Former Oak Park trustee Simone Boutet, who spent much of her term sparring with then-village president Anan Abu-Taleb, wants to reclaim her seat on the Oak Park village board and she’s got a list of reasons why.
“My biggest issue right now is the violence in the world and how do we provide safety for the community that is also consistent with progressive police values,” she said. “I really care about our police department being the most progressive.”
Boutet was on the village board at the time it was deemed necessary to engage an outside consultant to conduct an independent equity assessment of the Oak Park Police Department, but her term ended before BerryDunn was chosen as the consulting firm.
The final report from the assessment, which was released in November, came with a slew of recommendations, from boosting the authority of the Citizen Police Oversight Commission to expanding the department’s partnership with mental health providers. The opportunity to turn recommendations into actions compelled Boutet in part to return to the campaign trail.
“I’m really passionate about that,” she said. “We need to build trust in the police, and we need to combat crime.”
Boutet is a familiar face in the village. She’s lived here for 32 years and has experience working as an elected official and as a member of village staff. Before she was elected village trustee in 2017, she served for a total of 14 years in the village’s legal department. She was both the assistant village attorney and the acting village attorney, after Ray Heise retired. While she said she found the work “rewarding,” Boutet left the village’s employment after not being hired as Heise’s permanent replacement.
“Then I left and started my own practice, but I couldn’t get Oak Park off my mind,” she said.
Boutet then ran for village trustee and was elected alongside Dan Moroney and Deno Andrews. What she views as the biggest achievement during her trustee tenure was the passing of Oak Park’s inclusionary zoning ordinance in 2019, which requires developments of 25 or more units in transit-oriented areas to make 10 percent of the units affordable to renters making 60 percent of the median area income. The ordinance also allows developers to contribute $100,000 per unit into the village’s affordable housing fund in lieu of setting aside units.
Economic development was the cornerstone of Abu-Taleb’s tenure as mayor. He broadened the village’s partnership with the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation and ushered in the construction of several high-rise apartment complexes.
“The focus of the board was more on economic development than on social issues and that was a struggle,” Boutet said. “I thought we should be paying more attention to social issues.”
Under Village President Vicki Scaman, Boutet has seen a shift in the village board’s priorities – less focus on new developments, more on racial equity and sustainability. Boutet wants to get in on that action, even putting herself forward to serve the remainder of the term vacated by Arti Walker-Peddakotla, who resigned last August. Cory Wesley, also a past trustee candidate, was appointed to fill Walker-Peddakotla’s seat.
There was a time though when Boutet coveted the village president position for herself. She ran a confusing campaign two years ago, where she put together a slate of trustee candidates, including Ravi Parakkat and Lucia Robinson, both of whom were elected, but then she dropped out. Boutet reentered the race only to drop out again. She no longer wishes to serve as village president, nor does she intend to exit the village trustee race.
Her second exit from the village president race led many to speculate that she was secretly behind the campaign objections filed against then-trustee candidates Anthony Clark and Chibuike Enyia, the latter of whom was elected. After it became public knowledge that Boutet had reported to police a message sent to her by Clark, which she perceived as threatening, controversy swirled. Many criticized her, as a white woman who made public pledges to racial equity, and then report a Black man to police.
Boutet declined to comment on that chapter of her political career.
“Campaigns are future-looking,” she said.
While she may be looking to the future in her campaign, Boutet hopes her past government experience will induce residents to check her name on the ballot this April.
“I think people should vote for me because of my experience, because of the fact that they want things to get done.”