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By Anna Lothson
Anan Abu-Taleb, owner of Maya Del Sol, has taken the first step in "stirring the pot" when it comes to how Oak Park should be run.
Abu-Taleb, a 23-year resident, told Wednesday Journal on Monday that he's running as an independent candidate for village president in the April 9 municipal election. That will pit him against John Hedges, a current village trustee, who has been slated by the Village Manager Association as its candidate for village president. There are no other announced candidates and the petition filing deadline is in late December.
For Abu-Taleb, it's about getting away from the status quo and bringing new energy and a new vision. He thinks the village deserves a leader who listens more to what its residents and business owners want.
"I feel I can bridge the widened gap between the government, the businesses and the residents," he said. "I feel there is a disconnect between what the government wants to do and how they communicate that between the businesses and the residents."
It's about being a leader who listens to employees and offers services that give people confidence in the product. This perspective, he said, can be applied to running a business or the board of a local government.
"It's not a lack of effort; it's really lack of leadership," he said about what's missing in Oak Park government. "It's about building trust and getting people to buy into that vision."
Abu-Taleb, 53, said that's a vision he'll work to restore if elected.
He described Oak Park as "an accepting and loving community" and talked about the many aspects of diversity — economic, generational, racial — that attracted him and his wife to the village two decades ago.
"Our community is special," he said, but with the rising tax burden, "we are pushing minorities and older people out."
As a business owner, he wasn't pleased with the permit process when he opened Maya del Sol on Oak Park Avenue several years ago. He also felt overlooked when streetscape plans were being made for Oak Park Avenue. The village, he said, needs to change how it works with local businesses.
"There is this perception out there that we are not business-friendly," he said. "There is a general sentiment that Oak Park is difficult to do business with."
But Abu-Taleb insists he is not a "single-minded candidate," running on one issue; instead, he thinks his campaign is opening up the conversation to anything that needs to change in Oak Park. This also includes the rising tax burden, which he says is driving residents and businesses away.
A father of four — age 17 to 25 — he worries his own kids won't be able to call Oak Park home because of the high costs, and he suspects this is the case for other residents, both young and old. The first step to reversing this, he said, is to look at the village's spending habits to see gaps where inefficiencies exist and find ways to bring more revenue into the village without hiking taxes.
This also means not letting the ways of the past dictate how Oak Park moves forward in its search for economic sustainability. He wants the village to stop spending the money it doesn't have so the burden on taxpayers is lessened.
"I'm for progress and I'm for updating infrastructure," he said. "I'm fiscally responsible, but I want to approach projects with money I have."
He said his "common-sense approach will look outside the Oak Park box of traditional governance. Abu-Taleb's approach, he said, will tap into the thoughts of stakeholders across the community and ensure the discussion goes two ways. He insists Oak Park must find a way to preserve what's unique about the village while adapting with the times.
Abu-Taleb owns three restaurants. In addition to Maya, there are two pizza-focused eateries in the city. He thinks his success in business demonstrates his abilities to be an effective leader. His ability to communicate his vision as a business owner is one he thinks would translate well as a village leader.
"I feel that I would bring a lot of creativity and innovation to the job. I feel like I would bring a whole new energy. I would bring a whole new perspective to the board, which is badly needed. I feel the board has great minds, but we need a new perspective on that board," he said. "I want to give back in a big way. I want to create meaningful change from what we're doing today."