The spring municipal elections are over. As we write this Tuesday morning we are hoping voters are turning out this Election Day, but we obviously don’t know the outcomes.
Here are some thoughts for those chosen today by voters to lead Oak Park and River Forest into the future:
The 2021 campaigns run locally have been generally respectful and substantive. Candidates have adapted pretty well to the limits of campaigning during the COVID-19 pandemic. And there will be innovations that can be carried over to future pandemic free elections. Zoom forums, for instance, can gather good-sized audiences even though we miss the energy in the room when candidates answer questions in the Veterans Room of the library or the ballroom at the Carleton.
There are worrying exceptions to the point made above. In the race for the District 90 school board in River Forest we saw one candidate, Scott Hall, abandon his campaign in the final weeks because of what he saw as online harassment, including some aimed at his family. The Journal added reporting that Hall may have improperly used a parent directory to reach potential voters.
The follow up is that Sarah Eckmann, another candidate for the D90 board, reported in more detail harassment she and her family and a young volunteer in her campaign received both online and in harassing phone calls allegedly including to her workplace. A police investigation is reportedly underway.
The result, in addition to real damage to our civic life, is that the race for D90 became effectively uncontested when Hall dropped out.
In Oak Park, meanwhile, voters faced reasonably slick and fully anonymous mailers, videos and emails working to stir angst over outgoing Trustee Dan Moroney’s divisive non-binding referendum question regarding police funding. Anonymous campaign tactics are scurrilous and they reflect an approach to politics that should be repulsive in a village such as Oak Park.
Also repulsive and operating in the deep shade is the West Cook News, a cynical political sheet masquerading as a newspaper, and with local connections.
During the last weeks of the campaign, innocents and operatives shared via social media the slanted and inaccurate slime published by West Cook News on the defund referendum in Oak Park and a political hit job on Patty Henek, a candidate for River Forest village president. That piece trumped up nonsense that Henek, an advocate for affordable housing, wanted to flood River Forest with Section 8 housing units. Straight up inaccurate. Straight up racism in the signaling.
As this type of debilitating campaigning reaches our small towns, we will all need to be more vigilant and sophisticated in understanding sources of alleged news and simply tuning out bad players who won’t put their names on their insidious efforts.
Regardless of who was elected as village president and trustees in Oak Park, the next board will absolutely reflect a new tenor with shifted focuses from the previous eight years of leadership by Anan Abu-Taleb.
That’s all good. It is why we have elections. We look for the new board to focus thoughtfully on equity and inclusion and what public safety ought to look like. We expect serious discussions about climate and sustainability. We want to see determined collaboration among taxing bodies both to fuel innovation and to hold the line on property taxes. We hope the pendulum doesn’t swing too hard against an active and enthusiastic view of economic development. We’ve likely seen our last tall building approved for a while, but there will always be opportunity to foster investment in the village.
A final thought. Listen with respect. Draw in all voices not just those who want to be in your social media bubble. Create elected boards that are stellar, that you are proud to be part of. Show us how you build alliances. Show us how you respectfully disagree. Don’t be defensive. Don’t get personal or take it personally.
And thanks to all the candidates for putting themselves forward. The more toxic parts of this campaign season make plain just how much we need sincere, decent people to step up.