It is election season in Chicago and candidates are throwing out ideas to see what sticks. One of them fits squarely in the category of no way no how – at least according to the Oak Park Board of Trustees.
That’s the proposal that surfaced on Feb. 5 from Chicago mayoral candidate Garry McCarthy, who told the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board that Chicago should annex Oak Park and three other municipalities – Norridge, Oak Lawn and Evergreen Park – to help pay the Windy City’s pension debt.
McCarthy said in a telephone interview that he wasn’t surprised that the municipal leaders would reject the idea of annexation. He said any elected official that voiced support for his idea would be “out of a job.”
But annexation would help reduce taxes for homeowners in the municipalities, according to McCarthy, who told Wednesday Journal that the proposal also included Schiller Park, although that community was not identified in the Sun-Times article.
Annexation of the five communities would add about 160,000 residents to the city and create efficiencies through the consolidation of police and fire departments and other government entities, McCarthy said.
He noted that the composite tax rate for the city of Chicago is 7.2 percent, about half the 14.3 percent paid in Oak Park. Norridge has a composite tax rate of 8.47 percent, Schiller Park 12 percent, Evergreen Park 14.12 percent and Oak Lawn 13 percent, McCarthy said, calling it a “no-brainer” for taxpayers.
McCarthy added that the state of Illinois has about 1,300 municipal jurisdictions, the most of any state in the country, he said.
“Texas is, like, the size of Asia … but has about 100 fewer jurisdictions [than Illinois],” he said.
According to the Sun-Times, McCarthy said annexation of the municipalities would help foot the bill on Chicago’s $270 million pension payment due in 2020.
McCarthy said he’s received no takers from municipalities on the annexation question, so far.
And the Oak Park Board of Trustees was no different, in most cases sending McCarthy a stern “not so fast, buster.”
Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb was, perhaps, the most diplomatic in his response, stating his pride for Oak Park and its desirability as a place to live.
“Even if Mr. McCarthy’s proposal has any financial advantage for us, I don’t think that alone is enough,” Abu-Taleb said in a written statement.
“Oak Parkers like their voice to be heard and they do that through our small village government. We love our great schools, library, township and parks.
“This community gives people a sense of belonging. I don’t think Oak Parkers would walk away from their autonomy and they won’t hand over their public safety and other services to such large city government.”
Abu-Taleb ended by stating his love for the city of Chicago, but adding that “what I love more is the village of Oak Park and our sense of community.”
Trustee Bob Tucker similarly kindly took a pass, stating, “I love Chicago dearly, and I spend much of my professional life working to improve and invest in Chicago neighborhoods that have seen many years of disinvestment. But I would have to politely say to Mr. McCarthy – ‘No thanks!'”
Trustee Deno Andrews took a less delicate approach with the former superintendent of the Chicago Police Department.
“You don’t get your own house in order by stealing your neighbors’ assets,” Andrews said in a text. “McCarthy’s idea is an embarrassing non-starter.”
Trustee Jim Taglia also wanted nothing to do with annexation, calling the proposal “a sound bite from a politician running single digits in the polls” adding that Oak Parkers “have nothing to worry about.”
“McCarthy should thoughtfully and critically examine his ideas before floating them. He clearly knows nothing about Oak Park or its history and traditions. We aren’t just another neighborhood extending west from the city,” Taglia said.
Trustee Simone Boutet called the idea “just too stupid” and wishing McCarthy “good luck.”
“How do you get Oak Park to agree to that?” she wondered.
Trustee Andrea Button similarly said she has “no interest in entertaining this idea.”
“Nor do I think the community would support it. In fact, I feel very confident that, if faced with this idea, Oak Park leadership and residents alike would work very hard to ensure that we preserve our identity as an independent, vibrant, progressive community,” she said.
Finally, Dan Moroney also gave McCarthy a firm nope.
“I don’t envision any way I would support such a proposal,” he said. “The issues and challenges facing suburban municipalities are unique to the city of Chicago.
“Neighboring municipalities require the autonomy to set their own policy that maximizes the health of each individual community.”