Oak Park's best election gets whupped by Berwyn

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DAN HALEY

On election night in Forest Park, it is alleged that a group of thugs?#34;likely led by the police chief of Berwyn?#34;beat the tar out of the one-time administrator of North Riverside. Meanwhile, downriver in Brookfield, voters turned out of office a village president who once directed staff to write a village check to cover the back taxes on a piece of private land. Melrose Park has a mayor being investigated by the feds. And, to boot, his brother is being investigated for embezzling from the danged Little League.

There are moments when covering politics in Oak Park that it is good to have a broader perspective. And if I think perspective is useful, imagine the position of Carl Swenson, the Oak Park village manager, who woke up Wednesday last with a new village president and an assemblage of trustees who aren't yet fans.

"Look at Berwyn and the other towns around us," said Swenson Monday afternoon. "They have horrible political issues. All those political appointments. Our form of government serves us well."

That would be the village manager form of government, not to be confused with the Village Manager Association, which voters decided last week hasn't been serving us so well lately. In a village manager government, voters elect the officials. The officials hire a professional manager who then hires the professional staff. He may have failings, like the rest of us, but near as we know, none of Swenson's kin are on the public works payroll, and Police Chief Tanksley isn't the head of the dominant local political party as is Chief Marzullo down Berwyn way.

Even when we have bad good government, as we have in recent years, it is still good government. You may not like the decisions that get made and nobody thinks the process of decision-making in a case like Whiteco is anything short of insane. But when I look back at Whiteco, I realize that as convoluted and closed as it got over its excruciating 44 months of debate, I never sat back and thought, "OK, who's getting paid off here." It was more like everything that is absurd about Oak Park life multiplied steroidically.

So the question is how much better could Oak Park government be? I'm surprisingly optimistic that it can be a lot better. I also reserve the right to believe it could go south in a way that is good for headlines but bad for those of you not trying to sell newspapers.

The key, he will be glad to know I've noticed, is Bob Milstein. Seemingly content not to have been elected village president, it took him and everyone else about two seconds to notice that with the NLP trustee sweep, Bob Milstein has become the Majority Whip of the village board. You have an independent president in David Pope. He's got to build coalitions because he has no slate of colleagues he can call on. You've got Ray Johnson, the last standing VMA trustee, who is trying to cram two years of missed niceties into the last seven days. You've got Pope's empty trustee seat needing to be filled with board approval. And you've got Bob Milstein.

Late last week, several Milstein pronouncements were floated in some circles. He sounded like a man filled with election hormones. This proposal was dead. That appointment was subject to a Milstein OK. Altogether non-collegial. By Monday afternoon, after further discussions with Pope and, I like to think, an intervention by his NLP colleagues,  that tone was dead and Milstein was back in the groove which had won him this paper's unlikely endorsement. "You said in the endorsement that I'd grown in the role of trustee," Milstein repeated to me Monday. We said it. If Milstein remembers it, he'll get the credit.

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