Love him or hate him, there is no denying the effect the presidential reign of George W. Bush has had on the country in the last half decade. From the record youth turn-out for the last presidential election to the "Vote or Die" campaigns supported by celebrities whose larger than life persona's almost give the impression of a certain imperviousness to the political process, the level of interest over local and state government is the highest it has been in a quarter century.
Debates over such issues such as foreign policy diplomacy and Social Security reform are on the minds of community residents like never before, each person passionately conveying their position on the leadership of America.
For a firsthand account of this new mindset, take a look at the official web site of the Oak Park Republican party (OakParkGOP.org), which recently added a forum to allow supporters of the GOP to ask questions and voice concerns about local and statewide government.
"The OakParkGOP forums were launched last February and since then we have seen many people register and participate regularly," says Steve Myer, Committeeman of the Republican Party in the 7th Congressional district. "In just the first month there were over 600 viewers."
According to Myer, the April 5, Oak Park elections was his primary motivation to give community supporters a chance to debate amongst themselves about the credentials of each candidate, each of whom ran under non-partisan parties VMA (Village Manager Association) and NLP (New Leadership Party).
"There were no candidates that were clearly conservative Republican in stance, so we were able to advise supporters of the GOP which candidates would make the most of a position as village trustee, library trustee or district board member," said Myer.
One of those candidates, Mas Takiguchi, who was endorsed by Myer and political activist Michael Nevins, caused a minor stir of the forum by writing postings under the pseudonym "Bengoshi" which means "attorney" in Japanese. One could question whether it was a political stunt or an innocent oversight. Nevins strongly believes the latter.
"I think he genuinely felt that people knew who he was," said Nevins. "Those with a registered membership to the site all have access to personal profiles of the forum writers and he gives his real name there."
Nevins has been involved in politics for over a decade. He summoned an organization of community residents to challenge the High School referendum in
1994. However, because of his obligations, both professionally and personally (he has a wife and two children) he uses the site as a way to stay abreast of the governing in Oak Park.
The site was designed in 1998 by Randal Birkey, who manages a web design company. Birkey admits to being happy with the outcome of the election. He vehemently voted against the VMA, the pre-dominant party in the community whose policy decisions have drawn the ire of Nevins, Myer and himself. This year marked the first time in over half a century that candidates without the VMA's backing held more than two seats at a time, which greatly delighted Nevins, Myer and Birkey.
"I was disappointed that Vic lost," said Birkey speaking of Victor Guarino, who was not the victor in the race for a seat on the Oak Park Elementary School District 97 board. "However, I was very happy with many of the winners. I was happy to see Julie Blankemeier be elected on the District 97 Board though, as well as Valerie J. Fisher on the District 200 Board."
And what about the voting of "Yes" for the park district tax Referendum?
"That was just a mystery," said Birkey. "Granted it was backed by a flawless campaign to gain the support of the citizens, but I was surprised to see that referendum supported by the residents of Oak Park, especially since their plan to allocate several thousand dollars into 'enhancements' for the park district forgot to specify exactly what those enhancement actually are."