Bob Tucker served two terms on Oak Park’s village board. When he left the board two years ago, it was reasonably assumed he would run for village president in 2021 as a potential successor to Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb.
That is not going to happen.
Tucker told me Sept. 3 that for a combination of reasons he is not making the race.
“I don’t take commitments lightly,” he said. “So I’ve tried to make a careful decision.”
He cited what he described as what’s best for Oak Park, for his family and for his work as CEO of a nonprofit focused on lending in Chicago’s disinvested West and South sides, in making the decision to sit 2021 out.
“There is a bit of sadness that I’m not doing it. But I can’t pull the trigger,” he said.
Since spring Tucker has hosted some 30 local people for coffee — more often beer — in his backyard on Ridgeland Avenue to gauge their opinions on the race.
“People were so supportive,” he said. “What kind of a politician goes on a ‘listening tour’ and then decides not to run?”
What brought him to the decision not to run in a race he believes he would have won? Tucker was candid with his assessments: This is rightly not the ideal time for a white man to run. While he considers himself to be “pretty far left” politically, that makes him “middle of the road” in Oak Park.
Current political tensions locally and nationally are a concern though he says he has “a pretty thick skin.” Even so, he said, “the tone of local politics might be turning good people off.”
Most immediately it seems clear from the conversation that his wife – “the wisest Oak Parker, my wife Vicki” – was not enthused about a race. Then there is his job at the Chicago Community Loan Fund.
“Those who know me best know that I’m in my dream job,” he said.
And in the midst of the racial reckoning finally underway, Tucker said his work has never been as intense or as important.
“For 30 years CCLF has been talking the language of investment in communities of color,” Tucker said. “Now in the last three months the whole world is talking our language.”
He sees this rising interest in the nonprofit’s work hard against a pandemic-fueled recession as an opportunity and challenge that will last for years. He said he could not do both his job and serve as village president simultaneously.
He is happy to see three women already in the race for village president.
“That’s great. We need more women.”
He said he is hoping for “a really open and democratic race for village president.” He said he is also hoping more people of color will join the race for both trustee and village president.
I asked him to explain more about how his race impacted his thinking on running. “I’m as white a man as there is,” he noted.
That said, Tucker added, “I wake up each morning as the only white person in our house,” referring to his wife and their two sons.
He is also the only white person on the management team at his job.
“But I’m still as white as I can be.”
Six months out from the local election he said it is too soon to handicap the race. He is waiting to see who ultimately makes the race and wants to see policy positions from each candidate. He does not rule out making an eventual endorsement in the race.
“I’d give a fair warning for those getting in now. This is going to be a tough time to govern. This is going to be a slog.” He said the next village president will oversee serious budget deficits and have to face notable spending cuts. He said serious candidates will also acknowledge just how high the tax burden is already in Oak Park and how that will limit new spending. The next president and trustees will “have to put their heads down and do the work. Governing can be incredibly boring. And in some ways it should be,” he said referencing spreadsheets and detailed financial statements.
The conversation turned to equity and to policing. When asked, he agreed that, in his final year as a trustee, the board “didn’t get as far as we should have” in passing a wide-ranging village policy on equity. “More could have been done. It was a missed opportunity.”
On the current village approach to police reform Tucker said the village board should acknowledge that “in general Oak Park policing is good. But why can’t we create change and become the model for the nation? Acknowledge what we do well. Then address the deficits.
“This is a moment to bring people together. Let’s talk about how we got here. Why we got here,” said Tucker, adding that the conversation should include a couple of trustees, the village president, representatives of young protesters, the business community and the police chief, LaDon Reynolds, who he sees as a great asset.
“In the great wonderful experiment that is Oak Park, everyone needs to feel safe,” he said, noting that those protesting have “hugely important voices.”
Tucker said the property damage caused last week by a small group of protesters at the home of Abu-Taleb “is clearly unacceptable and now clouds the message. We can’t lose the message.”
I’ve been a fan of Bob Tucker’s approach to governing since I met him 10 years ago. Smart, calm, self-deprecating and not a bad listener. This will be a different race without him being a part of the debate.