A passionate Joanne Trapani spoke about Oak Park's prosperity, self-sufficiency and fiscal stability during this year's League of Women Voter's State of the Villages Dinner on March 4 at the Nineteenth Century Club in Oak Park.
The outgoing president's speech, in which she addressed political naysayers and rebuked anyone who says Oak Park is not doing well, was one of her last public speaking engagements as president before the April elections.
"After four years as village trustee and nearly four years as village president, my term is about to end," she said. "But as I return to the role of resident I feel confident about the state of the village's finances, its partnerships and its opportunities."
Trapani, an investigator and training coordinator for the Cook County Commission on Human Rights and a member of Cook County's Hate Crimes Prosecution Council, told the nearly 160-person crowd "times haven't been this good in Oak Park in recent memory."
Quoting English Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, she said, "I only wish I could be as sure of anything as my opponent is of everything." Trapani rebuked her opponents saying, "If you're thinking that my assessment is contradictory to some of the comments and positions you have heard and read about, you are correct. Frankly things are so good in Oak Park that I am left to conclude that there are just some people for whom good news has no resonance.
"Our community is in the midst of an unprecedented era of prosperity," she said. "Our economy is strong and getting stronger. Our housing market?#34;which is really what Oak Park is all about?#34;is as strong as it has ever been. In fact, our housing market is getting even stronger. Oak Park remains one of the region's most desirable communities in which to live.
"Over the past 30 years, the value of property in the village has grown to more than $2 billion?#34;a staggering level for a community of our size and population," she said.
All of this is bolstering confidence, as Oak Park has earned its highest bond rating ever, Trapani said.
Like her counterparts, Forest Park Mayor Anthony Calderone and River Forest Village Administrator Charles Biondo, Trapani spoke at length about the strategic partnerships forming between municipal governments and private investors in rebuilding the commercial base in the village and strengthening the downtown area.
"It is essential that municipal government engage in public investment while at the same time encouraging private sector development," she said. "Encouraging investment is a major positive step toward easing the burden of our residential property owners.
"There is a persistent myth that tax increment financing (TIF) increases taxes; in fact, if you look around, TIFs can actually reduce the tax burden borne by any one property owner by increasing the number and categories of taxpayers, encouraging economic growth," she said.
"Because of a decrease in federal and state support, Oak Park needs to be increasingly self-sufficient," she said, adding that the federal government has abrogated its responsibility to provide housing to low-income and moderate-income residents, while the state is poised to abrogate its responsibility for maintaining state roads that pass through Oak Park and both demand caps on annual levies in public education.
"These artificial caps hamper the ability of schools in built-up communities like ours to provide the level of education our children deserve. Oak Park can do better because good schools are essential not just to our children but to Oak Park," she said.
In addition, she said, "This past week the village board affirmed its commitment to diversity and arrived at a decision to allocate $150,000 to the Oak Park Housing Authority and just in the last day or so Oak Park secured $1 million to study the engineering options for the rehabilitation of the CTA Blue Line train stations."
An emotional Trapani also went on the offensive against her opponents.
"It is true that there are some people who are opposed to development, to extending the downtown tax increment financing district and other essential components of improving our business district, and I appreciate their opinions but I respectfully disagree," she said.
"Unfortunately the barrage of misleading statements and assessments have recently given way to frivolous lawsuits meant to do one thing: convince residents that something is wrong, that there is a conspiracy afoot. Let me assure you, there is no conspiracy," she said.
Tears welling in her eyes, Trapani concluded by quoting former U.S. Representative Jim Wright: "It is grievously hurtful to our society when vilification becomes an accepted form of political debate, when negative campaigning becomes a full-time occupation, when members of political parties become self-appointed vigilantes carrying out personal vendettas against members of another party."