By Anna Lothson
On April 9, the current village board members wore their Oak Park Together buttons, showing support for local government veteran John Hedges.
Hedges, however, fell short to Anan Abu-Taleb's 58 percent victory, leaving his supporters to be led under new leadership of a president who has never served in a local government role. Moving forward, trustees have vowed to work with the people's choice and come together for the greater good.
"I think the voters sent a clear message," Trustee Bob Tucker said. "The message is received."
Tucker said the election reminded him of a few things about his own town. People move to Oak Park for a number of reasons, be it the rich economic or racial diversity, or possibly the generational diversity, Tucker said. Oak Park is a unique place in that sense, he said, but ongoing challenges for residents need to be addressed.
"The more and more the tax burden becomes a burden and forces people out of the community, that's a problem," Tucker said. "I think Anan struck a chord with people and quite frankly, he's right."
Tucker said Anan's message of change is a powerful one, and one that's been used at the national level to unite voters. Oak Park can learn from that, he said.
"Things do need to change. Things do need to keep moving forward. I can see that," Tucker said. "I also see a very dynamic candidate. I like him. He's a good guy. He brings a new energy as well. Sometimes those things really ignite voters. He really ran a good campaign."
Tucker, who along with Trustee Adam-Salzman, wrote a One View in today's paper about the need for change and agreed that many of Abu-Taleb's talking points during the campaign were valid. The letter made it clear that business relationships in and outside of the community need to develop, the red tape and delays need to end, and the policies need to reflect the needs of those who the board represents.
"On April 9, the voters reminded us that in Oak Park our policy priorities come from the neighborhoods and business districts, not the halls of local government," the letter reads. "We will continue to listen closely to the community, and we pledge to work together as a Board for the common good of Oak Park."
Particularly with business services, Salzman agreed Abu-Taleb's voice will be one the board can learn from.
"He's going to bring a perspective we've never had and a very valuable perspective," Salzman said. "People have told me 'you need to really get out and sell Oak Park.' I still think we need to do that … I think we need to do better and I think he correctly spoke to that."
Salzman and Tucker don't anticipate any board members going against the new president without cause, and they think the board is ready to embrace the new leadership. Under President David Pope's leadership, the board often challenged each other, and they've vowed to keep a positive dialogue going.
Fellow trustees Colette Lueck and Ray Johnson agreed, and said their jobs don't change based on who is elected. As a trustee your job is to listen to all perspectives and act as an individual, Lueck said.
"Your vote is always an independent vote," Lueck said. "It's always your vote. … I think I know what I bring to the board table. I know what my strengths are and I know my lack of strength area. I count on other members of the table to balance that out."
Johnson said what's important now is to look ahead to what the board and village can accomplish. He's been on the board for 10 years and has seen his share of disagreements, but also much collaboration. He's been through a distinct number of leadership transitions, but said the bottom line never changes.
A new leader means a change in how the board is ran, but Johnson thinks Abu-Taleb and the trustees have the same goals so he expects the shift to be smooth. Johnson has already met with Abu-Taleb and said he's confident the village is moving forward.
"The question is always the same. What's best for the community?" he said. "How do you continue to make things better? There's certainly no change in the commitment to do what's right."