By Dan Haley
A crowd of more than 100 turned out Friday morning to hear a lively and sometimes intense debate between the two candidates for Oak Park village president. Anan Abu-Taleb, a local restaurateur and an independent candidate, faced off against John Hedges, a current village trustee and the candidate of the Village Manager Association (VMA).
The two met in the Grand Ballroom of the Carleton Hotel at a session sponsored by the Civic and Business Council.
Abu-Taleb, the owner of Maya del Sol on Oak Park Avenue, was aggressive in challenging Hedges as a status quo candidate and on issues ranging from economic development to pensions to the speed at which local government works. Hedges, now in his sixth year as a trustee, walked a line between defending progress made in village government during difficult economic times and pledging greater efficiency in delivering services as a guard against raising property taxes.
The VMA candidate also raised a new issue in the campaign, asking how Abu-Taleb could function in the dual roles of village president and official liquor commissioner of Oak Park while also owning a restaurant which has a liquor license from the village. Abu-Taleb said he was aware of the issue and had discussed it with legal counsel.
More face-to-face forums are scheduled in what is the only contested race this spring in Oak Park municipal government. On Wednesday, March 13, Wednesday Journal will sponsor a forum for the presidential candidates at 7 p.m. at the Oak Park Public Library, 834 Lake St. That event will be moderated by Dan Haley, editor and publisher of the Journal.