Politics at its best

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

Ray Johnson, the Oak Park village trustee who offered up the compromise that allowed Anan Abu-Taleb to be sworn in free and clear as village president on Monday evening, said afterward that he had spent a long weekend trying to sort out "why this is so hard" an issue to resolve.

Since the election and as the issue of a conflict between Abu-Taleb's liquor license and his service as local liquor commissioner/village president became more intense, he said "a lot of discussion took place. A lot of people came to the table." But, he added, "everyone was focusing on politics and I was asking, 'What's the policy?'"

Johnson, God bless him, believes he found a policy-based solution that moved the village board from a likely 4-3 vote against Abu-Taleb's simple swearing in to a generous 6-1 vote in favor of a cloudless launching of a village presidency.

I'd say that, to his full credit, Johnson found a sound solution along a narrow path between politics and policy. Then, as the senior trustee, he used the respect he has rightfully gained in 10 years on the board to make his middle way an obviously satisfactory solution for all but one of his colleagues, that being Colette Lueck.

Early in the 70-minute first meeting of the evening, Johnson spoke and, at the close of his spirited defense of principle and his declaration that "I don't make calls based on popularity," he quietly offered a compromise. He'd back the liquor ordinance change proposal on the agenda, but then wanted the entire liquor ordinance sent out to the Liquor Control Review Board for review.

Because the board was in its "everyone gets a chance to speak" mode, Johnson's possible solution just sat there, overshadowed by his "I will never hold any issue hostage to progress" rhetoric.

It wasn't until after Village President David Pope gave his extraordinarily thoughtful and nuanced summary of the options and the pitfalls before the board and after a small language issue in the ordinance, raised by Trustee Glen Brewer, was resolved with a suggested change by Trustee Bob Tucker, that Johnson came back around and reiterated his offer.

The lawyers on the board — Tucker and Adam Salzman — took a few moments to poke at what Johnson had offered, making sure that what they had heard was what he was actually offering. It was. Johnson would vote to change the Oak Park liquor law outright Monday night, creating a permanent solution for Abu-Taleb, if the board agreed to then involve a citizens commission in a broad public review of the overall liquor ordinance.

Swiftly, two other votes — trustees John Hedges and Brewer — shifted into support and the dance on knife's edge turned into a convincing show of support.

Overlooked last night is that the same citizens commission completed a thorough-going overhaul of the liquor ordinance just 18 months ago. But if this show of citizen involvement and the glory of government process made a solution possible, then I'm all for it.

However the need shown by Johnson to diminish the simple political solution his compromise represented is confounding. Ray Johnson did a hero's work on Monday night. He was in the most critical and influential position at the table and, in the best sense, he found a solution that worked. That's politics. That's laudable.

It is going to take some time, though, to sort out Colette Lueck's thinking as the sole vote against solving this problem. You could say it is irrelevant, that 6-1 is plenty good. But this board is going to need Lueck's voice and perspective, and she is going to have to find her way back from the outer orbit she has placed herself in. She could start by deciding to never again lecture the village president on how he should have run his campaign, how he should have come to the village board, hat in hand, before he filed his petitions and asked them to change the liquor laws. But that is for her to sort out.

Monday night belonged, of course, to President Anan Abu-Taleb. It was delivered to him by the strong steady leadership of David Pope and the, yes, political courage of Ray Johnson.

Email: dhaley@wjinc.com Twitter: @OPEditor

Reader Comments

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John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 8th, 2013 11:08 PM

Before the swearing in ceremony on Monday, board members made comments about their experiences while on the board. John Hedges made a powerful, meaningful, and inspiring speech on his years on the board. As always John was well worth hearing. He made one statement about "Blogs." John does not like "Blogs" particularly the Wednesday Journal Comments. He said something to the effect that too many facts and statements about OP government are wrong, and that the true facts are available from the village. In fact that is not completely true. Our village does not have a data base or website that works well in finding or confirming facts, and the village has a poor record on transparency. John was in error when he says that posters provide facts. That rarely happens. Why, most posts are opinions that contain information or ideas that support their view. The vast majority of the views do not contain facts, though they do have a high level of speculation. There are some posters who post only "facts", and welcome challenges to them. There are some who do research and form narratives, and others that make statement based on their own experiences in Oak Park. Are some posts vile, nasty, and outright lies? Yes, though the WJ spends a lot of time reducing offensive remarks and have been very effective at it. The power of the WJ Comments is that on a daily basis many people post, read other post on subjects, and reply to other posts. The more posts the richer the information and the better the "blog" becomes. All add to the village and residents information base by creating an ongoing dialog. In fact, it is the only daily community conversation in the village. Two final points ?" I appreciate posters using pseudonyms if they feel it is necessary. I think the community conversation is read by a lot of people that distain the WJ Comments and the posters. Some even reply using their name or a pseudonym. All are welcome.


Posted: May 8th, 2013 8:53 AM

Despite a woeful lack of knowledge and expertise, Colette Lueck has been lecturing and admonishing others since her days as Chair of the Plan Commission. Backed by the VMA, she has used her position of authority as a bully pulpit, not as a civic servant. Her embarrassing display on Monday was just the latest display of unwarranted arrogance. Now, unprotected by a board majority of like-minded VMA brethren, she is left to herself, and has no power or influence whatsoever.


Posted: May 8th, 2013 8:43 AM

In Ray Johnson's long tenure as village trustee, he has never demonstrated much concern for due process concerning public policy or the role of citizen commissions. In fact, he has often disregarded the Historic Preservation and Plan Commissions when they have threatened his personal agenda interests re. downtown development. Johnson's compromise was only provided when his earlier attempt to derail Anan failed, just as it did with his VMA colleagues Ray Heise and Jon Hale.


Posted: May 8th, 2013 5:42 AM

"outer orbit", sums it up.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 8th, 2013 2:36 AM

Re:Trustee Lueck,I have nothing against someone casting a dissenting vote, if the reasoning behind such vote is sensible.Colette was defensive about how the Board didn't create this issue (does the Board create any issue?) and then she veered off into a land of public chastising & things that had nothing 2 do w/ governing. She is entitled 2 her feelings (of feeling blamed, attacked, disrespected, I'm guessing) though I don't know what her personal feelings have anything 2 do w/ the liquor code.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 8th, 2013 2:15 AM

I didn't originally connect Trustee Johnson's suggested compromise he made after everyone spoke, with what he was alluding to earlier when he spoke. It wasn't until I watched the meeting again online that I caught it. But just to clarify, his possible solution didn't "just sit there." Ray chose to say, "That's all I'll say for now," without mentioning the compromise until 30 minutes later, right before the vote. Regardless, it was a very logical solution that I think did sway a couple of votes.

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