Oak Parker Cory Wesley, 40, describes himself not only as a “problem solver” but also as a “solutions-driven” candidate in the race for Oak Park village trustee.
He faces 10 challengers for three open seats in the election set for April 2.
Wesley has served on the village’s Technology Commission, a citizen commission that provides recommendations to the board of trustees, since last fall. He launched his own tech business, TekVoyant, in July 2015, a move that allowed him to leave his job in the tech industry.
“I think city government is one of the last places where technology is being embraced but not fully utilized,” he said in a recent interview.
Wesley envisions an Oak Park Village Hall where residents can offer public comment via video conferencing technology and the village helps small business owners with business incubator programs to help aspiring entrepreneurs.
“Wouldn’t it be great if [constituents] could engage [the board of trustees] from home?” he said, noting that not everyone can take the time and expense to visit village hall and engage with trustees. “Everybody’s got a web cam.”
Working to bridge those gaps would help create a better dialogue with residents, he said.
His incubator program idea would task the village with working to find space for new business owners – possibly temporary spots like vacant storefronts – and provide them with a “small amount of capital to help them build their business.”
Homegrown businesses would help add to the tax base, says Wesley.
Wesley sees his tech bona fides as an advantage over other candidates as well as his demographic.
He said the board is in need of diversity – currently, no people of color serve on the panel. Wesley said he decided to run about three years ago after attending a town hall meeting on OPRF’s effort to build a new swimming pool.
Wesley said he was the only black person to speak at the meeting. He tells Wednesday Journal that he worries that Oak Park could become “a place where I look around and I no longer see black people of moderate income, moderate means, where I know longer see black homeowners.”
The night of the town hall forum, several people pulled him aside, he said, and asked him how they could get more people of color to speak at such events. “That was the catalyst there,” he said. “They are right. We need our voice heard, and we need to be represented.”
Wesley said he would work to reduce the village’s tax levy to increases of less than 3 percent annually. That could be achieved through a number of “hard decisions” such as the village board’s decision in early 2018 to discontinue the Divvy bike-sharing program in the village.
He also would move to use some money from the village’s affordable housing fund to subsidize homeowners at risk of losing their homes. A senior citizen tax break could help keep seniors in the village, thus reducing the tax burden on the schools, he said.
Wesley reasoned that keeping a senior citizen in their home means fewer homeowners with children moving to the village.
“If you keep 53 senior citizens from selling their homes, we save $1 million – conservative estimate, it’s probably more than that – versus if those houses were sold to families of four with two school-aged kids,” he said. “The school board can’t influence that, but the village can.”
He noted that the rising taxes are pushing residents out of their homes and that disproportionately affects people of color.
Wesley acknowledged that such a plan would be controversial with affordable housing advocates, but he added: “My view on it is affordable housing in this village has increased from 18 to 22 percent. We are helping affordable housing here. So now it’s time to help homeowners with housing affordability.”
He said it does not make sense to wait for the state to fix the problem with progressive income tax plans because the state leaders have shown their inability “to manage their own books.”
“I’m not waiting on more state funding to save us,” he said. “We have to save ourselves. If the solution is to wait on the state of Illinois, that’s not a solution.”