By Anna Lothson
See a recap of our liveblog coverage here.
One of Anan Abu-Taleb's three sons, Matt, said his father had two speeches prepared, but was optimistic early Tuesday evening that he'd only be addressing the crowd as the next village president.
His son got his wish — and more.
The restaurateur jumped out to a quick and decisive lead Tuesday night and maintained that strong lead as the results were tallied, building to 58 to 42 percent victory over the VMA candidate John Hedges with all 38 precincts reporting.
The hard-fought campaign was a test of the VMA's traditional strength, but a strong anti-VMA sentiment, aided by a charismatic candidate carried the day. Ironically, the rest of the VMA slate ran unopposed. Abu-Taleb ran on a platform of bringing change to Oak Park; Hedges ran the Oak Park Together slate with the mantra "experience matters," that the village needed leaders to keep the village on its current path.
Voters saw it differently.
"It's not a difficult message to buy into," Matt Abu-Taleb said Tuesday, shortly before results came in. His family was welcomed by a packed crowd at Maya del Sol, the Abu-Taleb family's restaurant, cheering as the precinct results were updated.
Abu-Taleb arrived shortly after 8 p.m. and was his usual boisterous self, hugging or kissing nearly everyone in the crowd with great enthusiasm. He said he was overwhelmed by the support.
"I feel great," he said as he moved past to greet supporters. Then he disappeared to make finishing touches on his speech, which he was expected to deliver around 9:30 p.m.
After Hedges called Abu-Taleb to concede, the future village president delivered his speech to an enthusiastic crowd. Here's what Abu-Taleb said, according to a written copy of the speech:
"Wow. The American Dream is alive and well. I am a grateful man tonight. Thank you for this humbling victory. This victory is most gratifying because it came from you. It's a victory for all those who believe that Oak Park's best days are yet to come. I love Oak Park because this is where I realized the American Dream. Where I grew up, few dared to hope or to dream. I have been given many chances, but none was more valuable than the chance to come to the United States. Without it, the possibilities would have been limited. With it, the opportunities have been limitless."
The speech continued with a list of things he is grateful for, including being embraced by the U.S., his wife and loving family, and the supportive community that gave him "a sense of belonging." He also said he appreciated John Hedges and the others who worked for the "good of Oak Park" in this election.
"But I am most grateful for the voters and residents of Oak Park that listened openly to the ideas of a man with a foreign name and accent. And I am exceptionally grateful tonight for all of my campaign staff and volunteers. This victory belongs to you."
He said he will work with an open mind and also pledged to be respectful and civil to all, regardless of anyone's opinion on any particular issue.
"So my promise was that 'together, we can be more,' and together, we have made this historic change. But this is just the beginning. Your role does not end with your vote. Together, we must create a spirit of advocacy in the village and start to create pressure for change. I can't wait to get started. Let's continue to work together."
John Burkowski, who helped with the campaign, said the secret was getting Abu-Taleb's message out across multiple platforms, including forums, his website, Facebook and Twitter. Abu-Taleb could be found reading the 2013 budget on the Stairmaster, and put an immense amount of time into learning the ins and outs of village government, Burkowski said.
"We ran a hard campaign with good groundwork with social media," Burkowski said. "You wouldn't believe how much preparation he put into preparing for all the forums. … He read anything he could get his hands on."
Abu-Taleb's love for Oak Park was another factor he thought carried the candidate to victory.
"He's got an amazing energy for this community," Burkowski said. "He really wants to make a difference."
Early on Tuesday morning Abu-Taleb and Hedges spent their time at the Oak Park el stops reaching out to voters with last-minute messages. The two candidates were at one stop together at one point with their wives.
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