It was a long night for the once-powerful Village Manager Association in this year’s municipal election, where all three of its handpicked candidates – two for Oak Park trustee and one for village clerk – were defeated by independent challengers.

The VMA-backed candidates – incumbent trustees Glenn Brewer and Peter Barber and Lori Malinski, a newcomer running for village clerk – faced an uphill battle from the start with challenges to their nominating petition that persisted through Election Day.

The VMA historically has seen its picks swept into office with little or no challenge. In the 2015 election, for instance, the VMA-backed candidates – Bob Tucker, Adam Salzman and Andrea Button-Ott – ran unopposed.

This time around things were different.

The VMA was unable to secure a full slate of candidates, meaning they did not endorse a candidate for village president and only endorsed two trustee candidates for three open seats and a village clerk candidate. The organization was unable to find a candidate to run against incumbent village president Anan Abu-Taleb, who defeated the VMA-backed village president John Hedges in 2013 and ran unopposed in this election cycle.

VMA President Lynn Kamenitsa said she believes the victors won in part because they “ran vigorous campaigns.” 

“Sometimes campaigns are invisible, but that was not the case this time,” she said.

Kamenitsa said the challenge to the nominating petition of the VMA-backed candidates was a distraction during the campaign. 

“It delayed their startup and limited their ability to engage voters,” she said. “I suspect that kind of distraction was part of the goal of the challengers all along.” 

The challenge was brought by Oak Park resident Kevin Peppard, who has a history of challenging nominating petitions, and Bob Milstein, a former Oak Park village trustee who has been a vocal opponent of the VMA.

Kamenitsa said she also thought the election outcome was a result of concerns by Oak Parkers over transparency and credibility at Village Hall, particularly concerning Village President Anan Abu-Taleb and village manager Cara Pavlicek.

“I think the next board is going to have a real challenge to take the steps toward improving transparency, and I think they need to remove any appearance that any kind of deals are being done without the appropriate processes or adequate public input,” she said. “I’m not saying that’s the reality of what’s going on, but in politics perception is reality.”

So where does that leave the VMA?

Kamenitsa said it is uncertain, but it’s time for the group to take a different approach. 

She said the group is discussing the potential of putting out more information on how to run for public office. 

Kamenitsa said she believes their candidates running unopposed in the 2015 municipal election served as a setback for the VMA this time around because the electorate became more disengaged.

She said she was disappointed that the board of trustees will not have any African American representation. 

“As long as I can remember there has always been some African American representation at the table,” she said. “That does not mean that other people who aren’t black don’t value equity and diversity.”

Both Glenn Brewer and Peter Barber – the two black incumbent trustee candidates who did not win reelection – agreed that a board with no black representation would be a loss for the community.

Barber said the board would “have to work even harder to make sure they’re keeping the concerns of people of color in mind.”

He said it’s time for the VMA to rethink its game plan. 

“I think the VMA still plays an important role in helping identify strong candidates that our community should consider for elected office,” he said. “That said I think the VMA can do more to help tell the story of why that’s an important function and tell the story of the value that the VMA plays in helping to ensure good governance in Oak Park.”

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

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