'A breath of fresh air'

Opinion: Columns

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

A candidate running for Oak Park village president who received just five votes might be considered a laughing stock, a fluke, an afterthought.

But that truly was not the case for Ean Barnard. The Chicago native was just 13 years old and a student at Oak Park's Hawthorne Junior High (now Julian Middle School) when he decided to run for village president 27 years ago. Barnard, 40, died in January of last year, but in 1985 his candidacy drew praise and much media attention.

Barnard was an eighth-grader and already president of the Student Council at Hawthorne when he joined the village president race. He announced his candidacy in early January 1985. Barnard was a political dynamo, according to stories written about him by Chicago newspapers and Wednesday Journal. He wrote up a 10-page platform. His issues included bringing more Chicago businesses to Oak Park and lessening the "power" of the village manager at the time. These were thoughtful, lofty ideas coming from someone who, as noted by officials at the State Board of Elections at the time, was too young to even vote — you had to be 18 years old and registered.

Barnard ended up running as a write-in candidate after failing to get enough petition nominating signatures. Despite that, he ran like a seasoned candidate, his campaign staff comprised of six of his junior high classmates.

"A wave of commuters emerges from the Ridgeland el station in Oak Park and swarms around a 13-year-old boy wearing a very sharp double-breasted jacket, gray slacks and a tie," wrote the Chicago Tribune in 1985.

Wednesday Journal noted the young man's candidacy in a Jan. 9, 1985 editorial, highlighting the "candidate with a lesson."

"As you know, at least from our page one story today, Ean Barnard has lived 13 years, attends Hawthorne Junior High in Oak Park and says he's in the race for Oak Park village president. We don't know what you think about this, but we find Ean Barnard a breath of fresh air," the editorial read.

The paper noted that he likely wouldn't win or get on the ballot, and even admitted to laughing off his candidacy at first. That was until Ean spoke about running and why. The Journal described him as a "kid beyond his years," whose "fine effort perks us up."

In announcing his candidacy, Barnard conceded that he didn't expect to win — and that, legally, he couldn't get on the ballot. But he soldiered on, offering insight into village government beyond his years.

"The [village government] has gotten into the idea that being satisfactory is alright," he told the Journal in January of '85. "Oak Park should want to be better. Basically, I think the village should do more."

Barnard attended public forums and the traditional "candidate coffees." He spoke confidently, never referring to notes, the Chicago Tribune reported. His opponents in the president's race were Oak Park political stalwarts — former village board member Clifford Osborn, running with the VMA, and Florian Swanson, running with a group called CARE (Citizens Active for a Responsible Electorate). Both men were well beyond middle-school age, 44 and 57 respectively. Osborn, whom Wednesday Journal endorsed, would win that '85 race.

Still, Barnard had his supporters, running an unlikely campaign that hasn't been forgotten.

"My hat is off to 13-year-old Ean Barnard. … He will certainly be a more viable candidate," wrote Oak Park resident Jack Hughes in a January '85 letter to the editor in the Journal.

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