The Oak Park Municipal Officers Electoral Board made a stunning reversal of its prior decision to sustain the challenge levied against village trustee candidate Anthony Clark. Just days after their original ruling, in a unanimous vote Jan. 28, the three-member electoral board voted to dismiss the challenge, allowing Clark to serve as trustee if elected.
“It has been a whirlwind, these past two days,” Clark told Wednesday Journal. “I truly, sincerely thank the community of Oak Park; whether they’re supporters of Anthony Clark or not, they are supporters of democracy.”
In what was expected to be only a formality in the candidate objection review process, the electoral board reconvened Jan. 28 for the last time to issue the formal decision on Clark’s case. But the decision itself changed completely in the few days after the board last met. The electoral board did not uphold their original determination that Clark was ineligible to hold a trustee seat, as the board decided in a 2-1 vote on Jan. 25, due to a change of heart in two of the three electoral board members.
Abu-Taleb made a motion to reconsider the Jan. 25 decision, which was seconded by Jim Taglia, electoral board member and senior village trustee. Both Abu-Taleb and Taglia had previously voted to uphold the challenge against Clark, effectively barring his name from appearing on the ballot. Village Clerk Vicki Scaman voted to dismiss the challenge in both instances.
“After reflecting upon the proceedings before this electoral board, I am reversing my decision,” said Abu-Taleb.
The objection against Clark’s candidacy came from resident Kevin Peppard, who argued that Clark failed to meet the Oak Park residency requirement to serve on the village board. Peppard argued that Clark resides in Lombard and not on Lombard Avenue in Oak Park, where Clark’s parents live.
Over the course of the multi-day hearing, Peppard produced as evidence multiple documents, including Clark’s 2020 bankruptcy filing, wherein Clark listed the Lombard property, which he owns, as his primary address. Peppard also included a copy of Clark’s 2020 property tax bill, showing Clark had taken a residential property tax exemption on the Lombard property.
A teacher at the local high school and founder of an Oak Park-based nonprofit, Clark has maintained that he has always lived in Oak Park, despite owning the Lombard property and being responsible for its finances. Clark’s mother, in sworn testimony, before the electoral board stated her son lived at home with her and her husband.
“Conflicting evidence has been presented and thus, this is not an easy decision as we have all agreed,” said Abu-Taleb.
Abu-Taleb continued, saying he believed, as chair, that people should have the opportunity to appear on the ballot and that he has upheld that belief during the past objection hearings of three other Black village board candidates over the course of the past two election cycles.
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From the time Peppard filed the challenges against Clark as well as trustee candidate Chibuike Enyia, many members of the public began speculating that Peppard’s objection were racially motivated as both Clark and Enyia are Black men. Peppard has categorically denied having any motivations other than wanting candidates to abide by election law.
While the challenge against Enyia was dismissed, Abu-Taleb and Taglia received criticism for not voting to dismiss the challenge against Clark as well. Members of the public also accused the mayor and Taglia of being prejudiced, having called Clark’s use of his Lombard address on federal documents an issue of “credibility.”
The reversal came as a surprise to Clark, who had issued a statement the day before, announcing he was not going to appeal the 2-1 decision made Jan. 25. His statement alludes to preconceptions potentially held by Abu-Taleb and Taglia.
“This judgment reeked of bias on many levels. Two individuals, in particular, attempted to utilize my life experiences to besmirch my character,” Clark’s statement read. “In reality, they were attempting to belittle the ideologies and movements that I help to represent.”
An illuminated message — “Anthony Clark, you are Oak Park” — appeared on an outside wall at village hall.
During the Jan. 28 meeting, Abu-Taleb outright denied having been influenced at all by prejudice when he cast his original vote.
“For me, this case has never been about race,” said Abu-Taleb. “It has only been about residency. I believe that Mr. Clark should maintain on the ballot and I will leave the decision to the voters of Oak Park who should be elected as trustee.”
Taglia said the electoral board was guided by state statute to discharge their duties in an unbiased and fair-minded manner, before sharing that he had changed his mind on whether Clark planned to remain in Oak Park – a factor in determining residency.
“From what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard, I can support that Mr. Clark has shown an intent to remain in Oak Park,” said Taglia.
While Scaman was grateful Clark’s challenge was dismissed, she expressed concern that the hearing process had caused detriment to Clark and his family.
Scaman said Peppard needed to completely withdraw his challenge against Clark in addition to having the case dismissed by the electoral board. In not withdrawing, Scaman believed that systemic racism in Oak Park would be “realized at an even deeper level.”
“Is Mr. Peppard willing to do so?”
Peppard simply answered, “No.”
When asked how he felt about Peppard not withdrawing the challenge, Clark said it is Peppard’s right not to do and that it was also Peppard’s right to appeal the decision.
“I just challenge him to understand that this is not chess; this is not a game,” said Clark. “We’re dealing with people’s lives.”
Peppard told Wednesday Journal that Scaman based her decision on emotion and politics and that the entire electoral board seemed to be “making this up as they go along.”
“Several things are clear: Anthony Clark has manufactured two distinct identities,” said Peppard. “He is lying to someone. He will face consequences beyond these hearings.”