Union organizer sets sights on Oak Park trustee seat

Thomas sees lack of diversity on current board

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

It's his first run for public office in Oak Park, but Tim Thomas, who faces 10 opponents in the race for Oak Park trustee, is no stranger to politics.

Thomas, 41, a global production assistance coordinator for Ford Motor Company, has been involved in the labor movement for nearly two decades, organizing with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in the early 2000s.

He became political director of the Nursing Home Workers Union SEIU, where he was eventually elected secretary treasurer.

Thomas became an organizer with the United Automobile Workers union (UAW) in 2011, when he began work at Ford.

There is a lack of diversity on the current board, he said. All of the current members are white, aside from Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb, with no black or LGBTQ representation, and those perspectives are critical.

As a black man, a renter and a member of the LGBTQ community, Thomas said he will bring a fresh viewpoint to the board. 

"I do believe that would help me represent a constituency that is not often seen or heard," he said. "I've lived those experiences."

Thomas would push to keep the property tax levy flat from previous years to give homeowners relief. He acknowledged that the move could result in cuts and measurable service reductions but called it "a beginning place."

Candidates in the past have given "lip service" to reducing spending but have "done nothing to fix it. We have to think differently," he said.

He would push for lawmakers in Springfield to overturn a law preventing municipalities from approving rent control laws. This would allow local officials to enact an ordinance that would stabilize rental prices.

"Our community is not affordable for the everyday working person to stay and be able to survive," he said, adding that an advisory referendum would show state officials that there is support for such an initiative in Oak Park.

On affordable housing, Thomas is not impressed with the inclusionary zoning ordinance currently being discussed by the Oak Park Board of Trustees. 

"It's disappointing that it's taken so long to get there," he said. "Now, all of a sudden at the 11th hour right before an election, we're adamantly moving on affordable housing."

Thomas said he is "cynical about the timing of it" and concerned that the effort to require developers to include affordable units in their buildings, or pay a fee in lieu of units, is not going to "deliver meaningful affordable housing for the people who actually need it."

He is not running on an official slate but has teamed up with two other candidates, Joshua Klayman and Christian Harris, in the race for trustee. There are three open at-large seats in the election set for April 2. 

The three are running as candidates endorsed by VOICE Oak Park, a political group that formed in 2018 as an outgrowth of individuals working to oppose the construction luxury high-rise buildings in downtown Oak Park.

Thomas said he is not against development in the village, but Oak Park government needs to do better listening to taxpayers. "They missed the mark in listening to what folks really want and need," he said.

He criticized the village's reliance on the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation, a quasi-governmental entity hired by the village to attract development to Oak Park. OPEDC, which has a board that includes the mayor, one trustee picked by the mayor and the village manager, among others, has been criticized for not allowing residents to attend their closed-door meetings on development projects.

"They're not subject to open meetings laws, and I want that to change," Thomas said. "If they're not willing to open their meetings and have transparency in their organization, then we don't need to continue to fund them."

tim@oakpark.com

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