It's all about governance and prez candidates get it

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DAN HALEY

These are heady days in Oak Park and its presidential politics. Yes, we have presidential politics hereabouts and nowadays. Three candidates in all. Till last week, I couldn't find many people who didn't recoil at the choices before us. It was all about "least of evils," and, "if only I could mix and match various qualities of the trio."  I was in something of the same state of mind, I admit.

Three sitting trustees. And all sitting on a village board which has distinguished itself for its contentiousness and rather astounding lack of simple good grace and problem-solving skills. Getting some citizen input on development projects isn't exactly complex, after all. You just have to want to do it. Being straightforward about things isn't hard ... if you're sincere about it.

So having three veterans of this leadership-starved board all grasping for a leadership post seemed counterintuitive to me.

In more recent days, though, I have begun to have some peace about it all. Any of our three candidates?#34;the VMA's Diana Carpenter, the New Leadership Party's Robert Milstein, and independent David Pope?#34;could win election and things would improve. They might well improve along different lines, depending on who wins. But I believe, in the rush of lawn signs and stirring letters to the editor and freezing spring air, that things will be better.

Here's why. I've got the advantage of having spent an hour with each of the candidates last week. Each one took his or her turn at the end of our conference table for an endorsement interview. These are bright and decent people. Very different in style and approach, not so very different on issues. They each have insights and quirks and blind spots. All agree that the current board isn't working and that the role of the president has to change notably.

Carpenter wants to take the village president out of the middle of controversy. She wants to facilitate and build consensus as president. Milstein pledges that he can reinvent himself, again. The dissident role he played as the elected outsider these past two years would give way, he says, to a consensus builder. Pope, who places an extraordinary value on rationality, sees the path to effectiveness, shorter meetings and clean distinctions between the board's role and the job of staff, in clearer thinking and thorough planning.

What's important here is that while each of the three might take a different path, each recognizes that board governance is a mess right now. Nothing else gets better until the process of governing gets better. Carpenter may be too aligned with the status quo. Milstein still has baggage though he has grown into the role of trustee. And Pope, well, I just want to tousle his hair and demand that he give me an opinion from his gut, not from two weeks of data analysis.

My feeling of well-being improved again last Friday when I joined a group of notable villagers at the Business and Civic Council's presidential forum. This was simply the best such event I've attended and kudos to the BCC for pulling it off. The mood was congenial. The questions were tough but fair. And the three presidential candidates were, for the most part, responsive.

We're under three weeks to election day. The campaigns will intensify with newspaper ads and door-to-door politicking. More lawn signs and phone calling. We've got a three-way race with three worthy, imperfect candidates. That's not a bad place for Oak Park to be.

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