As 2005 comes to a close, we have a young reporter calling around Oak Park and River Forest asking newsmakers what they see as the most important story of the year. The results of that informal survey will run next week in our year-end edition.

My surmise is that in Oak Park most interviewed will talk about the village government election last April. It was a stunner with an upstart coalition pinning back the ears of the organization that had ruled Oak Park for better than 50 years.

Ideally, voters created healthy, sustainable competition which will draw more people into the discussion of local issues. New ideas will find welcome soil. And a political and governing environment which had grown stale and inbred in Oak Park will be re-energized.

That, folks, is best-case scenario. Next month, as 2006 opens, we’ll know more about the prospects for that optimistic view. In January both the upstart New Leadership Coalition and the dyspeptic Village Manager Association will bring forth new mission statements and bylaws for their disparate members to consider and vote on. Once the votes, by relatively small numbers, are tallied, we’ll better understand if the pragmatic wing of the NLP is in control or if the obstructionists have carried the day. We’ll know if the VMA has found a productive way to stay vital between elections or has just rearranged the furniture.

This matters because the worst-case scenario is the immediate flip side of the best case. If the elected leaders in Oak Park, and the political forces which stand behind them, don’t raise their sights, we are likely to see increased pettiness, more bickering and continued limited progress.

Let’s face it, the degree of genuine difference in what we fight over in Oak Park these days is not substantial. That’s the good news. Oak Park is not politically fractious?#34;on substance. People on Oak Park’s political continuum all fall in favor of honest government, racial integration, a village manager form of government, historic preservation, strong services, vocal citizen involvement. Differences are just slightly more pronounced, really just in matters of degree, on the density of development, on defining economic diversity and how to maintain it. Everyone agrees taxes are too high, that the schools are critical, that parking is an issue.

Put a group of active Oak Parkers in a room, tell them to can the nonsense and stow the egos, and a pretty clear agenda would soon emerge. Right now there is nonsense and ego in ascendency. The board is young and inexperienced, some of them giddy with being on the village cable channel. Left unchecked?#34;and Village President David Pope and majority whip Bob Milstein are the only ones capable of imposing direction?#34;this board will deteriorate.

The Journal has newspapers in a few other towns, and I watch their leaders squabble and accuse over scraps. Forest Park, for all its successes, is sinking into a mire of personal vindictiveness. Brookfield is coming back a bit from petty ego-driven brinksmanship.

Oak Park is better than this. Oak Park ought again be about big dreams and audacious innovation. Oak Park is home to great minds willing to be inspired to public service in their hometown. They need to be invited, nurtured, challenged.

Oak Park is not about viciousness over four stories or five. Oak Park is not about trustees who get too big for their britches. Oak Park is not about endless process masquerading as progress.

Oak Park has, in the past, done great undoable things. It is time to do great things once again.

So, folks, get over yourselves. It is not about you, after all. It is about what Oak Park can be.

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Dan Haley

Dan was one of the three founders of Wednesday Journal in 1980. He’s still here as its four flags – Wednesday Journal, Austin Weekly News, Forest Park Review and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark – make...