Oak Park has made a lot of headway in changing its reputation for being a difficult place to do business, but the work is not done, said Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb, who announced Friday that he will run for a second term in office.

“I believe we need to continue to work with a progressive mindset toward solutions,” Abu-Taleb said. “We need to continue to recognize that the world is changing fast and we Oak Parkers need to stay relevant.”

Speaking to Wednesday Journal at a window table in his Oak Park Avenue restaurant, Maya del Sol, Abu-Taleb touted his and the village’s success in bringing new residential and commercial real estate projects to the village over the last year, including recent progress on a proposed mixed-use development at the corner of Oak Park Avenue and Madison Street.

He said the village also has had great success during his first term in office in getting rid of red tape as it concerns licensing and permitting of residential and commercial development projects and changing the culture at Village Hall, making it more customer service oriented.

“We need to complete the journey we started,” he said.

Abu-Taleb is the only person, so far, to announce their intention to run for mayor/village president. The title mayor is a new one for the village; it was changed last year – the title is still officially village president and will be identified as such on the April 4 ballot – at Abu-Taleb’s request.

The mayor has had a contentious relationship with Oak Park’s Village Manager Association (VMA), which vets and slates candidates for public office. The group, which has seen most of its picks ultimately elected to public office for several decades, did not endorse Abu-Taleb in his first run for mayor.

Abu-Taleb said he will not seek the VMA’s endorsement, but would welcome the group’s support. Rather than running on a slate of candidates endorsed by the VMA, Abu-Taleb said he is considering running his own slate of candidates this time around. That would entail candidates for the three open seats for village trustee, mayor and village clerk.

He would not disclose who he is considering if he does form his own slate.

Abu-Taleb said he wants to continue to move the village forward and “transcend negative attacks” and “preconceived notions that Oak Park is going to be turned upside down” by his leadership.

He has received some criticism over the last months as multiple large mixed-use developments have been constructed in the downtown area. More than 1,000 new condos and rentals are being built in an effort to bring in new revenue and residents.

“We’re at the cusp of having a great development on Madison Street,” he said, referencing the village’s efforts to build a mixed-use residential and retail building at the corner of Oak Park Avenue.

That plan, which would redevelop a village-owned parking lot, was opened to alternative proposals last month and the village is currently reviewing proposals submitted through that process. The process has been criticized, however, by some who say the village and its nonprofit economic development group, the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation, have already negotiated the deal behind closed doors with a single developer, Jupiter Realty.

Abu-Table said the project, which would likely bend a section of Madison Street and narrow the commercial corridor to two lanes, “will transform that entire corridor.”

He said he decided to announce his plans to run for reelection to give those in the village and in the development community the “certainty” to move forward with business plans.

The mayor praised his working relationship with the staff at Village Hall, the Village Board of Trustees and Village Manager Cara Pavlicek.

“Our village manager is maybe the best we’ve ever had,” he said.

He said the reorganization of departments at Village Hall over the last few years has made it more business friendly and customer service oriented.

Abu-Taleb said the reorganization of Oak Park’s Building Department is one of the biggest improvements he’s seen during his time in office. He said the department had been slow to respond to the needs of businesses and residents trying to do simple renovations on their homes.

He said the word is out that Oak Park is an easier place to do business and it has attracted more development and revenue to the village.

Abu-Taleb also touted his work on negotiations with the Illinois Department of Transportation on its planned remaking of the Eisenhower Expressway and his efforts in bringing Oak Park’s various taxing bodies together on issues like use of Downtown Tax Increment Finance District funds to pay for environmental remediation of a village-owned parking lot being redeveloped near Harlem and Lake.

“We’re fortunate to have the wind at our backs,” he said. “It would be a shame to go back to the old days where we had the doors locked, the windows shut and the lights turned off.”

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

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