It’s the most crowded race for the Oak Park village board in a long time; so far, eight candidates have announced plans to run for three seats on the board in the election set for April 2.
Jim Taglia is the only incumbent running for reelection. Trustees Bob Tucker and Andrea Button said earlier this year that they will not seek another term.
Campaign season kicked off with the establishment of a slate of candidates by the new political organization VOICE of Oak Park. The group endorsed three candidates in late October: Joshua Klayman, VOICE founder; Tim Thomas, global production assistance coordinator for Ford Motor Company; and Christian Harris, an entrepreneur and board member at the Oak Park Public Library.
Susan Buchanan, a physician and faculty member at the University of Illinois School of Public Health, also sought the VOICE endorsement but is running independently of the organization.
Three new candidates – Bridgett Baron, Cory Wesley and Graham Brisben – have surfaced in the race in recent weeks, and Taglia says he plans to seek reelection to the board. They all tell Wednesday Journal they plan to run independent of a slate.
Baron has made a name for herself over the years on the many Facebook community groups where she is a regular commenter.
She said in a phone interview that she’s considered running for the board for many years now and has been encouraged by friends to run.
“I’ve been asked and emphatically said, ‘No, no, no.’ It’s easier to say no.”
She said this time around she thought more about her reasons for not running: time; kids; and a full-time job was her logic in the past.
Her kids are older now – 15-year-old twins – and she said she believes she has a valuable perspective to bring to the board.
“What I would bring to the table is necessary and needed and just a matter of certain sacrifices,” she said.
Baron is a payroll accountant in the motion picture and television industry and is currently working on the hit TV show “Chicago Fire.”
She is married to Matt Baron, a District 200 school board member.
Bridgett Baron is now developing her platform but said she is concerned about affordability in the village.
“I’m not talking about affordable housing, but the affordability of Oak Park,” she said.
People are concerned about being able to continue living in the village because of the rising tax burden, she said, adding that she aims to help preserve Oak Park’s vibrancy.
“How do we continue to be a vibrant community that grows and moves forward but does it in a way that does not completely change the demographics of Oak Park,” she said.
Graham Brisben served as a District 97 board member from 2013 to 2017 and runs a transportation and logistics consulting business called PLG Consulting.
He said he’s running for the board to “contribute my time and energy to a cause greater than myself.”
“I believe we have reached a tipping point on the property tax burden; that’s the elephant in the room,” Brisben said.
Brisben said he supports a welcoming and diverse community that’s also affordable, but added that “there is no silver bullet” to Oak Park’s problems.
“We need a strategy around development,” he said in a telephone interview. “There’s this phenomenon of high rises but no community conversation around the strategy, vision, purpose and payoffs of these developments,” he said.
Brisben said he took a fact- and data-driven approach while serving on D97 and would do the same as a trustee. “With the right approach we can attack these challenges,” he said. “At D97 we were a high-functioning board that moved the needle on critical issues, and I can bring that experience to the village board.”
Cory Wesley is the owner of the software consulting firm Tekvoyant and has spent more than 20 years in information technology. He recently joined the village’s Technology Commission and has been an advocate for various issues on social media, he said.
“I felt like I could make a difference and take my message from bits to atoms …” he said in a telephone interview.
He said many in Oak Park are struggling with increasing property taxes and some are on the verge of being taxed out of the village.
“I don’t think that’s fair, and I don’t think it should happen,” he said.
Wesley is advocating for greater transparency in local government. “I think we have a lot of information to present but it’s not being presented very well,” he said, adding that he would work to use technology to get more information into the hands of constituents.
“With my background in IT, I do this for a lot of clients,” he said. “We need to give people the tools to be informed, but if they want to take action on it, give them the tools and the time so it doesn’t become a crisis.”
Trustee Jim Taglia said in a telephone interview that he plans to run, but his focus now is completing the village budget and completing the village’s plans to redevelop large portions of Madison Street.
Taglia is a former Oak Park Township Trustee who was appointed to his seat on the village board in 2017 when Trustee Adam Salzman departed for a job in Chicago.
“I’m still organizing,” he said. “I’m getting signatures, but it’s my intention to run.”
He owns the Lake Station, Indiana-based company Pro-Chem-Co Inc., which manufacturers chemicals used in the steel and metalworking industries, and is former owner of the shuttered Red Mango yogurt shop at 1044 Lake St.
Taglia said he considers himself a representative of the people of Oak Park and casts his votes in their interests.
“I try to put myself in the shoes of the residents, and I try to listen in that way and be totally objective and mindful that I represent a diverse community and that in every decision I make I have an open mind,” he said.
He described himself as a problem solver who works with other board members to find solutions for the village.
“We’ve made a lot of good decisions in the last year, and we’re trying to move the village forward in a long-term view,” he said.