Investment banker Brian Farrar and close allies Nile Wendorf and John Troelstrup effectively took control of the New Leadership Coalition (NLC) in internal elections Sunday.

The NLC elected Farrar, the second largest financial backer in the April village election, as its first president. The election of Farrar?#34;and, more importantly, many other members of one of the two founding factions of the NLC?#34;illustrated strains in the coalition that are showing and opened the possibility that the coalition might be one in name only.

Members of the NLC met Jan. 8 at Holly Court Terrace to elect a 10-person executive committee in an attempt to institutionalize the organization that burst onto the Oak Park political scene last year when its offshoot, the New Leadership Party (NLP), swept the three village trustee seats and swept out of power the long dominant Village Manager Association (VMA).

The NLC was formed in 2004 as coalition. One element was the Village Citizens Alliance (VCA,) which started in 2002. The VCA helped elect one of its founding members, Bob Milstein, to the village board in 2003, although its two other candidates were defeated. The other part of the NLC originated in a smaller group, called Citizens for Change (CFC), which itself evolved from meetings of the so-called “group of six” that included Farrar, REDCOOP (Responsible Economic Development?#34;Citizens of Oak Park) co-founder Nile Wendorf, former village trustee John Troelstrup, Craig Williams, Al Whitaker, and Greg Marsey, who went on to become of the three NLP candidates elected to the village board last April. Neither Marsey nor Williams sought positions on the NLC executive committee.

Sunday’s voting was a big internal victory for the six and their allies. Besides Farrar, three other members of the “group of six” won positions: Troelstrup was selected finance committee chair, Wendorf won the vote for public policy committee chair, and Whitaker was elected rules committee chair.

Other allies such as Geraldine Delaney, a long-time Troelstrup supporter, were also elected to the executive committee. No candidate from this faction lost a single race Sunday. The person with VCA ties selected was Bill Barclay who won a lightly contested race for secretary.

In the race for president, Farrar defeated Julie Samuels, a founding member of the VCA, and Gary Schwab, the campaign manager for the NLC’s New Leadership Party slate in last April’s elections, and a former VMA member. Ron Angell, a newcomer to the group, also ran for president. The meeting Sunday was closed to reporters, and exact vote totals were not provided.

Samuels and Schwab also ran for the public policy chair position, but lost to Wendorf. Under the election rules, candidates who lost in one race could then seek to run for other positions. Neither Samuels nor Schwab were elected to the any executive committee position despite running for multiple positions and in spite of their extensive experience in Oak Park politics.

Coalition ‘in name only’?

Some members of the NLC who come from the VCA wing of the coalition were dismayed by the results and were left wondering about their future role in the NLC.

“I have difficulty understanding how this is a coalition any longer,” said Tom Ard, a founding member of the VCA who has been very active in the NLC. “At this point it is a coalition in name only, just a faade of a coalition. I don’t know what can be done to recapture a coalition. At this point it’s no longer a coalition.”

There were 82 votes cast for president of the NLC according to Ralph Lee who managed the election process and was elected treasurer Sunday. Lee said that late arrivals led to 87 people voting in some of the other races.

Only those who had had joined the NLC and paid the $25 annual dues by Dec. 18 were eligible to vote on Sunday. Approximately 27 people voted by absentee ballot and those votes reportedly made the difference in a number of races. Approximately 20 of the 27 absentee votes were cast in favor of candidates who came to the NLC by way of the CFC according to those who were present.

“The CFC, through the use of absentee ballots, took control of the organization,” said Ard, one of two official vote counters Sunday. “Brian won by a large number, largely because of the absentee ballots.”

However, not all the former VCA members were upset about the results of the voting.

“The organization met, they made their selections, it was a democratic process,” said Trustee Bob Milstein, who added that the election of an executive committee will make the NLC a more effective part of the Oak Park political scene.

“It’s more structured,” said Milstein of the NLC. “I think we’ll be able to get our message out a lot clearer.” Milstein indicated he hopes that members of the NLC will be able to work together.

“A coalition puts aside its egos,” said Milstein. “A coalition works together.”

But more than egos separated the winners from the losers Sunday. The winning faction of the Farrar, Wendorf, Troelstrup group pride themselves on their political sophistication and business-like approach to politics while the VCA element of the NLC have more of a grassroots activist background and approach and are generally considered more skeptical of large-scale development.

Farrar, who has lived in Oak Park since 1993, said he did not become involved in Oak Park politics until becoming energized by his opposition to the Whiteco development at Harlem Avenue and Ontario Street. But when he did become involved, he got involved in a big way. In the 2005 village campaign, Farrar loaned $10,250.44 to the NLP of which only $1,872.47 has been paid back, according to state records, and he also was very involved in crafting the strategy and tactics that helped the NLP sweep the trustee races.

Farrar said he does not see Sunday’s vote as a big victory for his faction.

“We’ve got a pretty good group of people from both of the two forming organizations,” Farrar said in a telephone interview on Monday. “We owe a lot to the VCA. Our intent is to have a broadly democratic, broadly inclusive process.”

Farrar said he wants Julie Samuels to continue to be a part of the NLC.

“All the candidates who ran were good people,” said Farrar. “I think Julie has been a great contributor. I’m confident that she will be a contributor in the future.”

Sunday’s vote marks a watershed in Oak Park politics, establishing an institutionalized party to oppose the formerly dominant VMA.

“I think this is an important step to creating a permanent political alternative in Oak Park,” Farrar said. “I don’t think it is good to have one-party rule for 50 years.”

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