The election is over in Oak Park and River Forest. That means governance returns to the forefront. This will play out differently in each village.

Oak Park has gone through years in which voters have divided up board seats based on issues, party and a general dissatisfaction with the powers that be. The outcomes have been, at times, unsettling owing to the peculiarities of the candidates – we’ve seen more debilitating resignations and appointments in recent years than ever before. But the impulse by voters to demand more than the stale slates put forward by the dominating Village Manager Association was dead on. The VMA was coasting – downhill – and needed competition to force it to find better candidates for trustee and for village president. In the past two elections, the quality of VMA candidates has increased markedly and voters have rewarded the effort with clean sweeps.

The challenge of this new board is to listen to the re-elected trustee John Hedges who said on election night, “I think they are telling us we’re heading in the right direction, but we better do our job right.” Hedges spoke of voters’ high expectations. He’s right. The VMA won, but there’s an impatience in town for smart choices, reasonable timetables for making choices. And in a treacherous economy, there is little voter sympathy for any government spending that isn’t tough-minded and respectful of strapped and fearful taxpayers.

River Forest is in quite a remarkably different moment. After decades of often uncontested – or lightly contested – elections, River Forest has just come off a stemwinder of an election battle. And while the more established slate won the day and easily took the presidential chair, the battle down ballot was intensely close and a handful of changed votes could have dramatically changed the outcome in favor of the critics.

John Rigas deserves to celebrate his victory in winning the village presidency. But with two tough-minded minority trustees – Steve Hoke and Stephen Dudek – continuing on the board and the reality of two critics almost winning seats, Rigas needs to accept that River Forest voters are sending a sharp message that they’re not happy with the world as it was. River Forest is in the same boat Oak Park was several years back. There is a loyal opposition forming with a distinct point of view that must be heard, respected and incorporated into policy.

Three of the four departing village board members – President Frank Paris and trustees Nancy Dillon and Patrick O’Brien – are leaving office having diminished themselves through their recent performances.

For their part, Hoke and Dudek need to be mindful that their side lost. They have a right to expect much more respectful treatment at the board table from President Rigas. But they also have to earn it. The issues here are not enormously divisive; common ground is called for. It takes two sides to seek understanding.

Two trustees we’ll miss

Trustee Greg Marsey is leaving Oak Park’s village board by choice after one term. Trustee Russ Nummer is leaving the River Forest board after one term, having fallen 74 votes shy of re-election.

Marsey has been a productive critic. He was the remaining minority board member after multiple resignations, and he could have become an obstructionist. He didn’t. He kept his strong point of view but, usually, found a way forward.

Russ Nummer has been a centered voice of maturity and good sense on a fractured village board. We would very much have liked to have seen him at work on a board that, we trust, will move beyond the shrieking self-involvement on all sides in the past two years.

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