By Anna Lothson
From the perspective of the 68-year-old Oak Park local government veteran, running for village president just makes sense.
His name, easily recognizable in the village, is already engraved in the name of the park district's administrative center, he's served as interim village manager and he's been on the board of many nonprofit organizations in town.
John Hedges won't have to tell people who he is, but he's ready to convince Oak Parkers why he's ready to be the next village president. Following his announcement that he'll seek the nomination from the Village Manager Association for the April election, as reported in last week's Wednesday Journal, Hedges said he's equipped to add the title to his name.
"There was no driving issue," he told the Journal in a sit-down interview Monday. "The time just seemed to be right. … This just seemed to be the next thing. If in fact people would like me to be president, I would really like to do it."
As a 28-year resident of Oak Park, Hedges is the retired executive director of Oak Park's park district and is in his second term as village trustee, the only retired member on the board.
With a slew of budget issues, a new village manager soon to be named and a reorganization of how village departments are managed, Oak Park is evolving. Moving forward, Hedges said the village needs to progress while sticking to a few basic principles.
"Even though it sounds old school, it kind of really goes back to the basics of what Oak Park was built around," Hedges said. "Racial diversity was probably number one and everything else kind of goes to. You have to have economic development, and you have to have good public services. To have good public services you have to have good economic development."
The issues facing Oak Park today he said are like "three legs of the stool," that keep Oak Park standing strong.
Hedges noted his experience leading the park district and village as the type that will help him have a different perspective if elected village president. He said he's ready to lead the village board without overstepping the role of village staff, and isn't concerned about launching his bid for president not knowing who the next manager will be.
"I don't think who is going to be village manager has anything to do with running for president," Hedges said. "It is completely on the other side of the ledger."
Instead, he said the difficulty would be on the village manager candidates who would have to consider leading Oak Park without knowing who is going to be heading the village board.
Working with a board during uncertain times isn't new to Hedges as he ran the park district during periods when its board was fully united and then notably dysfunctional. Faced with what he called "strong personalities," the group had a tough time resolving differences. This came at the same time as the Barrie Park environmental controversy that led to a five-year cleanup plan.
"We had some major challenges at the time," Hedges said. "But we just kept moving on."
Still, Hedges thinks his time spent working with a village manager and having the inside perspective of how administrators work will help him lead the board in a manner that accounts for all perspectives.
"My main responsibility is the village board and making sure we do our job efficiently and effectively — to make sure all thoughts are expressed, but doing it in a way that we can get things done but in a timely way and a decisive way."
Looking ahead to next spring means opportunity for Hedges. Opportunity of a new leader, opportunity to be involved in the Eisenhower Expressway redevelopment conversations, and opportunity to develop the village's business districts.
"There is always something that comes up," Hedges said. "But we're breaking in a new village manager. It's very exciting to have fresh eyes and fresh ideas. So that will be a good thing."
Six months remain until the April 9 election, but until then Hedges hopes being a familiar face will give residents and the VMA the confidence to stand behind him.
"I think they pretty much know who I am," he said.