Win or lose, VMA needs a serious talking to

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DAN HALEY

Driving for the past week across the back roads of the Midwest and South it is possible to be struck by many things. I was struck by the lawn signs. Tuesday, April 5 was Election Day in a lot of places.

There were mayors and council members, road commissioners and junior college trustees being elected. And in every instance, I'd presume, there was focus and passion and strategy by and on behalf of candidates. There were people running for good reasons and for bad.

Coming back into town Saturday afternoon I found, that in the final weekend of the Oak Park campaign, I had been visited by the VMA's Oak Park First campaign. There were three pieces to the package. The post card. The pamphlet. And the cheap shot yellow screed.

That last piece is what has become the VMA's tradition of final weekend, after-the-last-newspaper has been published, rhetoric and nonsense. This one takes out the wide brush and screams "Property Taxes to Go Up!" "The Candidates of the NLP (New Leadership Party) All Have a Clear and Undeniable Record of Opposition to Development." "New Leadership Party Policy Will Stop Development and Make Your Taxes Go Up."

Hogwash, of course, and quite pitiful when one considers the botch previously slated VMA candidates have made of development issues in Oak Park. But the piece is clearly representative of the type of nasty campaign the VMA devolves to when it is threatened as it has been from multiple directions in this campaign.

The VMA would have us believe it is the NLP which is home to the bomb throwers and crazies. Yet, when the NLP responded with its own development piece over the weekend it didn't mention the VMA at all and rightly touted a "smart development" not anti-development stance.

Now, I'm writing on Monday night, hours before the first vote is cast. Perhaps the entire VMA/Oak Park First slate will have been swept to victory. Unlikely, but possible. Even that outcome, though, won't change my opinion that the VMA, Oak Park's dominant political organization for more than 50 years now, needs a broad rethinking.

For all its supposed panache, the organization has not attracted and slated particularly strong or visionary candidates in many years. Yes, there are exceptions. In the main, though, the VMA's candidates are not our best or our brightest.

The vaunted VMA candidate selection process?#34;think papal conclave?#34;these days has more of the makings of the Wizard behind the curtain than a genuinely broad community-based outreach program. The number of participants in the multi-week process has dwindled in recent years to the point where David Pope bolted the party to run as an independent for village president precisely because he didn't feel the VMA process had retained its legitimacy.

In the effort to try to prove its inclusiveness, the VMA has lost its core while failing to broaden the base. The VMA no longer stands for definable political values with the single exception of its tattered claim on the "good government" mantle. As recently as last week in the Trib, Gene Armstrong, the current president of the VMA and a fine fellow, indeed, touted the long-held VMA mantra about selecting, electing, and then shutting up. Their point is that the VMA doesn't tell its candidates how to behave once elected. That may have been fine back in the day when the VMA elected everybody it slated, there was no opposition, and its candidates, once elected, showed some decorum.

Nowadays, it is the VMA hurtling mean-spirited and misdirected venom at some fairly credible opponents. Whether it is the last weekend screed or earlier letters to the editor that hardly mentioned their own candidates, so focused were they on taking down the opposition.

Nothing says the VMA has to continue. It is not written into village code. This is a group which needs to rethink itself, its purposes, its core beliefs. The time to start is now. There's another election in just two years.

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