Cate Readling, a community activist and part-time park district employee, has officially joined the race for Oak Park village president. Readling previously tried to run as a write-in candidate in 2017 against incumbent Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb.
“What I learned from that experience is that people really wanted change,” Readling told Wednesday Journal.
According to Readling, she received encouragement to make a second run for village president from people who shared ideals similar to hers.
“Anan described his campaign as being open for business,” Readling said. “I would describe mine as being open for the people.”
Readling becomes the third person to announce their run for president in the April 2021 election. Previously Trustee Simone Boutet and Village Clerk Vicki Scaman have announced their candidacies. Abu-Taleb, completing his second term, has not announced his intention to seek a third term.
Current Trustee Deno Andrews has announced he will seek a second term as village trustee.
Readling plans to host an online campaign launch party Aug. 25. In a break from Oak Park’s tradition of non-partisan village government elections, Readling said she will run as a Democrat.
Initially, Readling said, she was “extremely reluctant” to run as a Democrat, but members of her team convinced her that doing so would be a safer option, allowing her to gather fewer citizen petition signatures to make the ballot. Running as a Democrat also means she is allowed to start gathering signatures sooner.
“That is designed to allow me as a traditional typical party candidate to go willy nilly, collect all the signatures I possibly can and make those signatures unavailable to someone who has to wait almost a month to start going,” said Readling.
Readling admitted she thought that aspect of Illinois election law was “shady,” but said running as a Democrat and gathering fewer signatures keeps her campaign volunteers safer from COVID-19.
“I feel like if there is anything that can be done to keep people safer, then it’s our responsibility to do it,” she said.
Currently, Readling works part-time with the Park District of Oak Park; her focus at work is fundraising for the park district’s new community recreation center. However, should she win, Readling does not intend to continue working at the park district.
While Readling has never held elected office before, she does not believe that makes her unqualified to serve as the village president of Oak Park, a role she described as “not unknowable” and “not mysterious.”
“Frankly, all of us with lived experience, have the experience to serve as village president,” Readling said. “If you’re prioritizing the people of the village, then you have the qualifications.”
Readling’s personal life experience, she said, has given her the necessary abilities to effectively serve as the elected head of Oak Park village government.
“My lived experience as a biracial woman of color has given me what I now consider as an opportunity to hone my skills in navigating and negotiating this world in all of the different ways that a woman of color is required to do,” said Readling.
That experience, she believes, is creating an atmosphere of respect among the board of trustees.
“That type of sensibility and that capability is what is needed to create a cohesive board built on respect for each other and for all of the taxing bodies that they have to work with,” said Readling.
Her experience, she said, will also help to deepen relationships with other organizations and neighboring townships and cities. Her ability to listen to others, she said, will help her to facilitate board discussions as president.
“The way I describe our campaign and the way that we want to govern is about accessibility,” Readling said in an interview with Wednesday Journal. “Our documentation, our information, the way that our budget is organized, all of that information should be more accessible.”
If elected village president, Readling would like to see board meetings made more accessible for people with vision and hearing impairments, as well as those with other disabilities. Readling also hopes to broaden accessibility to affordable housing and provide greater opportunities for people to age in place. Accessibility to Readling also includes communication with elected leaders.
“People should know and be able to identify and have access to the people who are leaders in their community,” Readling said.
While COVID-19 has considerably strained finances for the village of Oak Park, Readling does not plan to limit funding for social services if elected president.
“It’s really critically important that we elect people to local municipal office who will not allow this pandemic to turn us into an austerity budget methodology,” Readling said.
When asked how the village would be able to continue paying for social services, Readling said Oak Park is in a better financial position than it seems.
“Just like the state of Illinois is not really broke and Cook County is not really broke, Oak Park is not really broke,” she said.
Readling said if properly budgeted for, the village has the money to continue and expand social services. She also supports the statewide “Fair Tax” amendment, a graduated-rate tax based on income. That amendment will be on the Nov. 3 ballot.
“We will not be able to fix any of the problems that we have at the state level, which dictates what our property taxes are in many, many ways – particularly as it relates to education, unless we get this Fair Tax referendum passed,” Readling said.
Among those to endorse Readling is community activist Kina Collins, who ran in the 2020 Democratic primary incumbent Danny Davis to represent the 7th congressional district. Rich Means, an Oak Park election attorney, has also endorsed Readling. Means is state chairman of Americans for Democratic Action, a progressive political organization. Bob Downs, a former state legislator and former president of the Illinois Bar Association, has endorsed Readling as well. Downs is also the former long-time chair of the board of Wednesday Journal Inc.