different voices, but when push comes to shove, it appears that they tend to work together toward getting their common goal. I would like to see some diversity of thought."
Kessen moved to Oak Park from Cicero about 10 years ago, into a condo building near Lake and Forest, just west of Austin Gardens. She's lived there since with her husband, James. There she's been active on her condo board, as treasurer for four years and secretary for the past two.
Professionally, she has worked in architecture and engineering since 1996, currently in government affairs with an engineering and consulting firm based near O'Hare Airport. She believes her experience, eyeing budgets and capital improvement plans, will transfer well to the village board. She also holds a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Michigan State University.
Kessen fought to stop the Whiteco project at Harlem and Ontario, but despite her opposition to such projects, she insists he's still in favor of reasonable development that sticks to local zoning codes, and that she won't be a one-issue trustee. She would also like to see the dissolution of Oak Park's tax increment financing districts.
Even if she gets elected along with the other unaligned independent candidate Lewis Carmichael, the VMA would still hold a five-trustee majority on the village board. Regardless, Kessen argues that her voice would add something to deliberations.
"I'm not saying that I'm going to, by being an independent, just carte blanche vote against everything they do. I think we'll work together to make the right choices for the community."
Also in the race for three spots on the village board are two-term incumbent Ray Johnson, along with Adam Salzman and Bob Tucker.
Johnson said the VMA-slated candidates hadn't yet hammered out their campaign strategy for the April election, and had not yet met Kessen. But he stood by the village's decision to partner with a Chicago-based developer to possibly build a 20-story hotel and garage at Lake and Forest. It's still a good plan, he says, regardless of the delays that have plagued the project recently.
"It's a solid developer with a history of successful projects," he said. "We hope that he's able to secure tenants and leases that allow him to move forward. We're not losing out on anything by giving him more time."
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