By Anna Lothson
It's the village government veteran versus the newcomer. That's the choice Oak Park residents will make when they go to the polls April 9.
John Hedges, the retired Park District of Oak Park executive director who has been village trustee for six years and served on a handful of boards and committees, says his campaign message hasn't changed from Day 1: Experience matters. Hedges has reminded residents at forums that it's important to have a leader people will follow, and his track record backs that, he said.
Anan Abu-Taleb, known by his yard signs simply as Anan, is a local businessman who owns the Oak Park restaurant Maya del Sol with his wife. He's had his share of interactions with the village board going through permit processes and such for his establishment, but he hasn't served on local boards or commissions. He sees this as an advantage, and he has said from Day 1 that he'll bring a new vision.
Hedges, who is 68 and has lived in Oak Park for 33 years, is running on the Oak Park Together slate with current trustees Glenn Brewer and Colette Lueck, Village Clerk Teresa Powell, and current D97 board President Peter Barber (also running for trustee). Abu-Taleb is 53, has lived in Oak Park for 23 years, and is running as an independent.
Hedges thinks village president is not the place for a newcomer to start since local government isn't like running a business or similar venture. He said that recently implemented plans have put the community on a trajectory forward and now is not the time to go in a different direction.
Abu-Taleb thinks otherwise. He doesn't think Oak Park is on the right path and said it's time for new leadership. He said his outlook and input will be valuable because he knows how to listen to people and advocate for those within the community.
The voters have two candidates and one choice next week. Here are their final thoughts as the campaign season winds down:
Hedges: 'We're not just talking; we're doing '
"The final pitch is the same as it's been from the start. It's important to have someone as village president who has been involved in village government and such. Anan hasn't run at all in village government and doesn't have an understanding of how government works. It's not like being a mayor. … It's a whole collaboration."
Finances: "[Anan's view is] kind of misleading — the bond rating, the negative outlook on a double AA-2 bond. It's a very high rating. We're two spots away from a AAA rating. Our cash situation is sold. We don't have financial problems. … He talks about pensions being unfunded — we fund better than anyone, especially the state."
Priorities: "We're really in the position to do some great things. … Taxes are high, we know that. But we're only 11 percent of the taxes. We've done our part [by not raising the levy]. [Anan] doesn't talk about anything specific or concrete. He hasn't said anything about specific plans. … We've got things in motion. We're not just talking; we're doing things. … In terms of priorities, I want to continue on the trajectory of economic development and services at village hall, both from an employee standpoint and services outside village hall. … Also, look at sustainability. We've done a lot, but there's more to do to save money."
Abu-Taleb: 'Oak Park deserves more'
"Basically, what's going on in our town is people are really [hungry] for new leadership and they want change. It's an opportunity for us to look at government with new eyes and a new lens. People come to me and say we have not had this much excitement in local elections for so long and they say 'thank you' for running."
Change and finances: "As a business owner, I understand the needs. I've lived through poor leadership when there is no planning. … We are going to be looking at things from a realistic point of view. ... Meaningful change rarely happens from within. What will John bring today that he hasn't brought … [The village has] created a burden for residents. … Oak Park deserves more. … We have bad economic development and have made bad financial decisions.
Priorities: I want us to go out to sell ourselves to the right businesses and right developers. I'm a tough negotiator. … Over the past few months, I have learned so much about the community. … I want to reach out to trustees and decide what's best for the community. … I can bring people together. I want to give the public a clean report on our financial decision. I want to reach out to the board, to the village manager and I want to give a true report about financial decisions."