Wednesday Journal always takes time at the end of the year to acknowledge the Oak Parker who had the biggest impact — and there’s never a shortage of candidates to consider.
This year we chose high school teacher, activist and Congressional candidate Anthony Clark, but he wasn’t the only one who left his or her mark on the village.
Here are some of the other notable figures this year:
He wasn’t the only new face on the Oak Park Board of Trustees in 2017, but he made his presence known time and again.
In addition to his work on the board, Andrews made headlines with his proposal for a community-funded café in northeast Oak Park and the work he’s done through his nonprofit, The Rescue Foundation, which provides training and opportunities for ex-offenders. Andrews was awarded a $50,000 “Big Ideas” grant from the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation’s Entrepreneurs in Philanthropy group in February to expand his organization’s work.
Andrews also made big headlines in June, when he called on the board of trustees to discuss whether Oak Park should opt out of a minimum-wage hike by Cook County. The move ultimately prompted an emergency meeting at village hall, where trustees faced fierce opposition from the public. They ultimately decided to let the wage increase stand.
Most notably, Andrews made news — and perhaps political enemies — by almost single-handedly saving the maligned Albion tower proposal. Andrews and others had campaigned against the planned mixed-use tower before last year’s election, and after being rejected by the Oak Park Plan Commission, the proposal appeared to be in jeopardy. Despite his opposition to the project during the campaign, Andrews lobbied for an alternate proposal to the Oak Park Board of Trustees, which incorporated a stepped-back design in an effort to reduce the shade the building would cast on nearby Austin Gardens. The new proposal, and the project, was approved by the board.
If you’ve been paying attention to North Avenue — if not, you’re not alone — you’ve probably heard the name Judith Alexander. She’s been informally known around Wednesday Journal headquarters as “the mayor of North Avenue” because of her tireless advocacy in getting development moving in that commercial corridor and ridding the area of illegal massage parlors, check-cashing businesses, pawn shops, and other commerce she considers a deterrent to development.
Alexander, who is chair of The North Avenue District and co-founder of the North Avenue Neighbors Association of Oak Park, not only puts out one of the most thorough email newsletters — yes, it’s all about North Avenue — but she has also testified numerous times to the board of trustees on issues of importance to Oak Park’s northernmost border.
She is singled out this year for all her efforts, but perhaps most notably for her work in advocating that Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning include the corridor in its Local Technical Assistance program, which is studying livability, sustainability and economic vitality in the area.
It is difficult to sum up in a few words the impact Grossman, director of the Department of Development Customer Services, has had on the village. That’s because there’s so much to discuss. Her department has overseen: plans to overhaul parking in the village, implementation of the village’s new software system, and coordination with developers on major projects around Oak Park.
Grossman’s work largely takes place behind the scenes, but if you’ve been to a village hall meeting this year — or in years past — you’ve likely seen Village Manager Cara Pavlicek and trustees call on Grossman for her technical expertise on any number of issues.
River Forest District 90 Supt. Ed Condon is shining a light on a small portion of his district’s students — equity efforts. Almost 28 percent of the district is non-white, according to data from the Illinois State Report Card. Yet low-income students and students of color consistently score below their white counterparts on the state-mandated PARCC exam. Condon has championed a number of initiatives to achieve equity for these students, including the upcoming “One Book, One District” community reading initiative.
* This article was updated to correct the name of the organization chaired by Judith Alexander.