Anan Abu-Taleb allows that some Oak Park voters might think he is overreaching. But late Monday afternoon, Oak Park’s village president sat down to announce the candidates he is endorsing in the April 7 local elections. And none of those endorsements are related to the village board he heads since the three incumbents there — Andrea Ott, Adam Salzman and Bob Tucker — are running unopposed. 

Instead Abu-Taleb is picking favorites in the races for the park board, the District 97 elementary schools, and Oak Park and River Forest High School. And his criteria, as I gleaned them, are these: Fresh ideas and perspectives trump, two terms is about his limit. If you don’t see active collaboration between taxing bodies as essential, he won’t endorse you. Sometimes it is easy to be right, but it can be better to compromise or step out of the way in favor of another person’s different idea. And in Oak Park, diversity is an essential virtue. 

Abu-Taleb ditches three incumbents, one from each board. Gone from his ballot are Bob Spatz, the current president of the D97 board. Elsewhere in this paper we have a letter supporting Spatz and signed by a who’s who of retired elected officials. For Abu-Taleb, Spatz has served too long, is too inside, and lacks passion for change. He rejects Sharon Patchak-Layman, running for her third term at the high school after having served two terms at the elementary schools. Her deficiency? Maybe, he says, she is often right on the issues but if most of her votes put her on the short end of 6-1 votes, then she has no ability to persuade, to compromise. Paul Aeschleman won’t get Abu-Taleb’s vote for the park board. This one does not seem so specific. Rather Abu-Taleb, who has been roasting the park board at every opportunity, sees that board as having a “strong manager and a weak board that needs shaking up.”

As he says, stating the obvious, “I didn’t run for this office to keep my mouth shut.”

So who is the village president voting for?

At D97 Holly Spurlock (“Amazing, bright”), Rupa Datta (“Brilliant, brings new skills”), Marcus Croom (“In the name of diversity and fresh perspectives”) and incumbent Jim O’Connor (“In it for the right reasons” though he did seem a bit spooked by our coming reporting of the big money O’Connor has collected from a PAC with charter school ties).

At the high school, Abu-Taleb is backing what has become the unofficial slate of Fred Arkin, Jennifer Cassell and Sara Dixon Spivey. 

“Having John Phelan off that board is going to leave a big hole. We need all the positive energy we can get,” says Abu-Taleb.

The park district board sees Abu-Taleb focused on backing change. He supports incumbent Vic Guarino but turns to newcomers Qiana Carswell and Kassie Porreca to change the board dynamic. “The parks have no plans to collaborate with other groups. I’ve seen it. Other presidents have seen it. It’s a joke among us.”

Depending maybe on his picks, or depending on your view of the efficacy of a village president endorsing for school board, readers will have a strong reaction to this latest non-traditional path for Anan Abu-Taleb. But he isn’t shy in making his case.

“I think our town was stuck for a long time. It wasn’t for a lack of good, decent people [in office]. But there was a lack of a vision and because of that we allowed the outliers in town to control our destiny,” says Abu-Taleb. “Now I think our community is coming together. We are listening better. I see more people wanting to get involved. So I want to share my thoughts on how to move the village ahead. Some people will see that as overreaching. Some will appreciate my sharing my thoughts. I respect both.”

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Dan Haley

Dan was one of the three founders of Wednesday Journal in 1980. He’s still here as its four flags – Wednesday Journal, Austin Weekly News, Forest Park Review and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark – make...

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