Village trustee and now village president hopeful Simone Boutet and trustee candidates Lucia Robinson, Stephen Morales and Ravi Parakkat braved heavy winds and chilly weather during the launch of their Unite Oak Park campaign slate Saturday, Oct. 18 in Scoville Park. Before a small crowd, candidates publicly committed to increasing government transparency, racial equity and harmonious problem solving, if elected come April.
“We’re going to proceed with the slogan, ‘Let’s work together,'” Boutet told the crowd.
In deference to the COVID-19 safety guidelines, the audience was purposely kept diminutive. About 50 people, standing on markers placed six feet away from each other, attended the event, which was also streamed live on Facebook.
Upon choosing to run for village president, a term used interchangeably with mayor in Oak Park, Boutet said she began assembling a slate of candidates to campaign alongside her.
“The first thing I decided to do was to recruit people that would run with me, so that we could have cohesion, trust building amongst ourselves based on respect for each other that we could bring to the village board and make progress on the issues,” Boutet told the crowd before turning the microphone over to her running mates.
In local elections slates can form to run together on a common platform, but people vote on each candidate individually. Come election day, the full slate, a percentage of the slate or none of the slate could be elected.
Morales addressed the crowd next, sharing his experience serving on the village’s Environment and Energy Commission and as chair of the Community Development Advisory Committee, where he has “tried to address the need for affordable housing in our community.”
As a village trustee, Morales told the crowd he intends to bridge the racial divide in Oak Park and help the village recover from the pandemic’s toll.
“At the start of this year, none of us probably thought we’d be where we are today,” Morales said. “Since March, we’ve had 800 people in our community affected by COVID-19.”
Oak Park has had 792 positive cases of COVID-19 and 33 deaths associated with the virus as of Oct. 16, according to data from the Oak Park Public Health Department.
The village, Morales said, now has a unique chance to not only recuperate but improve under a responsive government.
“We have citizen commissions that need to be listened to,” said Morales. “We have metrics that we can put in place for the government to know that we are actually achieving what you want us to achieve.”
During her turn in front of the crowd, Robinson, a Mexican American compliance attorney, called for a renewed commitment to Oak Park’s core values – inclusion and diversity.
“As Oak Parkers, we can do better,” said Robinson.
As a trustee, Robinson told the crowd she will support programs and policies that seek to unite the people of Oak Park. According to Robinson, these efforts will include higher levels of government efficiency and transparency, COVID-19 recovery plans for businesses and equitable practices across multiple areas.
“We are here to offer you a new discourse within the village board,” said Robinson in a subtle reference to the dysfunctional atmosphere inherent within the current village board of trustees.
Like fellow slate member Morales, Parakkat also serves on the village of Oak Park’s Environment and Energy Commission. At the launch, Parakkat spoke of the need for a united front in tackling the political, economic and social struggles facing Oak Park.
“Let’s come together,” he said.
Parakkat believes the worst is yet to come in terms of the economic challenges posed by COVID-19, but the village has a “huge opportunity” to better position Oak Park for the future, especially in terms of sustainability.
“Imagine if we can provide training and prepare our youth for green jobs of the future,” said Parakkat. “Imagine if we could actually create green jobs locally here in Oak Park.
Parakkat told the crowd that he shares some of the disappointments and frustrations people have with the village’s current elected officials – a group he called divided and dysfunctional.
If elected, Parakkat said he would bring a “collaborative approach to problem solving” and a “calm and thoughtful leadership style.”
“I stand for unity,” he said.
Following Parakkat, Boutet returned to address the crowd, promising an earlier release date for meeting agendas and the creation of an open data portal to allow citizens to see where their tax dollars go.
Toward the close of the event, she shared her appreciation for the people on her slate and her eagerness to start working.
“I am so proud of the people that I’ve chosen,” Boutet said. “They are smart, they’re intelligent, and they are cooperative. And I am excited to get to work with them.”