Southeast Oak Park Community Organization hosted the dirty dozen last night, 4/10/07.

Village board candidates, that is, and just kidding about the dirty part. They were clean as whistles, and Robert Milstein wore a suit and tie. However, he was upstaged on the Irving School stage by one of his running mates, the effervescent, phrase-making, photogenic Jim Balanoff.

Balanoff, scion of a major Illinois labor-union family, stole the show with stump speech after stump speech in which he accused the VMA of “terrible mismanagement . . . driving homeowners out . . . [being] hypnotized by developers . . . [making] a sweetheart deal with [developer] Taxman,” taking money from downtown property owners “expecting a return,” and being “captive of developers.”

If I were a VMA-Progressive Action candidate, one of Johnson Pate Hale & Hearty, I mean Hedges, I would have been tempted to slink out of Irving school with my tail between my legs. But in fact, they were unfazed by the assault, pluckily picking themselves up off the floor time and again, doggedly pursuing the tack of their choosing.

For instance, Ray Johnson repeated his assertion that delay on the Harlem-Ontario Whiteco project with its delicious Trader Joe’s as keystone, is costing the schools $700,000 (so far), and the First Coming (never mind the Second) of Trader Joe’s will bring in $1.2 million for cash-strapped schools.

He contrasted this, not surprisingly, with the $5 million-plus spent to buy the Colt Building when the developer Taxman, thwarted contrary to recommendations by a citizens committee, whose plan “was scuttled,” exercised his pull-out option. Civility came up. The VMA people consider it missing in action the last two years. There have been “attacks” from the board on developers, said Johnson, an incumbent. (Hell, there were attacks on them this very night.) Robert Milstein, also an incumbent, justifiably took this personally. In his first two years on the board, he was the most civil person there, he said. But it’s got so, “if you question someone, you’re not civil.” When people come to Oak Park – developers, for instance – “they are all on the same page.” In any case, if he wins, he will keep on doing as he’s been doing, he said.

Others had their say. Annabel Abraham, running for the two-year slot with Balanoff and Milstein, cited “family tradition” as her motivation, noting her late husband Bernard’s extensive elected-office record in Oak Park, including a stint on the village board. She warmed to the discussion of care and feeding of a village manager with praise for the current man, commending him for living near Barrie Park and not in a “hoity-toity section” of town.

When VMA’s Jan Pate rather neatly recalled (in discussion of helping local businesses) that her people had instituted retail support grants in 2004, one of Abraham’s opponents for the two-year slot, New Leadership’s Rose Meyer, shot back – to the extent she shoots anything, being sweet of temper and visage – that in that year the Colt-buyback proviso was approved that in her (NLP) party’s view is the root cause of the Colt debacle. As for helping local business, she said one thing the board can do is to “feel their pain.” No money is to go with the sympathy, however: “We pay our way as we go through life,” and so should small businesses. She also plumped for “quality of life,” citing her teacher who told her, apparently long ago,

“This life is not a rehearsal,” meaning you get your quality of life here if anywhere. Being not much younger than the still-lively Meyer, I appreciate her smell-the-roses point of view. A certain perspective arrives with the years, but I have thought of that as a personal not a governmental matter. Meyer as uber-senior was not alone in her carpe diem position about investment. Her NLP running mate Barbara Dolan summed up her slate’s position: “Here’s the bottom line! Control spending!” But to invest is to spend, she continued. So let there be an end to new buildings and condos and instead (apparently) give it all to the schools, which is OP’s prime selling point. She might have added, save some for streets and sidewalks, even heated ones as proposed for the restreeted Marion Street Mall, which she and her mates support, but Balanoff Milstein oppose mightily.

Dolan and Meyer’s running mate Mary Shiffer delivered her own stump speeches, in a manner that calls for use of the admittedly feminist no-no, “perky.” Let’s say bright and lively, ok? She cited her master’s thesis, I believe in support of the NLP’s no-subsidy principle, though failing to hand it out for us to study. She also mentioned an anti-subsidy Cleveland State U. study as recommending creation of “a friendly atmosphere” for developers. Yet another NLP candidate, Harvey Lyon, repeated his call for persuading national companies to build regional headquarters in Downtown OP and regional companies to do the same with their national headquarters, which as sound bites go is excellent. But if Lyon – at 79 years old, for gosh sakes, but looking great – would learn how to project his voice, open his mouth more widely, and in general use a microphone for the use God has in mind for it, we could have made out more of what he was saying. He of all people, at 79, should know there are others out there for whom hearing clearly is something of a luxury.

The other eleven could get through, including two 80-plus-year-olds. Why couldn’t he? As for DTOP HQ’s, VMA spoilsport Jon Hale had to observe that sans incentive (subsidy, investment, choose one), you don’t get no HQ’s to come to your town. There was time for Lyon or a running mate to tell us where it’s happened, which would have taken wind out of Hale’s sails, but no one did. Lyon also accused VMA trustees of “not listening” to citizen commissions. But Johnson had already noted the “scuttling” by the majority-NLP-slated board of a citizen committee’s recommendations for the Colt Building, and one may recall that board’s railing about committee and commission membership.

The problem, one may further recall, was less whether to listen to a commission than whom to put on it. A word about manner of presentation, even as the blog veers toward a whopping 800 words and the blogger wonders if anyone is still reading besides his daughter in her Loop office. Manner?

Take NLP’s B. Dolan, who oozes energy from every pore as she delivers the NLP message. She’s the mother of two and was a Roller Derby athlete at age 40. She smiles stunningly, has a lilt to her voice, looks around as she talks, exuding all the confidence of a good marketing meeting presenter. Discussing how to control animals, she told us she and her family found a cat in their yard and even on a weekend worked things out swimmingly with the non-governmental Animal Control League, which she thinks deserves partnership with the village, offering her own life experience in the matter, bobbing her head for emphasis and in self-affirmation. So much personality, so little time to absorb it, the listener thought.

Quips fall where they may from Robert Milstein, as any board meeting watcher on TV knows. “If I were a state legislator,” he said, discussing how to lower taxes, “which I’m not,” he added to chuckles. His slate has village commission experience, “125 years of it,” he said, adding uncontrollably, again to chuckles, “which none of us are.” One waits for the quip-shoe to fall, ready to flinch.

VMA’s Pate, on the other hand, also smiling, offered no such distractions. Neither did Milstein running mate Gary Schwab. She crisply disposed of the village’s agonizing over animal care – to contract with the above-mentioned league in a privatizing mode or do it oneself in a purely public one – as “a classic example” of process gone awry that “creates a sense of unease” among villagers. Schwab got right to it in opposition to her. He’s “troubled” by partnership with Animal Care League and wants a village-owned facility as animal shelter. There was no competitive bidding, he objected. He lists problems. He’s not ready to stop arguing about the league.

So. Another issue to chew on. It all goes to show there’s a choice for you, voters. Watershed time, folks! May the best men and/or women win!

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