Time is the enemy for the NLP majority

Opinion

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KEN TRAINOR

With only a little over a year left till the next Oak Park village board election, time may already be running out on the short-lived New Leadership Party (NLP) board majority. So it's not too early to start handicapping next year's race.

In April 2007, the seats currently held by Ray Johnson, Bob Milstein and Elizabeth Brady (who is filling out David Pope's unexpired trustee term) will be up for election (or re-election if they run again). The NLP currently has a board majority although not quite as large as they first thought. It's more like 4-3 instead of 5-2 because Greg Marsey tends to vote with Pope and Johnson against the fearsome foursome of Bob, Baker, Brock and Brady (the killer Bs).

Now that the board Bs have saddled themselves (and us) with the Colt and 1145 Westgate buildings, the question is, "What can they do between now and April 2007 to make themselves look competent enough to voters to keep this board majority intact?" The VMA?#34;now cast in the unfamiliar role of opposition party?#34;is salivating in the wings. If the Colt building is perceived as an albatross for the NLP?#34;now cast in the unfamiliar role of "the establishment"?#34;and if the VMA can pull its head out of the sand long enough to field a slate of competitive candidates, the NLP may go down in local history as CARE II, a bunch of well-intentioned gadflies who couldn't sustain their revolution.

At this point, it looks like whoever wins two out of three seats will wield the majority?#34;unless, of course, a third or fourth slate enter the picture. Then it could get really complicated.

So what does the current board majority need to do to look good?#34;because they don't look good right now?#34;by a year from April? They have to make something positive happen in the downtown "superblock," and time is running short.

First task: An RFP on what it will cost to restore the Colt building to its 1930s grandeur. If the bids?#34;as everyone except the board majority expects?#34;come in incredibly high, they either have to change course or commit political suicide and commit millions of taxpayer dollars to a very speculative prospect, which will almost surely get them thrown out of office.

If they decide the Colt is too expensive to save (actually only one B has to defect), the next step is to put out an RFP to get bids on developing the superblock?#34;with or without the Colt and 1145 Westgate buildings. At this point, it gets interesting. Will Taxman/Focus resubmit its bid or some version of it? Will other developers show an interest?#34;and more to the point, some creativity? All of the NLP hopes, it seems to me, are riding on the second RFP. If the competitive process produces a far more interesting development proposal than the one Taxman was trying to push through, they are vindicated. The competitive bid process works, while the former process of negotiated deals with single developers is discredited.

The thing is, all of the above has to happen in the next 12 months in order for the voters to have something to pass judgment on. Can they do it? Not at the rate this board has been moving since last April.

Thus far, the only thing they've managed to accomplish is changing the way things were done by past boards. That's important to the NLP's core constituents, but it's not that important to the rest of the voters. The new way of doing things has to actually produce results, or they just look like a bunch of wonkish amateurs.

Can this board majority accomplish enough in its second year to be taken seriously next election? Can the VMA field a slate of candidates with a clue? Do the voters care enough about downtown development to make a clear choice? That, of course, is beyond my poor powers to predict.

But time is definitely running short.

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