By Dan Haley
If Oak Park could have a debate so intense among competing candidates as we're having over at OakPark.com about the VMA and the VCA we'd all be further ahead. But I appreciated the comment from JMK, whoever the heck that is, pointing out that despite the oft repeated assertion that the Journal is in the bag for the VMA, that most of those endorsed by the paper for village president have lost.
Now I haven't worked out the math on this. I'm pretty sure we're on the plus side of the ledger in endorsing candidates who won the village presidents office. As recently as two cycles ago, however, we endorsed Bob Milstein for village president over both David Pope (then an independent) and Diana Carpenter (the VMA's chosen candidate). We were screwily wrong but, man, were we independent.
Don't want to pull the curtain back too far on our mysterious endorsement practices. All previous staff members in on the process have made pinkie swears not to give anything away. But the truth is that we've endorsed more VMA candidates because there have been a lot more of them to endorse. Mostly they've been sane. But as the paper said on the editorial page a couple of weeks ago, contested elections are always better. Since we reported online Friday that the VCA isn't mustering a slate for April's election, I hope there are independent candidates out there passing petitions as we speak.
Over three decades the paper has seldom endorsed entire slates—for the village board, for parks, for schools—because all the best candidates are seldom on a single slate, and, don't let this get around, but electing full slates tends to give the winners swelled heads.
When there is something approaching legitimate competition for the village board, I'm told VMA insiders take odds on which of their precious children the Journal is going to dump. And dump we have.
With respect. We try to dump with respect. To not endorse with respect. Because we understand that running for office in these towns takes a lot of courage. If you lose, you're a loser. At the farmers' market, at your kid's end of school picnic, in your obituary in the paper – "In 1973, Mr. Harwell ran unsuccessfully for the Oak Park village board. Actually he was trounced. Embarrassed really."
And if you win, you have to go to all those meetings, have opinions on whether cab drivers should wear socks and how close we should go to actually creating a corner tavern while still not calling it a tavern. People you don't know, and now people using just initials, write snarky things about you.
Would give an average person pause. And believe me we're looking for average people. Smart average people, yes. We get in trouble with candidates out of the center, over full of themselves, fixated on an issue, a building, a time in history they want to recreate.
Recently had a question, first time I've ever been asked, as to why we don't identify candidates for local village and school offices by political affiliation—Democrats or Republicans. It's simple. It is irrelevant. Good school policy, redoing the parks, balancing a village budget isn't partisan political work. The last thing we need is to align along the lines of the national pols. Take a look at how that discussion is going presently.
We just need good, sincere candidates so we can have a genuine campaign.