We start, as we always should, with appreciation that 12 individuals have formed three slates and come forward at a critical moment to run for the Oak Park village board. These are all good people, with passion for their hometown and a commitment to serve.
That said, we believe there are actually just eight candidates and two slates, the New Leadership Party and Citizens for Progressive Action (the VMA), which have earned voters’ consideration. The final slate, the VCA, represents all the peculiar impulses and acting out which have made so many things go haywire in village government over the past two years. This group of candidates is simply too extreme, too rigid to have any role in guiding Oak Park back to its full potential and we reject them fully.
While that criticism is harsh, it is of a tone similar to what this newspaper has taken in recent years with other local political groups that have lurched off course. And there has been plenty of lurching and plenty of misjudgments and, most troubling, plenty of out-of-whack egos on display at the board table for several years.
Enough of the antics and the obstruction and the showboating. It is past time to get back to the work of governing Oak Park and restoring its progressive ideals.
With that goal in mind, we have been impressed with each of the eight other candidates. And narrowing our choices to four has been no mean trick. However, it is with enthusiasm that we endorse Ray Johnson, Jon Hale and Mary Shiffer for the three 4-year terms and John Hedges for the two-year term. These are impressive people with solid records of accomplishment, and, we believe, the level-headedness to govern effectively.
Ray Johnson, an incumbent running on the VMA slate, is as diligent a board member as we have seen in many years. He is exceptionally active and visible throughout the community, always well prepared, always thoughtful. Oddly, we think Johnson has been a better trustee in the tumultuous last two years of his term when he served in a distinct minority than in the first two when he was in the majority and too tightly linked to a failing village president. He has stepped up as a rational, moderating voice and he should be rewarded with a second term.
Jon Hale, a VMA candidate, is an unusually thoughtful and bright public policy wonk. And, in moderation, we like wonks. He knows his stuff when it comes to governance and to Oak Park. He served effectively on the Plan Commission and has led a public policy group focused on Oak Park matters over the past two years. Hale told us, “There are moments in a community when key issues come together and there is a need for more decisive leadership than in normal times.” We agree. We worry just a bit that there is an impatience to Hale which he will need to temper to succeed as a trustee–though we understand the impatience.
Mary Shiffer is an appealing candidate with experience on the village’s Transportation Committee. Shiffer has a practical approach to governing saying, “There are things we want but can’t afford.” And, “Oak Parkers are so badgered. People keep bringing up all the old issues of the past 15 years. We need to move ahead and not let the angst stop us.” Amen to that. She has clear thoughts on development issues and on the place and limits of citizen participation. She will be a welcome addition to the board.
There is a two-year term available to replenish the flock of trustees decimated through resignations over the past year. For that spot we are happy to endorse John Hedges, a candidate on the VMA slate. Hedges is the quintessential Oak Parker. He has served this village over several decades in a multitude of ways. Most notably, Hedges was executive director of the Park District of Oak Park for many years. He also served for nearly a year as the interim Oak Park village manager. Since his retirement, Hedges has been a generous volunteer. John Hedges knows Oak Park, and as a park director who suffered through several years of dysfunctional park commissioners in his final years, he understands the role an elected official plays in governance.
Not winning our endorsement, but deserving of our praise are:
Jan Pate has been active in the rejuvenation of the VMA since it was deservedly wiped off the map two years ago. Pate has an enormously interesting life story that might serve her well on the board. However, our preference would be that she stay active in the rebuilding of Oak Park’s venerable political party.
All the candidates on the NLP slate are dynamic and capable. Barbara Dolan has great energy but lacks the range of local experience we’d prefer to see. We hope she joins a village commission, gets more involved in town and runs again for trustee. Harvey Lyon has a strong background in business, with a clear interest in the arts. We liked his range of ideas and his passion for board service. Rose Meyer, already famous to Journal readers for her prolific letter writing, is bright, articulate and utterly charming. She has been a determined activist in the Whiteco battle without ever giving in to cynicism and spite.
What to say about the VCA slate? There is a dourness, a backward-looking aspect to this group that we simply find out of sync with the bright and hopeful future of Oak Park.
James Balanoff is appealing in an eccentric way. His local involvement is skinny, though, and his focus on saving the Marion Street mall is overdone and simplistic. Gary Schwab is as active as any Oak Parker could be and we like him. But his ideas are stuck. We’re tired of being stuck. Annabel Abraham is of a distinguished local political family and has passionate beliefs, but would be an ineffective village trustee owing to her broad suspiciousness.
Since being endorsed by Wednesday Journal for village president two years ago, Trustee Robert Milstein has simply worn out his welcome on this page. And how. Milstein has squandered the chance to be a genuine force for change and has instead become the champion of every grumbling special interest in town. It may or may not prove to be a way to assemble some votes, but it is clearly no way to govern. And pandering is not the same thing as listening. You know it, Trustee Milstein, and we know it.