Three Oak Parkers competing for seats on the village board, have rejected a request to appear at a local candidate forum, worried that the event’s organizers have ill intentions.

Last month, a group called Citizens for Community Conversation sent out a notice to candidates competing in the upcoming April election. The 20 or so Oak Parkers plan to gather questions from voters to ask the candidates. During the forum on Feb. 27 at Unity Temple, they plan to videotape candidates answering those inquiries.

But three of the candidates — incumbent Ray Johnson, Bob Tucker and Adam Salzman — aren’t planning to take part because some of the organizers of the event were involved in the last local election in 2009 and belonged to the slate that opposed the Village Manager Association — the longstanding political organization that slated Johnson, Tucker and Salzman.

“An event sponsored by a group with such a direct political interest in this race is not one in which our candidates will participate,” campaign managers Jim Kelly and Lynn Kamenitsa wrote in an e-mail response to the group that was also sent to Wednesday Journal.

The VMA slate jointly decided to skip the event and the questions, Tucker said Monday. Candidates have limited time, a plethora of commitments and can’t attend everything.

“I would hope that any reasonable Oak Park voter or citizen would probably understand that that’s not the most neutral forum,” Tucker said.

Bruce Samuels, who sent out the invite to candidates, said he’s willing to be flexible to get all candidates involved. Yes, his wife, Julie Samuels, and Gary Schwab — who both ran as candidates against the VMA in 2009 — are involved in Citizens for Community Conversation, he said. But they don’t have any candidates in the race, and he insists they just want to start a robust political dialogue.

“What’s the worst that could happen?” Samuels said. “You have one person sitting on the village board who has a different orientation?”

Citizens for Community Conversation had not responded to the VMA as of Monday. Samuels said their members hope to decide on their next step later this week. Tucker said his slate, which is calling itself “Citizens for Accountable Leadership,” might consider attending if the format for the event and videos is changed. However, he stressed the importance of adding a “neutral” party to the event, such as the local newspaper, and said “the devil is in the details.”

Also competing for the three open board slots are two independent candidates — Lynn Kessen and Lewis Carmichael. Kessen said she plans to participate in Citizens for Community Conversation’s efforts.

“I don’t think anybody is going to attack me, and if they do, I think that would probably look worse on those people than it would on me,” she said.

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