After eight years serving as Oak Park’s mayor and village president, Anan Abu-Taleb will not seek a third term in office in municipal elections next April. In a Dec. 10 interview with Wednesday Journal, Abu-Taleb officially announced his plans to hang up his hat as mayor.
“I think eight years is sufficient,” said Abu-Taleb. “I feel honored that I was given the opportunity to serve the community.”
Giving credit to staff and his fellow board members, both past and present, Abu-Taleb said he is proud of the accomplishments and the relationships made while in office.
“I’m happy with the progress we made. I think we did what we set out to do,” Abu-Taleb said. “And I’m very grateful for the support I have received.”
During Abu-Taleb’s two terms, Oak Park has seen a building boom including multiple high-rise buildings downtown, improvements made to its streets and alleys, greater investment in technology and a more economically dynamic Madison Street. Abu-Taleb remade a stagnant Oak Park Economic Development Corporation (OPEDC), which he affectionately referred to as his “baby.”
Abu-Taleb talked up downtown’s transit-oriented retail and apartment developments, which include the Albion building. Having those developments, he believes, not only helps lessen the tax burden, but increases traffic to local business and provides the village greater economic opportunity.
“I believe the more people that can call Oak Park their home, the better it is for us,” he said.
Abu-Taleb’s pro-development stance has not always gone over well with Oak Park residents. Some of the achievements made during his two terms have courted the criticism and ire of some community members.
“I think it’s important to recognize that the village of Oak Park is very dynamic, and it requires a lot of time and energy to fulfill the role of mayor,” said Abu-Taleb. “It’s a demanding position.”
Abu-Taleb has faced considerable and unexpected challenges during his last year in office, not least of which has been navigating the village during the COVID-19 pandemic and that accompanying and ongoing economic crisis. As a restaurant owner, Abu-Taleb has also had to grapple with the severe blow COVID-19 has dealt the food service industry.
The decision not to seek a third term was made with the input of Abu-Taleb’s wife and their children – adults themselves. Stepping down permits Abu-Taleb and wife Margi more time to concentrate on their restaurant ventures.
He did consider going for a third term after former village trustee Bob Tucker decided against running for mayor in 2021. Abu-Taleb had hoped to pass the torch to Tucker.
“If Bob Tucker tried to announce a year ago that he wanted to run, his yard sign would have been in my front yard,” Abu-Taleb said.
The mayor, he believes, should be someone with a high degree of self-discipline, someone able to immediately switch into the mode of governing from that of campaigning, someone likable and willing to share credit with others. For Abu-Taleb, Tucker fit the bill entirely.
“I’ve always wanted to leave the village in a better place than when I took [office], and I felt that part of doing that would be having somebody like Bob Tucker to succeed me,” Abu-Taleb said.
With Tucker out of the running, Abu-Taleb has not given an endorsement to any of the four candidates vying to replace him as mayor – Cate Readling, Village Clerk Vicki Scaman, and current village board trustees Simone Boutet and Dan Moroney.
However, Abu-Taleb talked positively about Moroney, saying the first-term trustee “has integrity, is intelligent and is grounded.” Abu-Taleb said Moroney “understands math and numbers and the budget.”
Abu-Taleb made it very clear Boutet would not be receiving his backing.
He said Boutet has always had an “axe to grind” against Village Manager Cara Pavlicek and called Boutet’s behavior as a trustee “disruptive” to the process and “disrespectful” to staff.
“I want the community to understand that Trustee Boutet has acted, on a local level, in a way that’s being acted out at a national level.”
Abu-Taleb did however enthusiastically endorse Trustee Deno Andrews for reelection as a trustee.