There’s a great scene in the movie A Few Good Men when Tom Cruise as the prosecuting attorney heatedly cross-examines career officer Jack Nicholson, pressing him for the truth. Nicholson explodes, “You can’t handle the truth.” Today I would like to engage in a little truth telling for the benefit of the recently elected District 200 and village boards.
But first, some truth for certain losers in those elections. If you came in last or you have lost two or more consecutive elections, the truth is that the community has rejected either you or your vision. Please don’t run again.
Now some truth for District 200. The only way you can blow it is if the high school is perceived as either unsafe or if student performance drops. By student performance I mean those pernicious yearly test scores. However, equally important is how well our brightest students do. We have a tradition of lots of National Merit scholars and lots of kids getting into Ivy League schools. These trends must continue lest affluent families determine the schools are in decline or unsafe and they move from River Forest and north Oak Park to Hinsdale or Winnetka. Now to be sure, the achievement gap is a difficult problem, but the sad truth is that this gap is never going to be significantly closed for decades. As painful as it might be, you owe it to the community to lower expectations. Of course you should try to help the current students, but if you are really serious about narrowing this gap, please appropriate $1 million and give it to early childhood programs. If you did that for 14 years, then the class of 2027 might have a chance to narrow this gap.
Now some truth for the village board. The neighbors are against the lights. The high school community is for it. Everyone else is indifferent. Vote. Up or down. Yea or nay. Just stop talking about it. Now like the high school, there are only a few ways you can blow it. In a way you’re lucky. The economy’s collapse gives you at least a year or two to sort out the mish-mash of development. The big problem, as it always is, is of course crime. Since the 1970s, Oak Park’s proximity to Austin has always given people pause to move here. In recent years, a booming housing market allayed those fears, but trust me it’s always there if only submerged below the psychic surface.
There are disturbing signs. This paper has reported that the Charter One Bank at 820 S. Oak Park Ave. has been robbed twice in the last six months. I live .27 miles from this bank. The Charter One branch at 6020 Roosevelt Road has also been robbed twice in the last six months. I live 1.34 miles from this bank. Four armed robberies of banks in six months less than a mile and half from my home. Maybe I should check with the Guinness Book of World Records.
In March, a body was found in the alley on the 1000 block of South Clarence. That body had been hacked up and put in a garbage bag. (Extra strength I hope.) I live less than 100 yards from this carnage. Chief Tanksley said the body was just dumped there, suggesting that the actual chopping took place elsewhere. That somehow was not very comforting. A chopped up body. Four armed robberies in six months. This is not good, and that’s the truth.
John Hubbuch, an Indiana native who moved to Oak Park in 1976, is a retired lawyer. Hubbuch served on the District 97 school board and coached youth sports. He is the father of three and grandfather of one.