Dan Moroney, in his exit speech Monday evening as the village board turned over, captured what has been the essence of what Anan Abu-Taleb, the now-former mayor, brought to village hall, brought to Oak Park.
“Anan,” he said, “My hat is off to you. In 2013 you had a vision for this town … and you never deviated from your vision. Economic development. And Oak Park is open for business. And you took advantage of the opportunities you had.”
A fair summary of an unusual eight years of leadership in Oak Park. Most often we hear candidates explain their values more than their vision. If we understand their character, their belief system, it is presumed we’ll be comfortable with their approach to the range of issues that any term in office will toss up.
Abu-Taleb actually offered up the vision. Growth is good. Height is our friend. And we have a rotten reputation with the private sector whether you want to build up 21 stories, open a retail store or get permits to flip a house. The message was clear, it never wavered, and he didn’t pander for votes. In his first election he won decisively. In his second election he ran unopposed.
The tall buildings downtown will always remind us of Anan. We think the transformation of Madison Street will be the boldest comeback he engineered.
But here’s what is most essential and, we hope, lasting. Abu-Taleb fixed the fundamentally busted development processes in Oak Park. The unexamined, unnecessary competition between Oak Park Development Corporation and key village hall staffers made no sense and it didn’t work. He fixed it. A development review process through citizen commissions was never ending, driving major developers to distraction and ultimately to other towns. The unfocused citizen-input process brought no conclusion, offered no satisfaction and resulted in miserable-looking projects. He came to a village hall where past village boards had overpaid for not quite 20 notable parcels without a discernable plan. His plan was to sell all the parcels to the private sector for development and he did. They are all sold now. The building services within village hall — permits, inspections, the things that make a town whirl — were chaotic, technologically obsolete, rudderless and infuriating. With the leadership of Village Manager Cara Pavlicek, that got fixed big time.
This is all real. You can appreciate all this and still think the buildings are too tall.
That intense vision left Abu-Taleb uninterested or unable to fully engage with other important issues. That’s part of his legacy, too.