Cate Readling and Vicki Scaman, candidates for Oak Park village president, shared different principles for financing their respective campaigns during a March 4 virtual forum hosted by Wednesday Journal and the Business and Civic Council. Readling expects to spend significantly more on the election than Scaman, who gave a more modest estimate.
“My budget is going to end up being $70,000, probably by the end,” said Readling. “And the majority of that is paying people. I believe in paying people for their work.”
According to quarterly report filings from the Illinois Board of Elections, Readling’s campaign manager Lisa Pintado-Vertner has received a total of $14,598 in compensation. Morgan Oliver has received $2,350. Pintado-Vertner and Oliver are Readling’s only paid staff members.
Readling said during the forum her “journey” to this election began with the 2017 election, when she first considered running after being “so distraught and disappointed” with the behavior of the current mayor.
“One of the first things I found out was the current village president had raised almost $100,000,” Readling said, referring to outgoing village president, Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb.
Abu-Taleb did not raise that amount for the 2017 election. Rather, his campaign accrued a total of $82,448 in donations for his 2013 village presidential run. Abu-Taleb ran uncontested in 2017. Readling attempted to run against him as a write-in candidate but missed the deadline to do so.
Readling told forum attendees she believes running for office should not be limited to only those with deep enough pockets to pump cash into their campaigns.
“I don’t want us to continue having only candidates to choose from who are wealthy enough, or who have wealthy friends that can help them pay for those things or that have the opportunity to volunteer,” said Readling.
Compensating people for their time, said Readling, expands access to the democratic system. Readling’s claims were met with skepticism from Scaman, who also has two paid campaign staff members.
“I find my opponent’s answer very curious because it almost seems as if she’s still following suit with the very administration that she is criticizing,” said Scaman.
Scaman said she intends to have a final campaign budget of between $25,000 and $30,000 – those amounts, according to Scaman, are in line with campaign spending of village presidents preceding Abu-Taleb.
“I am not a person who can afford to fund my own campaign,” said Scaman.
Prior to becoming village clerk, Scaman told forum attendees, her career included working as a schoolteacher, leading a non-profit and running a business where she paid others before herself, while also being a single mother.
“I was a renter for most of my life in Oak Park,” said Scaman, whose term as village clerk expires next month.
In Oak Park, village clerk is a full-time elected position with an annual salary of about $76,000. Last September, the current village board discussed making the clerk part-time and reducing the pay to $50,000 annually.
“This is the most amount of money that I have ever made in my life as village clerk right now,” said Scaman.
Readling told Scaman she was not referring to her when she made those statements and pointed to sitting village board member Jim Taglia, who footed the bill for his 2019 campaign. Taglia spent just over $60,375 on the campaign, according to Illinois Board of Elections data.
“The truth is that I actually just haven’t given it nearly as much thought,” Scaman said. “I’m running a campaign based on integrity, my civic services, community and my desire to give back.”
Scaman said she wants the community to know that candidates do not need to raise considerable sums to win an election and that she is “proud” of the people working on her campaign.
“Everybody I have paid in my campaign is Black or Brown,” said Scaman.
Scaman’s paid staff include her campaign manager Cassandra West of New Media Access communications firm. Darien Burton, who handles the campaign’s website and social media, is the other member of Scaman’s team receiving financial compensation.
West has thus far received $700 for her work and Burton just over $6,385, according to quarterly filing reports.
Scaman noted that her campaign expenditures, including staff payment, are Oak Park-based.
“They live in Oak Park,” said Scaman. “All my print materials are union and printed here in Oak Park. I’m doing my best to live Oak Park’s values.”
Donations to Readling’s campaign include $1,000 contributed by the local branch of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents some members of village staff. When asked about the ethics of accepting such a donation, Readling said she was “proud” to have their support. Readling did not answer the ethics question instead explaining how endorsements work.
After Scaman said the SEIU did not contact her to discuss her candidacy, Readling responded, saying she believed she snagged the union’s backing from her work with the People’s Lobby and National Nurses United, among other organizations.
“From outside of Oak Park,” said Scaman.
“From everywhere; Oak Park is not an island,” said Readling.
Although Readling decried the notion of what she dubbed “Oak Park exceptionalism” – the idea that “somehow things don’t apply to us or that we’re not a part of a region or county,” both candidates pledged to work with neighboring partners for the benefit of all involved.