Cory Wesley stepped onto the Oak Park village board during an unusual time. He was appointed last October to fill the trustee seat vacated by Arti Walker-Peddakotla after her surprise resignation, but he intends to serve much longer than the short remainder of his predecessor’s term.
“I want to make sure that I continue to use my voice to represent folks who don’t always have a seat at the table and don’t always feel welcome at the table and don’t always feel empowered to use their voice to speak up even if they’re not at the table,” Wesley told Wednesday Journal.
Wesley made it clear when he joined the board that he planned to run for a full term.
The tech entrepreneur and father of two is running largely on the same issue that was the basis of his village trustee campaign in 2019, a race he lost to Walker-Peddakotla by a razor-thin margin of 52 votes. That issue – the affordability of Oak Park – is just as important to Wesley as it was four years ago.
“I want to make sure we keep an affordable Oak Park, that we have an inclusive and welcoming Oak Park that we continue to focus on economic development because it contributes to that affordability, which is the underlying layer of all of our core values,” Wesley said.
Wesley wasn’t born and raised in the village. He grew up nearby in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood but was very familiar with Oak Park. The village has “an aspirational quality” to it, according to Wesley.
“When you grow up on the West Side of Chicago, it’s the place you go when you’re Black and you make it,” he said. “It has this reputation for being inclusive, for being a place where you can go and be Black – if you can afford it.”
Before he and his wife moved here with their two young children, they looked at places in Berwyn and Forest Park. When they first saw what would become their first house in Oak Park, Wesley said he and his wife immediately knew the village was the “only place for them.”
He and his family have lived in Oak Park for almost 12 years now and in that time, he’s become a self-proclaimed loud voice for creating a village that is welcoming and affordable, as well as economically prosperous.
Wesley became a member of the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation’s board of directors in 2019 – a few months after he lost the last election. He was chair of the economic agency’s board until being appointed to the village board. He also served as a member of the village’s Civic Information Systems Commission.
Wesley believes his time with OPEDC helped shape him into the public servant he is today. He was able to view governing through a lens of leadership while being surrounded by people who valued intentionality in economic growth.
“I really do miss it,” he said. “But I love where I am now too.”
Wesley could no longer continue on the OPEDC board once he was appointed, as two spots were already occupied by Village President Vicki Scaman and Trustee Susan Buchanan, who is seeking a second term as village trustee. Having a third village board member on the OPEDC board would be a violation of the Open Meetings Act.
As an appointed trustee, Wesley came onto the village board after its goals had been adopted, with projects and initiatives already underway. His objective was to be the best trustee that he could in the limited time that was available to him; Walker-Peddakotla resigned with roughly six months left of her term.
“The board already had a working dynamic, and they’d already settled into how they made and processed decisions,” Wesley said. “I just wanted to integrate myself into that system, so that I could contribute in a meaningful way.”
Integrating himself into that system did not mean staying silent. Wesley has not been shy when it comes to offering insight or sharing opinions during board discussions, but he is not afraid to admit when he is in error – something atypical of public officials in higher offices.
Those qualities – open-mindedness, humility and the ability to accept evidence that is sometimes contrary to previously held views – Wesley plans to bring to the village board as a full-term trustee.
“I am passionate about the things I believe in, but I’m also willing to change my opinions on them when I’m wrong.”