Fresh after being trounced in races for the Oak Park village board last week, members of the Village Citizens Alliance and the New Leadership Party began to look at what they could learn from the loss.

The four Village Manager Association-backed candidates beat their challengers’ slates by more than 2-to-1, together tallying more than 4,500 votes-more than their opponents’ combined total.

Just two years ago, the NLP-formed with the VCA-won all three races for trustee. But neither side is jumping at the chance to join forces again.

“It’s possible we all can work together in the future,” said Tom Ard, campaign manager for the VCA. “That’s something we’re going to have to talk about.”

Ard said the VCA didn’t burn any bridges with the NLP by slating its own candidates in the 2007 race. But he isn’t sure the two parties fit together any more.

“They’re a more political animal,” Ard said, adding that from his perspective, the NLP considers marketing the key to victory.

“I think the NLP and we have totally different approaches,” said Trustee Robert Milstein, who lost his bid for re-election on Tuesday. Milstein ran as a VCA candidate, as he did four years ago when he was elected. In 2005, he ran for president on the NLP ticket.

“I’m not sure how realistic it is to simply recombine,” said Ralph Lee, the NLP’s treasurer who won a seat on the Oak Park and River Forest High School board as the top vote-getter. Lee doubts the two groups would agree on what their differences are. “But I do believe the two groups are sufficiently similar to each other that as long as they’re competing with the VMA, they will be at a disadvantage.”

The NLP was formed by the VCA and an upstart group, the Citizens for Change, who organized solely to create a larger coalition. That group was named the Villagers of the Year in 2005 by Wednesday Journal, the explanation at the time being that the new group’s vision to diversify and widen the base the VCA had created was responsible for its election night sweep.

Weeks later, the NLP elected officers, and the races were dominated by Citizens for Change people, causing longtime VCA members to grouse.

“At this point, it is a coalition in name only, just a facade of a coalition,” Ard said in January 2006. “I don’t know what can be done to recapture a coalition.” Months later, the VCA announced its independence.

Asked last week if hurt feelings would stand in the way of re-forming the coalition, Ard said, “If I have any hurt feelings, it’s against the VMA, who rammed through all of this legislation” at a meeting April 13, the night before the election.

The NLP met last Saturday to discuss the election. Will it undergo the kind of process of redefining itself that the VMA put itself through two years ago? “Clearly you have to think through what happened and why,” said Nile Wendorf, the NLP campaign manager.

NLP President Brian Farrar said the slate “got shellacked.”

“Obviously that means we need to think about what we need to do differently,” Farrar said. “What’s absolutely clear to me is that we are still highly committed to having more than one organized [political] group” in Oak Park.

Milstein, who said he’s not suggesting the two groups reunite, pointed out that the two top vote-getters from the VCA and NLP, if combined, would have captured one of the seats on the board. What connection such a composite candidate has with reality is unclear, Milstein said, but said the splitting of the groups “cost us a seat on the board.”

Wendorf said “it’s awfully early to predict” whether the two groups will need to reunite to be successful in future elections.

“I think we will [be successful without the NLP] if we decide we can’t work together,” Ard said.

CONTACT: dcarter@wjinc.com

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