Nearly every seat in the Oak Park Village Hall council chambers was occupied Monday night, as new and departing board members participated in an Oak Park post-election tradition of short speeches on past service and future plans.
Several new members taking seats noted the outcome of the election was “historic,” a victory for “change,” and emphasized they would be welcoming of community input.
This past April marks the first time in over 50 years that no candidate for trustee or president backed by the Village Manager Association saw victory. But, despite the upset?#34;and a campaign where the new board members were quite critical of past leaders?#34;all speakers focused mostly on previous successes, and pledged civility and cooperation.
Some comments from departing, and new officials, follow.
Taking his seat as the first independent candidate elected to the office of Village President in over 50 years, David Pope thanked former board members, and called for a time of “genuine optimism.”
“The April 5 election is a culmination of a vigorous campaign. The results have been unsettling to some, but now is the time for genuine optimism,” he said. “The new board can be as effective and as productive as any other board in Oak Park’s history. We need to see our collective differences as our core strengths.”
At the end of his comments, Pope joked that he must have “freaked out” WEDNESDAY JOURNAL editors by keeping his speech under four minutes.
In her departing comments, Trustee Diana Carpenter, the unsuccessful VMA presidential candidate, reflected on her term and gave a list of over 25 accomplishments the board has made over the last four years.
Carpenter said when starting her term she “had no idea what to expect,” and “found there’s little to be known and a lot to learn.”
“A former trustee once told me it takes four years to learn to be a trustee then you’re done,” she said. “I tried to be honest and truthful and to represent all of Oak Park. I know after four years, that no one person gets anything done. Getting things done requires compromise.”
Her list of accomplishments ranged from dramatic increases in property values in Oak Park to the development of the West Suburban Consolidated dispatch center to economic development.
Carpenter also thanked village staff, and said she was “not apologetic for so-called staff worship.”
“Staff is very talented. Respect goes both ways,” she said.
“I’ll go back to natural, normal life. I’ve enjoyed my service,” she said, then joking “now I can always have somebody buy me lunch.”
Galen Gockel, who served one term on the board, left with thanks to the community and threats to his grandchildren that he would now have more time to review algebra homework.
“The citizens of Oak Park have sustained me the last four years. Democracy is alive and well in my community,” he said, adding that he sees leadership being passed to a “new generation” of board members. “I understand that grandchildren benefit from our work.”
Gockel then took the unusual step of thanking local newspaper reporters and editors for informing the public.
“Because government, at all levels, is backed by the forced payment of taxes, it is difficult for the average person to exercise citizenship without reports from the media,” he said.
Trustee Gus Kostopulos, who served two terms on the village board, and has been active in Oak Park for over 40 years, noted that change?#34;in one form or another?#34;has been an issue in Oak Park since he first moved to the village.
“My wife and I moved to Oak Park during an exciting period in history. As it was then, the issue today is still about change?#34;this time, about renewal and physical changes,” he said.
Kostopulos then quoted President John F. Kennedy, who said after the Cuban missile crisis that he “understood how past presidents got into so much trouble without trying.”
“It may happen to you, but enjoy it,” he told new board members.
Outgoing Village President Joanne Trapani, who served one term each as trustee and as president, departed with brief comments and joined Carpenter in citing accomplishments.
“Eight years go by quickly, even measured in dog years,” she joked, adding that she’s worked to “put Oak Park in a stronger position to meet the challenges ahead.”
“It is impossible to chronicle the achievements of the boards I’ve served on,” she said, adding that just a few include a balanced budget, “an expanded commitment to affordable housing” and street, alley and infrastructure improvements.
“Thanks to the Oak Park community, whose words of support meant so much to us,” she said. “To the new board members, God bless you, and God bless Oak Park.”
Sandra Sokol, who began her fourth term, thanked the “citizens of Oak Park,” for electing here, and said she will “continue to give her best services and continue to work with the president and trustees.”
Geoff Baker, the first newly-elected trustee to take his seat, focused much of his comments on inviting residents to give input to the board.
“I send my best to those who voted for me, as well as the other side, but also to those who did not vote,” he said. “I’m here to work for the future generations. I ask you to tell us what you need in your village, to come sit in these pews and have your voice heard.”
“We need to listen to the voices that haven’t been speaking. They are what we need heard to build a progressive community,” he said.
Trustee Martha Brock began by thanking the former board for service, and “late nights,” but also emphasized that “a new day” has arrived.
“This is to us a historic event?#34;a new day without resentment. The days of bickering, the days of fighting are over,” she said. “We are a unique community. We can make Oak Park the best community in the world.”
She then said she was committed to transparent government, and noted that, “affordable housing, business development, small minority owned business will not take a back seat.”
She asked the audience then to take an oath with her. “Engage your wisdom, the things you have to offer,” she said. “Do not fight us. We don’t get paid to do this. Do not cause havoc in our lives.”
New Trustee Greg Marsey also emphasized that the election was a success for those who have sought change in government.
“We are tremendously lucky to have people in the community who care that much through good and bad,” he said, thanking former board members.
“We have a tremendous community. A new day is dawning; it’s almost overwhelming. For those of you who fought for change in this village, this is as much your night as it is ours,” he said. “It is my commitment to serve all citizens with energy and engagement, and to take advantage of the tremendous talent and energy of this community.”
Sitting Trustee Ray Johnson, who is midway through his first term, thanked departing board members first, before offering newcomers insight into the “TV schedule” that would be ahead of them.
“Progress is neither automatic nor inevitable?it requires the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals,” he said, quoting Martin Luther King Jr.
“In your own unique way, you have been tireless in pursuit of a better Oak Park,” said Johnson of exiting fellow board members. “I’ve learned from each of them and appreciated their differences of opinion.”
And the life of “reality TV” up next for trustees, follows, he said:
Thursday, a large envelope containing various board materials would arrive at trustees’ doorstep, he said, holding up an example. Next, would come Monday night, where live on VOP-6 would the “Real World” would begin, the board would meet and try to avoid ending up on the “set of Lost.” On Tuesday, comes American Idol, where phone calls would filter in with various comments on how trustees performed (and even looked) the night before. And on Wednesday, its time for The Apprentice, where there’s “not one Trump, but 2, both named Dan,” he said, referring to local newspaper editors, who based on Monday’s meeting would offer comments ranging from “fired to stick with your day job.”
Trustee Robert Milstein, who could not attend the meeting due to a family event, left a written statement that in his absence was read by Village Clerk Sandra Sokol.
“Tonight brings profound change. [Newly-elected Village President] David Pope campaigned for an accountable, reasonable, civil government. I believe he will do just that,” wrote Milstein, who lost to Pope in his bid for the president’s seat. “My only caveat is while we engage in process, we must get things done. We all want you to succeed, this board to succeed, and Oak Park succeed.”
Milstein also wrote that he’s “pledged to civil discourse without rancor.”