How to beat the VMA in the next election

Opinion: Columns

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By John Hubbuch

The Village Manager Association's three candidates rolled to victory last week. That's barely news. The VMA has rolled to victory for the last 50 years. One-party rule is the edict in our community. But the East Germans tore down the Berlin Wall, and dictators are on the run in the Middle East, so anything is possible.

Don't get me wrong. I often have voted for the VMA, and probably will in the future, but everyone knows competition brings out the best in us. Plus no one wants to read blogs and columns complaining about VMA hegemony. Boring. So here's my first effort at a playbook on how to beat the VMA in 2013 — or at least win one lousy seat on the village board. Baby steps.

Trying to be the opposite of the VMA, or hypercritical of it, is a proven recipe for defeat. Same thing for putting together a bunch of angry dissidents, such as NIMBYs, greens, preservationists, et al. These voters hate the VMA and will vote for the challengers anyway. The way forward is VMA Lite. Use their template, but be a little different. Take the high road, but make it clear that it's time for a change — new people, new issues. Instead of McDonald's, think Burger King, not vegetarian. Instead of Walgreens, think CVS, not homeopathic medicine.

You need all new candidates with good résumés. Do not trot out the losers from previous campaigns. They can be workers and strategists, just not candidates. You need friendly "nice guys" and "nice gals." We need good paper — Northwestern and U of C grads with real jobs would be nice. Voters like smart, affable candidates. A little diversity would be nice, but is not a requirement.

Now here are some items for consideration in the platform. First, the new party has to be the most conservative fiscally. The VMA will be onto this, so the insurgents need something dramatic, like a two-year freeze on expenditures, or 5 percent cuts. Nothing crazy, but it has to be real. We will do more with less in the New Economy (whatever that means).

Second, you need to criticize the VMA's approach to business development, and focus on all the empty lots and vacant buildings in town (great visuals for campaign literature). You pledge to rationalize and streamline all the various business districts, rather than the current hodgepodge of balkanization. You emphasize the importance of local ownership of buildings and businesses (except, of course, Lake Theatre's Willis Johnson).

Third, you promise to clean house at village hall, and get rid of all the surly workers who have acted like it is an imposition to wait on resident voters for all the stupid stickers and permits we can't get online.

Fourth, you promise to streamline the building-permit process so that you can add a porch to your house without the permit process taking three months and four meetings at village hall. Improving your home should be encouraged, not made into something akin to removing nuclear waste.

Fifth, you promise a top-down review of parking, including rescinding the overnight ban, and elimination of parking meters in certain areas.

This is just a start. No doubt, there will be new issues to emerge in coming months. As Jack Fagan once told me, "Friends fade away, but your enemies accumulate." All of the VMA's enemies will vote for the new guys, and there's no reason the new party couldn't sway half of the rest of the electorate if voters could choose fresh, attractive candidates with positions slightly different from the VMA's. The newspapers would love to endorse such candidates.

One thing is clear: Pursuing the same strategies with the same candidates appealing to the same constituencies and expecting a different electoral result is insanity. Time for a change. Let's have a real election.

John Hubbuch, an Indiana native who moved to Oak Park in 1976, is a retired lawyer. Hubbuch served on the District 97 school board and coached youth sports. He is the father of three and grandfather of one. Read his blog at

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Posted: April 21st, 2011 9:34 AM

................and the votes were counted and the winner is_________

Winston Smith from Oceania  

Posted: April 21st, 2011 8:53 AM

In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it.


Posted: April 18th, 2011 11:07 PM

Sounds like we have a case of sour grapes. The rules are the SAME for every slate, group, candidate running.Just because those who are NOT in power feel unloved, they want to complain about the game itself & NOT the competition. Everyone has a right to run. Its so unfortunate that you whiners will never feel the LOVE from your Village board because you are ALL self defeatists. Sit back and use some positive energy and involve yourself in a useful manner.Sounds like a lot of retired ungratefuls

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: April 18th, 2011 5:42 PM

I could not agree with OP Resident more. It is not just private developments where the game is played. It is also played with non-profit developments - Madison. The collusion is incredible. See what I mean at

OP Resident  

Posted: April 18th, 2011 5:15 PM

The game is rigged. When less than 30% of eligible residents vote; the slate that gets it's people to the polls will win. The fact is that a very small percentage of Oak Park's population controls all the action in town. If the VMA wants to create a TIF district. They do it!If the VMA says give our tax dollars to wealthy developers & connected consultants. It's happens! If the VMA wants a new hotel. It's a done deal! There's no open process or honest debate. The VMA is the only show in town.


Posted: April 18th, 2011 12:41 AM

Dont vote for winners???

John Hubbuch from Oak Park  

Posted: April 15th, 2011 9:02 AM

Never vote for an unopposed candidate, or one who is certain to win. It only encourages them. Americans have died for my right to not vote.


Posted: April 13th, 2011 2:48 PM

Didn't VOTE for Village trustee? Shame on you. Your credibility level just dropped big time. Ask President David Pope and fellow trustees (at the time) how well the Village Board functioned under Non VMA folks. I believe very ineffectively and inefficiently. Two out of the three Non VMA trustees left mid term. Be careful what you wish for......

tjk from Oak Park  

Posted: April 13th, 2011 10:58 AM

Good commentary. If you read Mr. Stempniak's article, apparently if you cry in front of a VMA member, they'll pretend to start caring about the property tax burden. I laughed at that one - in his third term, he's realizing that high taxes are having an effect on people.

John Hubbuch from Oak Park  

Posted: April 13th, 2011 10:45 AM

For the record,I voted in the recent election, but I did not cast a ballot for Village Board. I think that one-party rule is not the best form of government. The future of the Village is too important to entrust to an oligarchy even if it is wise and paternal. Just like in the old Andy Hardy movie where Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney put on a show, I think we as a Village should put on a real election with candidates and debates with all the fixins. I know we can do it!

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: April 13th, 2011 12:24 AM

You missed on important item. If you want to run, start the fundraising portion of your campaign now. The VMA has deep pockets. To do that you need a platform and John H's is an excellent start. If you wait until September 2012, to launch the campaign -- you lose.


Posted: April 12th, 2011 11:21 PM

John, Who did you vote for in the recent election for Village Board? Why is everyone so concerned with the VMA and not any other elected body? Maybe too many RF people on Dist 200 or maybe too many South Siders on Dist 97. Its NOT about the VMA. It's about good candidates and good campaigns and the VMA does a great job with both. You seem to think that the VMA has some evil because they win. I'd beg to differ.

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