Not happy? Get in the game

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

Opponents of the affordable housing project on Madison Street pledge to fight approval of the Comcast project right up to Election Day on April 5. Trouble is, they don't have any candidates.

The minority of people in Oak Park who rail against village government over, you name it — Comcast, the Forest/Lake hotel project, TIFs, taxes, transparency — are left to sputter and spout because they have no cohesive message. They are against a bunch of specific, mostly unrelated things. But what are they for? Not much, it seems to me.

Running against the VMA (Village Manager Association) just isn't going to get the job done. The average person in town doesn't exactly know what the VMA is or does. And unless you have splintered off from the group over various real or perceived slights, as nearly all the opposition in the village has, a typical voter has no sense of injustice against "the machine."

Being solely anti-VMA is a prescription for breeding even more apathy than we have right now. In the coming election, there is the three-person VMA slate: one incumbent and two newcomers who have come up through the ranks of the village's commission system. This is textbook stuff, good government stuff. The commission system, imperfect as it is, is intended to be both a method of fostering citizen involvement and a training ground for future trustees.

Spit in the wind and call it blatant insider dealing, cloning or an establishment tool, but it usually does what it is supposed to do. It produces credible people with some broader sense of the community. That is typically going to get more votes than slating a batch of people with a grudge.

There are two independent candidates for the village board. That's good. A contested race is always best. But I'm not sensing great energy from the independents. There is still a month. We'll see if the energy builds. We'll see if either of the independents can articulate what they want Oak Park to become and not just crab about this decision or that action.

In Oak Park right now there are some people mad at village government over, well, see the list above. But this isn't an intense election season. There is a heated discussion about District 97's upcoming tax hike referendum. And there ought to be. This is a bad time to be asking for a tax hike though that is not the school district's fault. Plus, in this still tough economy, there is a perfect storm of debate about public pensions, school reform measures such as merit pay and tenure. It is a worthy conversation to have along with a profound recognition that education, at least education that includes art and intramurals, special needs and technology, isn't ever going to be cheap. It is an investment.

My point though is that while we have this debate, we also have an uncontested election for the school board. That makes no sense. If you are concerned about education, if you think tough choices need to be made at the nexus of education and financing it, then get in the game. Turn out at meetings. Run for office. Everything else is just blathering.

This is a small town. We need good people to step up to lead it. We need people who can offer a vision of the future of village government, not a tired rant on what used to be. We need new ideas on education that start with a common determination to innovate and excel. Screeching because the district bought a few iPads in an experiment tied to teacher evaluations is not that kind of leadership.

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Reader Comments

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john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: March 15th, 2011 12:46 AM

Dan - Re your lead sentence "Opponents of the "AFFORDABLE" housing project on Madison Street pledge to fight approval of the Comcast project right up to Election Day on April 5. Trouble is, they don't have any candidates." AFFORDABLE should read SUPPORTIVE. Interfaith prel. papers to Ill. Housing states the proposalis SUPPORTIVE Housing. Your quote boggles me a bit. Are you really saying that citizens do not have a public policy voice without a candidate? Strange town-OP. Board vote is May

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: March 12th, 2011 5:41 PM

Having attended most of the Plan Com Mtgs on the Madison Avenue Housing Proposal and having read every newspaper article, I think the Trib local had the best reporting and objectivity, the Oak Leaves was most balanced with strong objectivity, and the WJ the most sparse coverage and poorest objectivity. The irony is that the hundreds of postings on WJ's Reader Comments, pro and con, were informative, creative, and most willing to challenge the reader.

OP Resident  

Posted: March 12th, 2011 4:45 PM

Come on, Enuf! Dan Haley shares with readers his thoughts on egg salad, crabgrass and sledding. What else do you want from the guy? If you are looking for investigative reporting; you're buying the wrong newspaper. The Wednesday Journal has won numerous awards but I cannot recall the editor or his staff being honored for any investigative reporting. That's not their mission. I do think they once filed an FOIA request with Village Hall.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: March 12th, 2011 9:26 AM

Dan Haley needs to reflect on his comment that "Everything else is just blathering." How about a local newspaper that provides solid investigative reporting? There is no shortage of local issues that the public could be better informed on with the help of investigative journalism. To simply stand on the sidelines and report, and use editorials to 'blather' is not good journalism.

Dave of Oak Park from Oak Park  

Posted: March 11th, 2011 5:00 PM

What's funny is Dan is trashing his own customers and the value of using his own website to comment on his VMA propaganda aimed at quieting any opposition to one more horrible VMA visionista idea. No one is kidding themselves this means that much, Dan. Quit taking yourself so seriously. But, like you say, it's a small town. Every small town needs a cracker barrel and, sadly, this is ours. Wonder how your advertisers view your attitude toward your readers and the product they support?

OP Resident  

Posted: March 11th, 2011 12:02 PM

"Stop your whining" has become a worn out catch phrase to hurl at someone who raises a question or concern. It seems to be a lazy way to try to justify your position. Too much Fox News in the diet? I asked for a source check and you responded with gibberish. The reality is that incumbency does have benefits. People with political muscle & who are open to cutting a deal will always be able to raise funds. My purpose is not to attack the VMA but offer a statement of fact. Money flows to power.


Posted: March 11th, 2011 11:19 AM

OP Res, Some Govs had more than one term! Not sure of the total years in office but I dont care. Point here is that the VMA doesn't lay down and just have money roll in and tons of public support. They WORK for it year in and year out. In and out of election cycles. Novel concept here in OP. Now stop your whining and get in the Dan said!!

Op Resident  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 10:13 PM

Hey, OP! Check your sources. Over the past 50 years, Illinois has elected 5 Democrats governor & 4 Republicans. More significant is that Mike Madigan has been Speaker of the House since 1982, expect for two years (95-96), when the Republicans were in the majority. There are GOP strongholds across the state but the powerbrokers & dealmakers have mostly been Dems. Call the VMA a political force or a machine but the fact is Oak Park's been controlled by one party for many, many years.


Posted: March 10th, 2011 8:10 PM

OP Res, Don't you know that ILL has been an Republican state for MANY yrs? In local politics you will be self defeated if you think Cook County and Chicago politics are the same as Oak Park. I understand that the VMA has a great track record but that doesnt stop anyone from doing what they do!! The VMA contributors from 50 yrs ago can not be the same contributors today. They evolve and work hard for their campaign resources- be it people and or monies. Try it.

OP Resident  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 7:20 PM

OP, I think you are being naive about raising money for political campaigns. There is certainly a great deal of power with being an incumbent or being a candidate endorsed by a powerful political machine. People give their money and time to a candidate they think has been the best chance of winning. That's how it's works. Haven't you noticed that Dems dominate politics in Cook County? Think of Daley, Madigan and our Don Harmon. They are powerbrokers and take in the bulk of campaign donations.


Posted: March 10th, 2011 6:47 PM

The irony here is that I bet a big % of these whiners probably voted for the current VMA board. @John, everything you said is correct. It does take money to run a campaign. The great thing about our democratic system is that everyone has the same opportunity to know or get to know the people who have the funds to contribute. The rules are the same for ALL running. Get in the race my friend!!!

OP Resident  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 6:42 PM

John Murtagh's research raises some interesting questions. I think most Oak Park residents believe that our elected officials are beyond reproach. Pay to play scandals don't make local headlines. I wish John would be willing to provide some specific details re: who has benefited and to whom did they donate money.

Patricia O'Shea  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 4:54 PM

(cont). How do our elected officials know how to represent the people if the people don't make their feelings clear? Elected officials do represent the will of the masses.....right????

Patricia O'Shea  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 4:53 PM

Don't think that running write in hasn't crossed my mind. But as a working mother of 2 preschoolers with a demanding job now is not the time. 10 years or so I'll be ready. I appreciate those who are willing and able to do it. That said, I don't think our democratic system is one of "put up or shut up". (cont.)

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 4:51 PM

OP Resident - I have checked the state's campaign filing reports. Most of the VMA money comes from individuals and businesses who have contract with the village or vested financial interest in village projects and program. I have no problem with that, but it is an impenetrable wall for opposing candidates.

Citizens for an Accountable John Murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 3:04 PM

Oh come on, Murtagh. Now you just sound like a whiner. "Raising money is hard!!" No kidding. It's WORK. Much more work than just sitting at your computer and slamming people out of spite. If you want to win, you have to work for it. Unbelievable, the sense of entitlement you and the other disgruntled folks have, to expect that you should be able to insult whoever happens to get your goat that day, while being unwilling to do the hard work it takes to build a movement. Boohoo! Take responsibility

OP Resident  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 3:03 PM

If we follow the money; where will that lead us? I've always contended the hiring of outside consultants, external support and no-bid contracts are examples of "White Collar" patronage. But hauling in $30K in campaign doantions is not going to buy you any juice or a board member's ear. The VMA can raise cash but I'd guess most comes from Oak Park residents. I recall a local hotel owner contributed to the campaign only to see the board vote to build a new and bigger hotel.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 2:47 PM

Hey OP, Agree that your idea is simple. Problem is you need lots of money. In 2009, the VMA slate spent about $30000 to get 4,000 votes. The VCA spent $1000 to get 2000 votes. So if you want to run find at least $30,000. If you don't run on a slate, make that $40-50000. If you win, you will pay that again. VMA will oppose you. In 2005,the VMA lost its board majority. In 2005 it spent $70,000 and booted the interlopers. There is no level field -- the VMA has the big spenders and pays to win.

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 2:14 PM

@Rare Breath. Why now for the ref? What did you observe? Why not last year? They've known of "problem" for years. Anyway, want an example of possible "coziness" between D97 and VMA? Jassen, head of ref effort, has a VMA yard sign in front of his house. Don't think that doesn't send a message to his PTO/Parent supporters?

Rare breath of fresh air from WJ  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 1:49 PM

@chet21: I know exactly why the referendum is being run now as I have been going to local PTO meetings off and on for about 5 years. As for the rest, I have no clue concerning the alleged coziness between the D97 and Village boards and the VMA.

Rare breath of fresh air from WJ  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 1:46 PM

@John Murtagh: my comments were not meant to be critical of you. It just would be good to have some people with contrarian views who are not rigidly dogmatic that I could support, as opposed to the standard mode of voting AGAINST people/slates. Personally, while I understand the Board has the final say, I am not a fan of the commission system since the people on those commissions are unelected and unaccountable for their recommendations.


Posted: March 10th, 2011 1:42 PM

Dan hit the nail right on the head! To most of the commenters on Dans piece: It's rather quite simple. Raise money and know people or get to know people. If that's what the VMA has, then it doesn't seem so hard to duplicate. Try it, you might be surprised. Please STOP the blathering!!!

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 12:26 PM

HALEY "The commission system, imperfect as it is, is intended to be both a method of fostering citizen involvement and a training ground for future trustees." Yet,the VMA is running two new Commission Chairman candidates who submitted 30% of meetings minutes in 2010. The requirement is 100%. Maybe the VMA Trustee training needs to review its curricula. Other elected officials (Parks,Schools, OPT, etc.) are not considered village trustee material by Dan. They probably lack VMA training.

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 11:57 AM

To continue. Why do you think that D97 placed the ref on THIS ballot? Didn't they know last November of the fin'l problem? Yes, but they feared a larger voter turnout would minimize their "Scare!" campaign with the parents. Parents are not their only machine, though. As noted, the D97 Bd is quite close with the Village Bd - and that's the VMA machine. They want that vote, too. IL could save money and merge elections. Won't happen - "machine" would have less control over outcomes. Good for OP?

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 11:37 AM

@Rare breath. I've noticed that anyone willing to run against a "machine" has to be more than a little crazy. Why? Because it's not a rational thing to do - why subject yourself to an effort which has little chance of success? Then, if you actually succeed, like the dog who's caught the car, the "what's next?" frequently makes them unprepared and appear "inept." You appreciate some of the "enlightening" recent comments on D97 ref? If it passes, they end and the status quo reins. Good for OP?

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 11:27 AM

To: Rare Breath of Fresh Air from WJ - I do not choose to run for public office. I do not choose to step our commenting on public responsibility. Both statements are are supported by the Constitution, a document too frequently overlooked in OP.

Rare breath of fresh air from WJ  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 11:26 AM

@chet21: My guess as to the reason the VMA has won lately is that the oppposition has been, frankly, inept. Reading what Schwab et al. positions were made me vote against them (and not FOR the VMA). While I may be pro-D97 ref, the anti-ref reasoning put up by you, CAOP, No on Ref, Enuf is Enuf etc. has been enlightening at times. I want REAL VIABLE opposition (and lower Village taxes). (Yes, I realize I can run myself, but I already have my fingers in many pies locally. Maybe you do too.)


Posted: March 10th, 2011 11:25 AM

Dan Haley is right. People should stop blathering and get involved. Simply posting your rants and raves on this forum may produce some lively debates but little else. Oak Park needs people with a vision. Of course, I would like to see the Wednesday Journal produce more investigative reports and our elected officials held accountable for their policies and decisions.

chet21 from Oak Park  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 11:02 AM

Makes perfect sense - in a perfect world. Use Chicago or Cook County as an example. Does ANY ONE believe that the machine there, which wins 99% of the time, has provided "good govt"? Why? They typically have contested races - and the opponents get slaughtered by "the machine." Substitute "machine" for VMA and you get the picture. BTW, "the machine" of Chicago also selects their candidates from commissions, etc. The VMA is not evil, but it has a "machine" - opposing that is quite problematic.

Dave of Oak Park from Oak Park  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 10:43 AM

So, the only way you can expect good government in Oak Park is to run yourself? If not, shut up? Dan needs to go back to jr high social studies and relearn that novel idea "democracy." You should expect those in office actually care about representing voters, not narrow agendas. The solution is not anyone with a single issue run for office. It's that we have a system requiring representation. When we dump the banana republic at-large Board member disaster, we'll have a better Oak Park.

Rare breath of fresh air from WJ  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 10:33 AM

Personally, I would like there to be more contested elections around here. The time is ripe for Chet21, Noel (CAOP), Les "Cut the Taxes" Golden (aka Enuf is Enuf?), Mr. Reed (aka No on Referendum?) to band together and run for D97 Board as Write Ins. The time is also ripe for John Murtagh (sp?) and the other anti-Comcast "redo" commenters to band together to run as Board Write Ins as the VMA crowd does not want to tell us what they think of the project. Let's make this election interesting.

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