By Anna Lothson
Anan Abu-Taleb is the newcomer to local government, but if you ask him he sees that as what makes him the best candidate for village president.
Abu-Taleb, a 23-year Oak Park resident and owner of Maya del Sol, said he'll shake up the status quo, listen more, enhance customer service, cut what he calls wasteful spending and restore residents' trust in their local leaders.
"I am running for village president because I want to give back to a community that embraced my heritage and gave me a sense of belonging," the candidate told the Journal in a sit-down interview. The Oak Park Avenue restaurant owner said he'll wake up every day and think how to move Oak Park forward. "I will bring fiscal responsibility to village hall and cut waste and spending that isn't strategic."
Calling himself a "pragmatic and innovative leader," Abu-Taleb said he'll embrace diverse views, stimulate debate and make people believe in what he's been preaching this campaign season: "Together, we can be more."
Abu-Taleb said he's tired of the lack of transparency, overregulated and complex regulations, slow economic growth and lack of public discourse. He wants to rid the village of the perception that Oak Park is not business friendly, as he admitted he once considered packing up Maya del Sol and moving it to Forest Park.
"I'm not one of those people who wants to go there and turn this town upside down, but we may have to turn it to its side to just move away from this cumbersome parking policy, from this difficult permit process and from these regulations that are dated and don't makes sense."
Abu-Taleb said he's personally dealt with the village's processes with his restaurant, saying it was slow and frustrating. Neighboring towns have revamped their codes and created new vitality in their commercial districts, he said, while Oak Park is lagging behind. He said people have tried to move Oak Park forward, but village policies hold them back.
"I challenge the assumptions. I bring new ways of thinking. I'm very creative," he said. "I'd like to actually listen, not just hear, but actually listen to (residents') perspectives."
He hasn't served on any local government board before, but as a local business owner he understands what it's like to be the village's customer and what the tax burden means to residents. He vows to bridge the "disconnect" between residents, business owners and the government leaders.
"I feel as though they are on a balcony and we are on the dance floor," he said. "They won't come down and they won't allow us to come up. … People feel if (leaders) disagree with them, then they are no good."
Throughout his campaign, Abu-Taleb has compared running a community to running a business, emphasizing that residents, or customers, must come first. Current trustees, he said, have expressed similar concerns about regulations and public perception yet have done nothing to change.
"We have to balance the short term with the long term. We have to make sure it's not just what I want, it's also what my customers want, it's also what my employees want. It's also what my community wants," he said. "I think balancing all these stakeholders is a perspective that has been lacking on the board for a long time"
Abu-Taleb said he has a "healthy impatience" at approaching situations that will help him move projects and business along faster. He wants to shake things up by going back to the basics, give people more value in the service they are paying for, and get people to believe in their community again.
"I have a can-do attitude. I create trust. I get people to buy in. Once you create trust and people buy in, only then they can commit to what you are doing," Abu-Taleb said. Only then can you set up your goal. Only then can you achieve your goal."
Learn more about Abu-Taleb at ananforoakpark.com.