At last night’s forum hosted by Oak Park Realtors at the Carleton, New Leadership Party’s Harvey Lyon kicked things off pointedly by identifying Realtors as part of the “power structure” with which VMA is too closely aligned.
He also read without comment a press release saying the Village Manager Assn. (VMA) had admitted its failure to report donations from three businesses “doing business in Oak Park,” one of them Regency Development, which has the big Marion-Ontario project almost completed.
It was a shot across the VMA bow if not worse. But VMA-Progressive Action’s Ray Johnson brushed it off. His slate, Citizens for Progressive Action, “has nothing to say” about how VMA raised money. “We set limits for our campaign,” he added. No more was said on the point in the 90 minutes or so that remained.
Vision Community Action’s Robert Milstein had shots to spare, however. His opponents are “simply lying” if they embrace their “tax and build myth,” he said. “We don’t need TIF’s,” he said, referring to Tax Increment Financing of redevelopment.
Milstein’s running mate Gary Schwab echoed Milstein’s opposition to TIF’s. A TIF is a “slush fund,” he said in a key considerably lower than Milstein’s. So what if without one we can’t have “grandiose projects,” he said, encapsulating his slate’s anti-development position. “We need to pay as we go,” said Milstein, voicing another theme.
VMA-Progressive Action’s Jon Hale zeroed in on the claim by Harvey Lyon that corporate headquarters would locate here without incentive. “Doesn’t work,” he said, saying he’d been “laughed at” when he asked developers about this.
(Incidentally, at this and another forum, Lyon referred to a conversation with Realtor Bill Sullivan in which Sullivan mentioned his 200 employees in Downtown Oak Park. Not quite, said Sullivan when asked about this. He had mentioned a downtown client as having 200 employees.)
Hale shot down the NLP claim than Elmhurst has a “no-subsidy policy.” Yes it does, said Hale. “Twice they have assembled whole blocks” for reduced-rate sale to developers” and have paid as much as $50,000 for someone simply to “raze a building.”
Responding to a question about the anti-development NIMBY syndrome (not in my backyard) and the more recent NOTE (not over there either), Milstein said it was “name-calling” and called for emphasizing “minority rights.”
He sharply criticized the plan to bail out elementary schools with TIF money, protesting, “We are not the school board.” The solution, he said, must come from the schools, not the village.
Lyon accused village staff and past VMA leadership of bad performance, calling three of them a “VMA mafia” who had “got out of Dodge.” He named former board president Joanne Trappani, former manager Carl Swenson, and former development director Michael Chen.
Johnson rejected this as “quite offensive” and objected to such “personal attacks.” Milstein also abjured the “mafia” terminology but said the same three had allowed “departments [to] deteriorate.” In fact, he said, they had “emasculated” the community relations department.
Milstein running mate Schwab objected to being “clubbed over the head” with claims of citizen participation in devising the Oak Park plan. He charged that changes were “pushed through” by “Trappani appointees.”
Summing up for New Leadership Party, Barbara Dolan employed a bit of drama, standing and removing the Roller Derby helmet amd black leather jacket she had worn throughout, apparently with a view to emphasizing her being “in enemy territory” among the Realtors.
On the front of her white tank top was the name of her team, “The Fury.” On the back, seen when she turned to leave at the end, was her sobriquet, “Queen B.” Her Roller Derby opponents had not inspired fear, she explained, but the “PR” onslaught by the well-funded VMA-Progressive Action team had done so.
Milstein meanwhile had some especially sharp remarks at the end. Having earlier complained of code violations as a major problem, he told how he would like them handled. If you kept failing inspections, he said, biting off his words, “you’d be fined and fined and fined and fined.”
Oak Park needs “a trolley system” throughout the village, he added.
Finally, he tore into village president David Pope, a once-VMA candidate who won the presidency two years ago as an independent but this week endorsed the VMA slate.
“He’s no longer independent, is he?” asked Milstein with a good deal of feeling. “He lied to us!”