A challenger in the Oak Park village board race?

Past opposition hosting 'conversations' to gauge interest for April election


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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

The April election is just under six months away. But it appears that an opposition might be forming to Oak Park's political stalwarts.

Three village board seats will be up for grabs on April 5, 2011. And Gary Schwab — who was the challenger to current Village President David Pope in the 2009 election —announced Friday that he's putting out his feelers to see who wants to run against the Village Manager Association, the political party that has won nearly every local election since 1952.

Schwab — who is the president of VMA rival the Village Citizens Alliance — says he and others are forming a new group called "Citizens for Community Conversation." They'll be hosting get-togethers in the future to gauge interest. He's asking anyone who is curious to drop him an e-mail.

"If you, as an Oak Park voter, would like to be able to participate actively in village government as something other than a cheerleader or apologist for the status quo, we'd dearly like to hear from you," he wrote in a letter to the editor submitted today (see the full text on page 24).

Schwab said the group has hosted a couple of meetings already, and at least one person has expressed interest in running, though she isn't ready to be named. It's unclear yet, whether the fledgling group will form a slate of candidates. Running as a group affords luxuries, such as submitting less paperwork, and doing less accounting on campaign contributions.

"This is not a VCA effort, per se, and we're reaching out to people who certainly have not been VCA," he said. "We're looking for new faces."

Trustees Jon Hale, Ray Johnson and Jan Pate will see their terms end next year. Hale and Pate have announced that they won't seek re-election, while Johnson says he will chase a third term by going through the VMA's slating process, which got underway on Tuesday.

Residents interested in running for election could start circulating their nominating petitions in September. Candidates must then file those petitions between Dec. 13 and Dec. 20 of this year.

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Reader Comments

51 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: October 13th, 2010 12:56 PM

Mr. Thompson: Repeating a lie over and over doesn't make it the truth. You should know as well as I that TIF money can't go to Village operations unless a surplus is declared, giving most of the money to other taxing bodies. Besides ignoring what would have been the massive costs of giving in to Taxman, you ignore the fact that saving jobs through not buying buildings from Taxman could have been done only by ending the TIF. Besides, this board has shown zero interest in saving jobs.

James Thompson from Oak Park  

Posted: October 13th, 2010 10:49 AM

Mr. Schwab. I too was there, watching you wear the same tattered blue shorts and white socks arguing against the demolishing of this building. Now, if Taxman would have developed this we'd have something besides a parking lot and $10million saved. History supports this, record supports this and you simply can't grasp that you and your cronies caused this problem. Blood is on your hands Mr. Schwab.

Jean Brown from Oak Park  

Posted: October 13th, 2010 8:16 AM

Friends of Mr. Schwab or his flailing political party might want to tell Mr. Schwab that he's not helping his cause by commenting so much on a story about himself and his party. I don't think he has any idea how poorly he is coming off here. But I'm guessing that he won't and can't stop. I have to think that if anyone was even a little interested in the story, they are now completely turned off by his comments.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: October 13th, 2010 1:15 AM

Mr. Thompson: My history, while admittedly self-serving, can be supported by facts on the public record. For many of the things I talk about, I WAS THERE. Your version, one that appeared during the last campaign, is a simple attempted cover-up for fiscal incompetence.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: October 13th, 2010 1:10 AM

By the time Oak Park got around to soliciting proposals for the Colt site, only one NLP trustee was left and he usually voted with the majority. The choice to reject all reasonable, feasible proposals for the site and push the oversize, implausible proposals finally considered was the VMA's alone. The proposal accepted, from Avalon Bay, required a $30 million subsidy. Just think, we could now have a $30 million commitment to an ugly, financially untenable building.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: October 13th, 2010 1:02 AM

The "20 people" who wanted to save the Colt and nearby buildings included, at various times, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, Landmarks Illinois, the National Trust, and Oak Park's own Historic Preservation Commission.Also, I'm not sure where you get the notion that I had some control over the NLP board. The truth is that most of the NLP trustees and the official NLP leaders went over to "your side" on this issue fairly early.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: October 13th, 2010 12:57 AM

Mr. Thompson: I didn't create the Colt Building. Sol Goldberg and his architect had that honor, and I think they did a pretty good job.The Village's crisis over the Colt Building was created by a VMA board that locked Oak Park into a lose-lose (from the Village's perspective) deal with Sy Taxman (who, by the way, seems to have problems making his payments). We either had to overpay Taxman or subsidize an then-undisclosed grand scheme which would have cost even more.


Posted: October 12th, 2010 10:27 PM

Just think how many police, fire, and other village jobs could have been saved if the Village Board did not play the roll of developer. The blood is on the hands of the Village Board, the Village Manager, and the Village Attorney, and those who support wasting taxpayer money to build skyscrapers.

James Thompson from Oak Park  

Posted: October 12th, 2010 6:54 PM

How many police, fire and other Village staff could have been kept had the Village had that $10 million to pay them? That blood is on your hands. Don't blame the VMA, don't blame Tom Barwin, blame Gary Schwab and his band of cronies.

James Thompson from Oak Park  

Posted: October 12th, 2010 6:52 PM

Mr. Schwab likes to dabble in revisionist history. He drones on about the Colt building being a waste of money yet takes no responsibility for his role in it's creation. Hell Gary, you did everything but pose for the picture with a hardhat and shovel for the new parking lot. That's $10million the Village had to pay because of your personal interest in keeping a building 20 people liked and you have the nerve to come on here and complain about it.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: October 12th, 2010 5:08 PM

As the article to which all these comments apply is sort of about me and my associates, I feel somewhat justified in making multiple responses. If the proprietor of the site doesn't like it, he can always intervene. If anyone would like to continue this through anything besides ad hominem attacks, I'm easy to reach directly.Mr. Murtagh: I'm sorry mind-reading isn't among my skills. All I know from your public statements is that you worry about affordable housing and a living wage.

john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: October 12th, 2010 4:34 PM

Chris -- excellent point on respecting the word count in the comments section.Gary -- You have me in a Catch22. If I respond to your demand for more information, the result is more irrelevant monologues from you. If I don't, you will say that my knowledge of OP is weak.I'd rather be weak than a patsy, so Adios!

Christopher.David@gmail.com from Oak Park  

Posted: October 12th, 2010 3:49 PM

I'm new to Oak Park, so this spring I'll be voting in my first Oak park election. The more and more I read Gary Schwab's comments, the more and more I don't like what I hear. He also doesn't seem to understand why a word limit exists in the Comments section.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: October 12th, 2010 3:36 PM

It's a little disgusting to constantly hear that property crimes caused by victims' supposed negligence or violent crimes in which the victims are dismissed as criminals don't present a problem. I belive that a greater emphasis on community policing, with sufficient neighborhood beat officers to create a more visible police presence with detailed knowledge of specific problems, block by block, can help. This is not the time to reduce the number of officers on the street.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: October 12th, 2010 3:29 PM

Wayne: As for crime, first let me say that I don't think crime has increased much in recent years. That said, I believe the boosters in Village Hall think that even admitting crime is a problem discourages gentrification.I've personally spoken with people who, after they'd been mugged, were told by the police that they shouldn't be walking in their neighborhoods in broad daylight. This should NEVER happen. Oak Park seems to have an official policy of denying any gang presence here.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: October 12th, 2010 3:24 PM

Wayne: I'm interested in where you think Oak Park has stood in the way of reasonable development. On large projects, I think the Village has encouraged developers to ignore zoning and established plans in favor of size, density, and "innovative design," as long as the projects as the sufficiently "upscale," to the community's detriment.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: October 12th, 2010 3:19 PM

Wayne: As the Township Assessor has long stated, Oak Park can't build our way to a much larger tax base. The vast majority of Oak Park's EAV is in existing housing and this won't change. Instead of subsidizing big projects to attract new and different people, we should work to strengthen all our neighborhoods and help them compete as great places to live. This means helping people maintain and enhance their neighborhoods' character and attracting convenience retail to neighborhoods.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: October 12th, 2010 3:11 PM

Further, I believe that trusting that "financial" and "management" professionals can run everything has led us to the ongoing national economic disaster and continuing reductions in income and quality of life for all but a tiny, privileged few. If, however, you do believe that a village should be run as a business, our business isn't being run very well. Just looking around at other inner-ring, middle-class suburbs makes this obvious.


Posted: October 12th, 2010 3:02 PM

OK, Mr. Schwab, now you're talking some sense. I'm against raising fees and taxes to balance budgets. The best way to increase the tax revenue is by the government getting out of the way of reasonable development. I agree with limited TIF uses but OP has abused this development tool; they should almost never be renewed as it defeats the entire purpose of this incentive. What is your plan to combat crime?

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: October 12th, 2010 3:02 PM

Ms. Washington: I do get a little tired of seeing some members of the NLP-majority board described as disruptive fools. In politics, as in most things, the victors get to write the histories and the truth is often the first victim. You admire the "professionalism" of VMA boards. Whatever their other qualifications might be, current board members have ZERO outside professional experience in community planning and development.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: October 12th, 2010 2:53 PM

Those suggesting that my colleagues and I have no creative, positive proposals or plans for Oak Park either haven't been here long or haven't been paying attention. I've personally written (and seen published) position papers on most critical Oak Park issues during the past two election campaigns. I can hardly insert them here, and I'm not campaigning now. Contact me privately and I'll get you all the plans, position papers, and analyses you want.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: October 12th, 2010 2:45 PM

Mr. Murtagh: I'm still asking. What worries you and those to whom you speak about Oak Park's future? You say we have the wrong issues, but you won't suggest right issues.The VMA doesn't want to listen to divergent opinions. We do, but we can listen only when people speak.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: October 12th, 2010 2:39 PM

Therefore, if you don't care about your property taxes, or about the property taxes your landlord passes along, the TIF is no longer an issue.If you don't care about how much it costs to park or operate a business in Oak Park, the TIF is no longer an issue. Finally, if you think that stupid government decisions can't or shouldn't be reversed when shown to be stupid, I guess you have the government you want.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: October 12th, 2010 2:34 PM

The Village Manager is projecting a $1.7 million deficit for 2011. He proposes to remedy this by raising fees, water rates, and PROPERTY TAXES! He also proposes to keep diverting around $8 million in property taxes for the DTOP TIF. This means we'll all have to pay higher taxes, to the Village and both school districts, to fund a silly hotel/condo project and grandiose streetscape improvements.

Brenda Washington from Oak Park  

Posted: October 12th, 2010 12:14 PM

Mr. Schwab just doesn't get it. I consider myself a very independent voter, but I voted for the VMA endorsed candidates in the last two elections because they chose smart, qualified and (as someone earlier said) professional people to run for office. I remember what a disruptive and unprepared group the NLP trustees were a few years back, and I don't know anyone in Oak Park who wants to return to the nonsense.

Lydia Bastianic from Oak Park  

Posted: October 12th, 2010 10:45 AM

Mr. Schwab, if you think you are going to win elections rehashing battles that are pushing a decade old, you are mistaken. Oak Park is younger now. It's filled with young families who want to know what your position is on something other than downtown development controversies that were settled a long time ago. Are U capable of addressing those concerns? Do U even have a position on anything other than the TIF? Because that issue is a loser. The argument takes place only in history and theory.


Posted: October 12th, 2010 7:55 AM

Thank you for clarifying your thoughts. It's clear to me that both "slates" want to play developer, despite neither side with any development knowledge or experience. Being in the 17%, I guaranty I will vote but I would love to hear SPECIFIC plans for the future of Oak Park.

john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: October 12th, 2010 1:20 AM

Mr SchwabThanks for asking but my suggestion was that you (VCA and VMA), not me, should be giving some thought about the issues troubling the 83% non-voting residents in OP.I will give you a hint though. The people I have spoken to are worried about the future of OP, not the past.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: October 11th, 2010 11:40 PM

Mr. Murtagh: Which issues would you like to see discussed in the coming election?

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: October 11th, 2010 11:38 PM

If you pass by Diversey and Milwaukee in Logan Square, you'll see what Chicago is doing with a Sol Goldberg Deco building and TIF money. The building, almost certainly originally in worse shape than our "Colt" Building, is being transformed into the "Hairpin Lofts," with first-floor retail, market rentals, and artists spaces above. Those fools could have had the sense to tear the building down for a parking lot to await a chance to subsidize a really cheesy high-rise, too.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: October 11th, 2010 11:30 PM

Wayne: Sorry, I meant to type "Streamline Moderne."As for blindness in attempts to save the Goldberg Arcade (Colt) Building, I guess the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, the National Trust, and people like Frank Heitzman were all similarly impaired. It takes real insight to see the advantages of a $10 million parking lot over an occupied, tax-paying building. "Historic Oak Park" sent a very expensive message that preservation wouldn't be allowed to interfere with profitable ugfliness.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: October 11th, 2010 11:23 PM

Wayne: I wouldn't like to have a vacant Wieboldt's building. I would have liked to see adaptive re-use of that building. It was a rare example of "Steamline Moderne," and could easily have been adapted to hold most of the current retail use, parking, and apartments. Taxman and his associates all said, after the strip malls were built, that they'd have done something better (mixed use, with apartments) if they'd known where the local market was going.

Jeff Schroeder from Oak Park  

Posted: October 11th, 2010 6:26 PM

Yikes. I see where I mispelled Nimbys. We all have a little Nimby in us, for better or worse.

john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: October 11th, 2010 4:11 PM

Thanks for responding to my blog message. Your adding to the dialog underway is a positive step.As for TIF,DTOP,Taxman, the Colt, etc. these are issues that are not going to be resolved in an election campaign. I hope your three responses are not the headliners for the next VCA campaign. Continuing the squabble with the VMA by using old, though relevant, issues is a loser. You, and the VMA, need to give some thought to the issues that are troubling 83% non-voting residents in OP.


Posted: October 11th, 2010 4:02 PM

Gary you make an excellent point; we never did see the final Taxman proposal. Blind efforts to save the Colt building stopped intelligent conversation on the issue. I bet you wish there was still a vacant Weibolt's building at Harlem and Lake.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: October 11th, 2010 3:29 PM

Mr. Murtagh: We have made proposals to better serve the entire Village. Nevertheless,it's really hard to ignore DTOP when the Village takes $8 million per year in property taxes to play developer there while cutting services and raising fees for almost everyone. Successive recent VMA boards have made downtown development the Village's highest priority, not us.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: October 11th, 2010 3:22 PM

A few more: Wayne: So, Taxman's proposal for the "Colt" site was a good idea? Did we ever hear how much of a subsidy that would take? The similar, later, Avalon Bay proposal asked for $30 million from the Village, and I'd be really, really surprised if either produced anything like the taxes promised. If people look at what I've written and said over the past twenty years, it includes a lot of real, sensible proposals for improving Oak Park. The VMA just says "trust us."

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: October 11th, 2010 3:15 PM

A few comments: Mr. Hubbuch: The people behind my letter have extensive knowledge of what it takes to run an effective Oak Park campaign. We played vital roles in the NLP victory, the only time the VMA lost control since 1952. This is why we're offering to help candidates now. We do reject raising campaign funds from people seeking Village favors. Mike: Do you like fancy streetscapes enough to spend $40 million on top of $7 million already spent when the Village and District 97 are broke?

john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: October 11th, 2010 2:25 PM

Hi JaimeI don't disagree with your comments.My problem is with both the VCA and VMA. There ageless squabble has hurt OP. The squabble has led to voters' apathy. How else can you account for only 17% of OP voters turning out for last year's village elections. OP should stop bragging about its community involvement until our voter turnout reaches Melrose Park's 43% turnout in 2009.Neither the VMA or VCA takes serious steps to improve voter turnout or listen to neighborhood issues.

john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: October 11th, 2010 2:11 PM

WAYNE - YOUR MESSAGE WAS GARBLED PROBABLY BECAUSE YOU PASSED THE 500 CHARACTER LIMIT. I CLEANSED Political parties and slates are the easy way out for a lazy voter. Let%u2019s face it; there are a lot of reasons to be disenfranchised with the current leadership, irrespective of party. PeopleSoft cover up when checks were accidentally paid ala Carla Oglesby. The blind approval of any residential proposal, many which have failed (oh, that%u2019s right its Bush%u2019s fault not the developer or the Village).


Posted: October 11th, 2010 2:01 PM

Geez - sorry for that horrible result due to my editing on MS Word.As to not put too much blame on the OOPS party, blocking Taxman's proposal was a fatal mistake of the NO party. It was the right project at the right time with the right developer. I know, easy to say now but I supported it then too.


Posted: October 11th, 2010 1:31 PM

Political parties and slates are the easy way out for a lazy voter. Let%u2019s face it; there are a lot of reasons to be disenfranchised with the current leadership, irrespective of party.PeopleSoft cover up when checks were %u201Caccidentally%u201D paid ala Carla Oglesby. The blind approval of any %u201CRussian%u201D lead residential proposal, many which have failed (oh, that%u2019s right it%u2019s Bush%u2019s fault not the developer or the Village). Remember when the developer and architect %u201Caccidentally%u201D designed and built the Opera house too high and with the wrong material? This leadership also %u201Caccidentally%u201D forgot that it owed TIF funds to Whiteco. Forgetting to pay District 97, well that was an %u201Caccident.%u201DPerhaps the party should be renamed Our Oak Park Setback %u2013 a/k/a OOPS.

Sharon Ryan from Oak Park  

Posted: October 11th, 2010 11:45 AM

I still remember the unprofessional, chaotic atmosphere that prior VCA candidates brought to the Village Board. Those were not good times for Oak Park. Village voters should be most concerned about getting the best qualified, most experienced and professional candidates into office. Now is not the time for electing single-issue, party of "no" candidates.


Posted: October 11th, 2010 1:17 AM

i like the fancy downtown streetscapes. we should have more of them. who is gary and why would any group make him their leader? is this guy or the VCA for real?

Jaime from Oak Park  

Posted: October 11th, 2010 12:25 AM

Oh come on John, the VCA is anything but "fun". You'd have to through out the lot to have the type of party you're describing and it ain't going to happen.Heck, just lose Gary from the process altogether and they'd likely gain a few votes.

john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: October 11th, 2010 12:15 AM

The VCA is the %u201CParty of No, but it is not a choice. Its opposition has a huge edge in people and financial resources. The VCA starts every election behind the eight ball. Perhaps the VCA needs a election strategy change. For instance, let their candidates run on their individual merits by dropping the slate approach. Have candidates focus their campaigns on neighborhood issues rather than rehashing downtown projects. Heck, be the party of diversity, openness, fire, newness and fun.

Andrew Yerba from Oak Park  

Posted: October 10th, 2010 12:21 PM

I find this letter from Mr. Schwab appalling . . . I thought Oak Park was unique in that its citizens were capable of constructive dialogue . . . This letter and proposed campaign is nothing but a negative reaction to the VMA folks. What are Mr. Schwab's policy proposals? Is he actually in favor of anything? Or just creating another "party of no"? We don't need a Tea Party in Oak Park!!!!!

John Hubbuch from Oak Park  

Posted: October 10th, 2010 6:02 AM

May I suggest that if there is to be any serious challenge to the VMA juggernaut, it will take a lot more than Mr. Schwab's rather plaintive call for a few good men or women. Anyone thinking about running would have to know how much money, how many campaign workers and how many votes he could reasonably expect. Otherwise it's just an ego tripping fo Two really good slates with articulated differences would probably be a good thing for the Village, but more of the same ain't going to do it.

john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: October 9th, 2010 1:27 PM

NIMBY means Not In My Backyard. It is most frequently used development of community projects such as subsidized housing. NIMBIES are said to oppose projects because it is in their neighborhood. That is; they would be less opposed if it was in someone else neighborhood. A good example of the use of the NIMBY accusation is the Madison Avenue (at Oak Park Avenue) Housing Proposal for singles living with poverty incomes.Questioners about the project have been referred to as NIMBIES.

Richard Holland from Oak Park  

Posted: October 9th, 2010 2:08 AM

I'm not sure what NYMBYS means, but I'm interested. In my four going on five years I watched and read about the management of the village I have been less than impressed. Not that the world particularly needs more lawyers in government, but I'd be interested in hearing more.

Jeff Schroeder from Oak Park   

Posted: October 8th, 2010 6:02 PM

How about this for a new candidate: Someone who sees schools and children as a good thing. This person will not fight things like new baseball diamonds, lights at OPRF, or funds for crossing guards. This person will understand the value of business and will look for ways to ease inordinate parking restrictions and burdensome regulations. This person will love life, love Oak Park and see the good in people, even NYMBYS.

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