By Anna Lothson
Village President Anan Abu-Taleb reminded residents after being sworn in Monday evening that the campaign is over and it's time for business.
Abu-Taleb, who spoke of his humble beginnings, delivered a short, but simple speech about what he wants during his leadership term.
"This opportunity is most grateful because it came from you," Abu-Taleb said. "As you know, I came to America from Gaza at the age 18. My father, who was born in 1917 and lived to be 95 never lived a day with the basic freedoms and rights that we so treasure. …The values my father sought are the same values found in Oak Park."
Abu-Taleb spoke of his love of Oak Park because it's where he raised his family and realized his dreams. Abu-Taleb's wife and children, mother and mother-in law were also in the audience Monday night. He spoke of the mutual respect in the community and the diversity that is shared among residents.
"It is now my turn to give back," Abu-Taleb said. "As we look over the horizon, we have many things to work on together. …Now that I'm elected I want to pledge to each and every one and my fellow board members that my door is always open. I will always listen to your advice and seek your counsel as we work together for the good of Oak Park."
Abu-Taleb hit on attracting new businesses and private investors to spark development, improving the village's customer and business services, and revamping the parking policies. He also spoke about the importance of working "faster and smarter," and with transparency. This includes the open forums he will hold to gather community input.
"Your role does not end with your vote. We need your support. We need the community's support and we need the community to be engaged in what we do and how we do it so we are held accountable," the newly sworn-in president said. "I look forward to continuing a great tradition in Oak Park."
He thanked outgoing President David Pope for showing him the ropes the past month and asked him to be around for more advice. Pope also gave his final words as president during Monday's board meeting before stepping aside for Abu-Taleb.
Wrapping up his decade of public service, Pope also spoke of his humble beginnings. As an adopted child, he said he realizes how his circumstance could have been drastically different depending on who his family could have been.
He said what's unique about Oak Park is that it offers opportunities to many and welcomes cultural and economic diversity.
He reflected on how much he's learned in his time as trustee and president and said he's earned a great deal of respect for everyone who's served in the role. It's not a role he appreciated fully until elected, he said.
"If we can keep in mind that the person who sits in this seat has the ability to help advance those goals by virtue of the connection and communication that they have at a regional level, state level and national level and the international level — we can make tremendous progress as a community," Pope said.
The outgoing president spoke about the challenges of serving in the elected roles, but said the ability to have continuity in the vision and relationships built in and outside Oak Park is an invaluable quality.
"Oak Park is … 52,000 people with 53,000 opinions," Pope said. "And on balance, that is an overwhelmingly good thing. We sometimes can get frustrated with the level of discourse and the amount of discourse that's necessary to make us be able to move forward, but we are much stronger for the level of engagement and the level of commitment people have to this community."
Pope spoke briefly about each of his colleagues on the board and staff before wrapping up his comments. He highlighted the unique opportunity for those raised in Oak Park, and how it's important to continue initiatives set in motion, like the Early Childhood Collaboration.
"We sit in a community right now that borders to its east one of the poorest communities in the nation, and borders on its west one of the wealthiest communities in the United States," Pope said. "The children born in those communities are not inherently different in terms of what they could do or the opportunities they could achieve if surrounded by similar circumstances …All of the things so many of us are so fortunate to have had. …We need to provide that opportunity for every single person in Oak Park — that all 53,000 people here, that every child here, deserves an opportunity to reach their truest, highest potential."
Pope concluded by thanking the board, staff and residents for their guidance, but particularly thanked his wife and daughters for being there for him as he served.
"I just want to recognize … the family members of the seven people who sit in the seats who offer their support because it's that support that enables all of us to do everything we can to do our best. And it's not always perfect, but we do our best to serve the needs of this community."