Another Oak Parker has entered the race for village trustee in the 2021 election. Health-care consultant Stephen Morales, who sits on two citizen commissions, announced his candidacy Sept. 28. If elected trustee, Morales plans to tackle COVID-19 and the other challenges the village of Oak Park has experienced this year.
“We’re at a very challenging time for the village,” Morales told Wednesday Journal. “I feel like this is an opportunity for me to step forward.”
Morales is in his second term serving on the Environment and Energy Commission. While on the commission, he led a campaign to reduce single-use plastics in Oak Park.
In addition to the Environment and Energy Commission, Morales is the chair of the Community Development Citizen Advisory Committee, which gives the village board recommendations for the allocation of Federal Development Block Grant funds. The commission also makes recommendations for the dispersal of Emergency Solutions Grants.
Morales serves on the boards of several nonprofit organizations, including current vice chair of Thrive Counseling Center. Morales is also the governance chair for the Center for Healthcare Innovation, a nonprofit that addresses racial and gender disparities in health care.
“As governance chair, I’m actually deciding how big our board is going to be, how to bring on new board members and what the training associated with that is,” said Morales.
His work as governance chair, Morales believes, has given him insight into joining the Oak Park Village Board of Trustees.
“It helps me to think through how I would be coming on to the board of trustees here,” said Morales.
Outside of his commission and philanthropic work, Morales is senior vice president at the Marwood Group, a strategic advisory firm with a focus on health care.
As a candidate for village trustee, Morales’ platform focuses on responsive government. If elected, his goal is to make sure that the citizen commissions are adequately utilized.
“I’ve seen such dedicated people who really want to help our community,” he said. “Sometimes things get dragged down in process and so we have to figure out a way to make the process a little bit faster, and really take advantage of all the people who have contributed so much.”
Morales said he will spend the next few months identifying possible strategies to accomplish the goal of maximizing commissions and streamlining processes.
He is also working to bring greater visibility into an overall plan to address environmental sustainability in Oak Park, instead of taking a piecemeal approach.
“I think something like that can go a long way to making people feel like they’re moving toward something,” said Morales, who has not decided whether he will run as part of a slate of candidates.
“I think having a slate has advantages in trying to bring together a consistent group and voice,” said Morales. “But I think everyone on the slate has to have their own agenda.”
Part of Morales’ agenda is Oak Park’s response to the economic crises that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I really want to think about how we recover, how our businesses recover, how our community recovers from a lot of the tensions we have right now and the economic downturn we’re experiencing,” he said.
Morales is very much in the listening stage of his candidacy and is interested in meeting with members of the community to discuss Oak Park and the issues it faces.
“I do want to go out and have listening sessions with all the different constituents, with respect to policing, diversity in our community,” he said.
Diversity is what drew him and his family to Oak Park. Morales, who is Puerto Rican and Ukrainian, moved to Oak Park with his wife Rumi in 2015. The couple have two children, a 7 and 8 years old.
“We love being here,” he said. “One of the things we absolutely love about Oak Park is that we have friends from all walks of life.”
Morales has lived in Spain, Singapore and Hong Kong but said Oak Park is “something really special” and he wants to build and maintain its diversity.
“You can have a neighbor who’s African American or white or Thai and it’s just a really great experience.”