Slow-going in raising money, interest for Oak Park village board race

'Citizens for Accountable Leadership' slate declines to say how much it has in the bank

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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

In past elections for seats on the Oak Park village board, tens of thousands of dollars got poured into campaign coffers, from everyone including condo developers and the local movie theater owner. But in 2011, the group of candidates backed by the VMA, the long established political party in Oak Park, is having a much harder time raising cash, they admit. However, they won't say exactly how much is in the bank.

Nearly every election over the past 50 years in Oak Park has been dominated by the Village Manager Association. This year, the political party endorsed three candidates — Ray Johnson, Adam Salzman and Robert Tucker — who are calling themselves "Citizens for Accountable Leadership."

As recently as 2007, the VMA candidates accumulated more than $60,000, far out-fundraising the competition. But with the struggling economy and a sleepy village board race, the VMA slate has pulled in "considerably less" with about a week to go before the April 5 election, said Lynn Kamenitsa, campaign manager for the three candidates.

"People's pocketbooks are a little bit squeezed right now, actually a lot squeezed right now," she said. "The economy is tough and people are watching their spending, and we're watching our spending as well."

A recent change in state election law has eased reporting requirements for campaigns. Kamenitsa said the slate doesn't have to report all of its contributions until a mid-April deadline, after the election. Candidates and campaigns are now required to immediately report only donations of $1,000 or more.

Through today, Citizens for Accountable Leadership has raised $4,400 toward its campaign, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections website. That came in the form of a $3,400 loan from the VMA and a $1,000 contribution from Steven Ginsberg.

Kamenitsa refused to say how much Citizens for Accountable Leadership has raised toward the campaign, but acknowledged that it's "considerably less" than the $30,000 the VMA raised in the 2009 election.

"I can't talk to you about that before the election. You can see what's out there publicly, but we can't give that kind of information right now," she said. When asked why, she said, "Because we're just not going to do it."

Back in 2007, the VMA slate — which included Ray Johnson, then seeking his second term — raised some $60,000, and $74,000 including in-kind contributions. Donors in that much more contested election included Lake Theatre owner Willis Johnson, major Oak Park property owner Bill Planek and since departed developer Alex Troyanovsky.

Johnson, 47, believes that the low fundraising total is partly because so many Oak Parkers are focused on District 97's referendum push. A handful of people who helped with the VMA's campaign last time around have, instead, devoted their attention to lobbying for the tax increase.

"There's a lot of energy and focus and passion there because it impacts everyone to a very personal level," he said.

Back in the 2007 election, there were 12 candidates from three different slates competing for four spots on the village board. While this year, there are only five competitors, two who are independent, lesser-known political hopefuls. Johnson believes the decreased competition has also lead to the decreased interest and fundraising.

"I like to think it's because the majority of people believe we are going in the right direction," Johnson said of the current village board, which is filled entirely by VMA candidates.

Kamenitsa said, with less money in the bank, they've relied more on door-to-door campaigning and social media, and less on advertising and mailers.

Independent candidate Lewis Carmichael, 80, is refusing to take donations for his campaign. The retired dentist spent about $250 of his own money for business cards and printing at Kinko's, and is mostly relying on his website, LewisCarmichael.com.

The other independent, 46-year-old Lynn Kessen, is also refusing donations, and is sticking to a $1,000 budget from her own pocket to buy buttons and sticky notes to put on doors.

"If I get elected, I just never want anybody to question why I was making a decision," said Kessen, a government affairs analyst for an engineering firm.

Kessen disagreed that the public is satisfied with the village board's performance over the past four years, pointing to opposition to the 20-story hotel tower that trustees approved last year.

"It will be a good litmus test for whether that's true," she said of next week's election. "Hopefully I can prove them wrong."

In the last election, Gary Schwab and the Village Citizens Alliance slate got battered, being out-fundraised and outvoted by a margin of two-to-one. Schwab thinks it might be tough for Kessen or Carmichael to win without any financial backing. Other locals, such as Bernie Abraham, have won spots on the board with shoestring budgets, he said, but they had more name recognition in Oak Park.

"Nothing seems to be getting any traction except for the referendum," Schwab said.

CONTACT: mstempniak@wjinc.com

Reader Comments

11 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

OP Resident  

Posted: April 4th, 2011 5:26 PM

My apology was sincere and due. I understand that you fully comply with state laws but had hoped that you might agree and provide a detailed accounting that residents could view. No big deal. If you get a chance, please read the comments I've posted to David Pope. I think they explain why someone would wish to keep their identity to themsleves. You can judge for yourself. But the actions of Village Attorney Heise in an effort to locate Eli Spencer are a chilling example of an abuse of power.

Jim Kelly from Oak Park  

Posted: April 4th, 2011 4:23 PM

OP Resident, thanks for the half-hearted apology. First, we are following state law regarding campaign disclosures. Second, I personally feel absolutely no obligation to engage in civic discourse with someone unwilling to attach their real name to their opinions.

OP Resident  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 7:59 PM

I owe Jim Kelly an apology. He previously scolded me about a comment I posted regarding VMA campaign funding. It seems he is right that the party will not spend $30K on this election. Of course, Kelly has refused my request that he provide specifics about the money they have spent on the past ten elections. But I never really thought he would accept that challenge. The $60K raised for the 2007 campaign is a perfect example of how The VMA can overwhelm any opposition. Money flows to power.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 11:48 AM

Lewis Carmichael statement from his website "There is no one elected official that a citizen can go to and get a straight answer. The appointed officials run and hide." I was also impressed with his thoroughness on the bicycle issue. Can't fault his logic. Might not be the best candidate but his quote shows he is the most forthcoming candidate.

OP  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 11:28 AM

Steve, Really? His agenda is about an incident where the police gathered up an abandoned bike that he opposed. Eventually a judge told him to run for office so he could change the laws. And so he is. Give me a break. Oak Park really deserves the best and I dont think Lewis has that to offer from what he says in his own words.

Steve  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 8:42 AM

Finally a trustee who is honest about his agenda going into Village Hall. I encourage everyone to visit LewisCarmichael.com. We don't need to worry about this old coot lining his pockets with cash from Donald Trump wannabes. Yes for the referendum, and go get 'em Louie!

Tom Scharre  

Posted: April 1st, 2011 7:41 AM

Bob, what makes you think that I didn't get outside yesterday? It's one of my favorite places to whine.

OP  

Posted: March 31st, 2011 9:08 PM

Seems a bit late to write this article. The election is Tuesday. Not sure who or what you are trying to stir up? Hopefully people get out there and VOTE!!! Yahooooo Yipeeeee!

Bob Pumper  

Posted: March 31st, 2011 7:37 PM

Time for you guys to put the keyboard down and go outside. Technology has made it far too simple to whine.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: March 31st, 2011 5:54 PM

"Through today, Citizens for Accountable Leadership has raised $4,400 toward its campaign, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections website. That came in the form of a $3,400 loan from the VMA and a $1,000 contribution from Steven Ginsberg." The quote is probably 100% correct. The deception is that the collection and reporting is done by calendar year. Check 2010-- most of VMA campaign collection is reported in the year previous as their campaign fundraising begins in September.

Tom Scharre  

Posted: March 31st, 2011 4:52 PM

I love these guys. They'll take a public position on any national/international issue dominating the cable scarewaves -- and promptly make a VOP-produced video about it. Never saw a developer's "artist's rendering" they didn't like. Their candidate profiles use the word "transparency" so often you'd think they were glass salesmen. But they "can't talk to you about that before the election." Shades of the Wicked Witch, telling Dorothy re: her demise: "You'll find out in due time, my pretty."

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