A group of Oak Parkers launched a new political action committee (PAC) May 26 to support progressive candidates vying for three open village trustee seats in the April 2021 election. The PAC, called Activate Oak Park (AOP), will not involve itself in the race for village president or mayor.

“I don’t even know that we’ll do a formal slate. To us, it’s more about cooperation and collaboration,” said Brynne Hovde, AOP co-founder and chairperson.

The PAC, organizers say, focuses on four key pillars: pursuing climate justice, strengthening the social contract, committing to racial equity and reimagining community safety. Activate Oak Park will financially and operationally support candidates running for village trustee who share those values.

Board seats currently held by Deno Andrews, Simone Boutet and Dan Moroney will be on the ballot. Boutet has already announced plans to run for village president. The plans of Andrews and Moroney are unknown at this point. Anan Abu-Taleb, the current village president/mayor, said he had not decided on seeking a third term and is focused on Oak Park’s COVID-19 response.

“The main platforms of the PAC are meant to be broad because we’re not looking for someone to agree with every little bullet point of how things should be executed. It’s really just about ideals and vision,” said Hovde.

“Social contract is really meant to refer to the broader idea of what government can do for a community, what kinds of services the government could be providing, how we’re funding those services and looking at what is regressive taxation.”

When it comes to reimagining community safety, Hovde hopes candidates will have a lot of different ideas as to how to make Oak Park safe for all and what the needs are.

“Looking at the scope of safety beyond just the lens of policing and having a broader conversation about community safety,” she said. “It’s not a new conversation. Our proximity to Chicago has always sparked conversations about this that do tie into racial equity as far as we see it and it deserves to have a broader conversation.”

Hovde said the idea of starting a PAC has been in the works for months. Many of the people associated with AOP were previously active in the campaigns of Oak Park Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla and other women of color. Walker-Peddakotla is also an AOP co-founder.

“Everyone from candidates themselves to some of the volunteers. It’s kind of an unofficial coalition,” said Hovde. “We share values. We have the same concerns about what’s happening now and also the same sort of vision of what could be possible here.”

The PAC is particularly interested in supporting women, women of color and people of color running for village trustee, as well as working class candidates.

“Oak Park prides itself on diversity and inclusion. We don’t have enough diversity,” said Walker-Peddakotla. “We need to increase working class representation on our board. This PAC can help with getting more people of color elected, more working-class people elected, more people that just don’t have the time or the resources or the money to run for office.”

Walker-Peddakotla’s called her own experience running for village trustee in 2019 difficult.

“It was really, really hard, especially to run as a bold progressive against people who all they were talking about was property taxes. There are other issues people are hurting about,” she said.

While Walker-Peddakotla was able to partly self-fund her campaign, she could not fund the campaign in its entirety by herself.

“I have three kids. I could self-fund a little bit, but not to the extent that some of the other candidates did,” she said.

  The inability to self-fund campaigns for elected office prevents many people from seeking those positions. The PAC is intended to give progressive candidates the financial backing needed to successfully campaign.

“The main driver behind that is really the resources that it takes to run for trustee and the kind of folks we help run for trustee don’t always have those resources or privileges that allow them to fully staff a campaign or fundraise or get the funding that’s necessary to win,” said Hovde.

Hovde and Walker-Peddakotla, as well as other AOP members, have already started recruiting candidates but the nature of holding an elected office makes people reluctant to run.

“It’s tough to get people to want to do that. It’s a job that is a lot of hours, basically unpaid at the end of the day – certainly beneath minimum wage per hour if you’re doing due diligence on everything,” Hovde said. “And they’ve seen how folks are treated in the board room and a lot of people aren’t interested in signing up to do that basically for free.”

Now that the PAC has officially launched, Hovde hopes it will help to convince progressive residents to enter the race with the assurance that they will receive support.

“If this is on your mind as a possibility, there will be infrastructure to support you. You won’t be doing this alone,” Hovde said.

As a current village trustee and AOP co-founder, the role Walker-Peddakotla will play in choosing which candidates the PAC will support has yet to be determined.

“Will I be involved in helping the PAC endorse candidates? I don’t know yet,” Walker-Peddakotla said. “We’re still figuring out that structure.”

AOP was created strictly to support candidates running for village trustee; it will not support any candidates running for village president.

“The primary focus will not be on the village president,” said Hovde. “We’re focused on getting folks at the board table that can help push things forward in Oak Park. While we think it certainly matters, the village president is not the groundswell effort we need necessarily to get things passed.”

The question of who plans to enter into the race for village president is unclear, as many of the rumored contenders have not officially announced their candidacy.

For Bob Tucker, a former village trustee, the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed any decision-making on making the race.

“I am still considering it. I think the past couple months have delayed any decisions one way or the other,” Tucker said. “I would plan to make a decision on that in the summertime and move forward from there, but I need to weigh a lot of things in my life first.”

Tucker’s progressive ideals, he believes, are apparent when looking back on his tenure as village trustee.

“I think it’s a strong progressive record that is also balanced by trying to be fiscally responsible and promoting economic development in Oak Park,” he said.

Abu-Taleb, the current village president, declined to say whether he would seek a third term, saying his attention was fully focused on COVID-19.

“The thing that I think about 24/7 is how to protect our community, how to save lives in our community and how we’re going to reopen our businesses in a safe way,” Abu-Taleb said. “There will be ample time for politics and announcements, but this is not the time.”

Boutet confirmed she still plans to run for village president in 2021.  “Yes, I still have the goal of running for village president. I hope my candidacy will be supported by this group, as well as a broad coalition of other groups in the village.”

While the newly formed PAC will not involve itself in the 2021 race for village president, AOP may broaden its support to benefit candidates in other elections in the future.

“Let’s see how we do in 2021,” said Walker-Peddakotla. “If this experiment is successful and it resonates with the community, then I think we could reevaluate for the 2023 elections and see what happens there.”

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