By Dan Haley
If you are a fan of the pace of change, the urgency of change that Oak Park's village board has largely embraced in the past 15 months, then I've got two candidates for you. Trustees Bob Tucker and Adam Salzman told me over the weekend that they are running for re-election to the village board in 2015. And while that decision is not a shock, I also get the sense that it was not entirely a foregone conclusion either.
Both have families with young-to-school-age kids and active careers they need to manage. Sitting on an energized village board takes a lot of time. Though after talking with the two, I'd conclude that serving on a revved up board takes about the same amount of time as sitting on a divided or stalled board but is just a lot more satisfying.
In the end, their shared sense of the village's active momentum and the particular roles they currently play on this board made walking away nearly impossible.
"We are poised to take a leap forward," said Salzman. "I'm proud of what we've accomplished and what we can accomplish."
Said Tucker, "As crazy and difficult and time-consuming as this is, I really love doing it." Both pointed to the gradual coalescing they see on the current board after the tremors caused by the decisive election of Anan Abu-Taleb as village president a year ago April.
It was Tucker and Salzman who chose the high ground then as they wrote a letter to the Journal welcoming Abu-Taleb as president and pledging to find common ground. Doesn't sound so radical until you remember a core of the competing VMA that had a flameout over Anan's election and were nothing that resembled gracious.
The village president remembers that, you'd better believe, and said Monday, "I'm delighted they have made the decision not to leave me alone." Abu-Taleb said he understood the decision by Tucker and Salzman to again seek the endorsement of the VMA even though he has in the past made noises about running his own slate in opposition to the VMA. "I want everyone in Oak Park to support these two guys and the VMA is part of Oak Park."
For their part, Salzman and Tucker spoke warmly about the VMA but also referenced their efforts to bring many new Oak Parkers into the VMA's fall selection process. "I hope the selection process is robust. I want to see tons of people on the selection committee," said Salzman.
Looking ahead to a possible second term, Tucker and Salzman presented their agendas. Both talked about the need to now move Oak Park's economic development efforts beyond downtown and into the neighborhoods. Salzman said the focus on neighborhoods has to go beyond the commercial strips and include a vigorous infrastructure investment in roads, alleys and sewers.
Crime and safety was much on their minds as they talked about peoples' perceptions of crime levels in town.
"There is a tension between [crime] statistics and anecdotal evidence. Statistics don't always tell the story," said Salzman. He wants to consider the selective use of surveillance cameras. Tucker called public safety "the fundamental issue. Nothing else we do works if people don't feel safe."
Both are also determined that Oak Park needs to be the technological leader in making local government transparent and accessible to residents who either want to interact with village hall or transact business with the local government. This will take both creativity and investment from village hall, but they are determined to succeed at this.
Finally, where does this leave Trustee Andrea Ott? She was appointed to the board this year to replace Ray Johnson on his retirement and her seat is up for election in 2015. When we talked Monday, she was enthused that Salzman and Tucker — her mentors, she called them — were running.
"I'm seriously considering running," she said. "And I wouldn't have taken this position unless I was going to seriously consider running." She promised a decision by the end of this week.