Post-mortem on the recent election, and the VMA

Opinion

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Kevin Peppard, One View

1) NLP supermajority on the new board

The truly significant result was not the election of David Pope as president. It was the sweep of the three trustee positions by the New Leadership Party (NLP). That will result in five NLP-controlled seats, even with Pope's election to president. Bob Milstein will get to retain his trustee seat, and along with the three NLP new people, will have the majority votes to choose Pope's replacement as trustee when Pope moves up to president. Contrary to one report in this paper, Pope will not get to choose his own successor?#34;the entire board will. Milstein will be the leader of this block, since he will be the only one of the five who has previously served. He might as well be president. Even if Diana Carpenter had won, the NLP would still have four votes, a majority. The election of the three NLP trustees, along with Milstein's guaranteed position in some capacity, altered matters decisively. Virtually no one predicted this outcome.

2) Implications of NLP
majority

The Whiteco deal cannot be undone by the new board, since it is now a contractual commitment. However, the extension of the downtown TIF can be undone at any time, the proposed condemnation of properties on Westgate can be tabled, various village administrators can have their contracts un-renewed or bought out, and the like. The newspapers should be pursuing with the new NLP board members what their plans are in these areas. There could be an absolute sea change in the direction of village government, uncontemplated by most people before this. This majority may be long lasting. Three of the NLP trustees will not be up in two years. and the presidency will also not be up. Only three seats will come up: Ray Johnson (VMA), Milstein (NLP) and the new NLP appointee. Only one of those NLP incumbents has to win to continue their majority.

3) Disintegration of the VMA

We should have expected better from the VMA (running as Oak Park First) in its defeat. Diana Carpenter said she was "shocked as could be," blamed things on "single-issue voters and angry people," and spoke of "lies and deceit." Evidently, 78 percent of the voters fit those categories. Nonetheless, she vows that such people "will not be allowed to take over Oak Park." It sounds like we have a caped crusader who wants to rescue us. Gene Armstrong (president of the VMA) complained that the loss was due to the fact "that more people voted than in prior elections" (as if that is bad), and that David Pope "siphoned off the traditional VMA vote by deliberate tactics" and via a "conscious effort." In other words, he was a more effective campaigner. Armstrong said in the Chicago Sun Times that Pope may have benefited from the recent coverage of the death of Pope John Paul II.

"I'm sure it had an effect," he said, figuring it might be 100 to 300 votes. What a bunch of nonsense, self-righteous paranoia, and delusion: You people ran a bad campaign. Own up to it. The icing on the cake was the last-minute negative flyer, stridently claiming that voting for the NLP will cause everything other than toenail fungus. The VMA never would have put out this kind of non-sequitur negative piece in previous campaigns. Finally, the State Board of Elections sanctioned the people who would give us "good government" on April 1 for irregularities in their campaign finance disclosures.

4) Plenty of blame to go around

The NLP was also not without its own last-minute tricks. On the second weekend before the election, a letter went out to up to 1,800 members of labor unions in Oak Park (my household has such a person), urging them to vote for Milstein and the NLP candidates, stating that such a vote would reduce taxes. The logic was that the NLP would be more labor-friendly, and that unions would not have to sue the village government so much, and that the village's legal bill would go down.

This tortuous logic came in an envelope with no return address, was unsigned and anonymous, and did not use a postage meter (stamps were pasted on those letters). If a union group sent those letters on behalf of a campaign, then that campaign would have to disclose the value of such a large effort in its filings with the State, and do so within two business days when done so near the election.

I checked things out, and what happened appears to be this: Over a dozen unions consolidated their Oak Park mailing lists, and printed the labels. The NLP supplied the stamps free, and the person who gave that "in-kind" contribution disclosed it. That was the bulk of the expense. Things still smell bad, however: anonymous letters, no return address, stating that the candidate will give the unions better contracts, rather than work for the taxpayers. This letter may have cost the NLP votes, and not gained them.

5) Campaign finance

As noted by Kathy Grayson in this paper, the two main village parties will have spent about the same, and those amounts are approaching $30,000. Two individuals who opposed Whiteco loaned about half the money that NLP had available. Realistically, those loans will not be fully repaid. and will end up forgiven, and tantamount to contributions. In a more disturbing note, school board elections are becoming prohibitively expensive for the common person who wants to help out in an unpaid, volunteer position. One candidate, already an incumbent and a past top vote-getter, has in each case spent around $10,000 on her single-person campaign.

6) Out with the old, in with the new?

Not only did the VMA, dominant for half a century, fare badly. Other long-controlling political blocks did not perform as they used to. Eric Davis was not only able to get elected to the Township board without support from the traditional powers that be, he was the top vote-getter. Likewise, Dee Millard became the first person since Bill Cragg to win a high school board seat without the backing of the PTO Caucus, and was also the top vote-getter, by a very decisive margin.

Are all these coincidences, or are voters beginning to look more at the candidates and issues, rather than simply vote as they are told by those with clout?

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