Oak Park village president candidates meet in lively debate

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

A crowd of more than 100 turned out Friday morning to hear a lively and sometimes intense debate between the two candidates for Oak Park village president. Anan Abu-Taleb, a local restaurateur and an independent candidate, faced off against John Hedges, a current village trustee and the candidate of the Village Manager Association (VMA).

The two met in the Grand Ballroom of the Carleton Hotel at a session sponsored by the Civic and Business Council.

Abu-Taleb, the owner of Maya del Sol on Oak Park Avenue, was aggressive in challenging Hedges as a status quo candidate and on issues ranging from economic development to pensions to the speed at which local government works. Hedges, now in his sixth year as a trustee, walked a line between defending progress made in village government during difficult economic times and pledging greater efficiency in delivering services as a guard against raising property taxes.

The VMA candidate also raised a new issue in the campaign, asking how Abu-Taleb could function in the dual roles of village president and official liquor commissioner of Oak Park while also owning a restaurant which has a liquor license from the village. Abu-Taleb said he was aware of the issue and had discussed it with legal counsel.

More face-to-face forums are scheduled in what is the only contested race this spring in Oak Park municipal government. On Wednesday, March 13, Wednesday Journal will sponsor a forum for the presidential candidates at 7 p.m. at the Oak Park Public Library, 834 Lake St. That event will be moderated by Dan Haley, editor and publisher of the Journal.

Email: dhaley@wjinc.com Twitter: @OPEditor

Reader Comments

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John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 13th, 2013 1:34 PM

Merrill - You have a right to your opinion,. but accusing a person of bribing the governor requires evidence. You need to do a check on your values.


Posted: March 13th, 2013 1:26 PM

@JRM - you're correct. I too valued him initially as a trustee and drank the cool-aid he poured however it became apparent quickly he had an agenda and to hell with anyone who opposed it.

Perspective Please  

Posted: March 11th, 2013 12:53 PM

How many people in the US cut corners on their taxes? Everyone is paying Fed tax on nanny's and sitters in OP, right? Abut-Taleb has owned up to his $4,500 tax error made 20+ years ago. And he was not pardoned, he was granted clemency. Merrill Weber needs a civics course apparently.

Undecided Voter  

Posted: March 11th, 2013 9:57 AM

Merrill, I think perspective & integrity also have to figure in second chances & the fact that Abu-Taleb runs one of the most popular businesses in Oak Park. He has faced the tax criticism head-on and if the explanation isn't good enough for an individual voter, fine. But there's also the basic belief that people should be judged by their ideas, not their mistakes. (Now whether Anan has the ideas is a different question!)

Merrill Weber from Oak Park  

Posted: March 11th, 2013 8:37 AM

I am shocked and dismayed that so many of the people posting comments are willing to ignore or minimize the fact that Abu-Taleb was convicted of tax fraud and pardoned after giving money to convicted governor Blagojevich. Have we all lost our perspective? Does integrity count, or has it become irrelevant?

jrm from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 8th, 2013 10:40 PM

DMR - Really nice guys don't attack people like this. I repected and admired Jon as a board member. I lost that respect in one sentence ."I found him to be abysmally uninformed on virtually every issue. He would be a huge time-waster for everyone else on the Board while he tries to learn the ropes. I just don't think he has any idea what he would be getting himself into."


Posted: March 8th, 2013 9:38 PM

John Hedges is a good man. The VMA, though, is everything that the residents of OP should be opposed to - a childish single-party organization obsessed with political power in Oak Park. Period. Why do you think that the finances of OP are in such poor condition and our alleys, etc. like this? Because of the candidates that the VMA vetted and supported. Period. Anan hasn't served on a silly OP cmte? Gosh, because he owns and operates a successful business!!! OP needs this type of experience.

DMR from Oak Park  

Posted: March 8th, 2013 9:13 PM

@jrm-Are you talking about the same Jon Hale that many of us know? You know, the one who, often with John Hedges, often independently voted against the grain of his VMA peers? Perhaps you weren't paying attention back then. And you certainly don't know much about Jon or his family. I suggest you do some homework before your ignorantly submit another misguided post.

Decided Now from Oak Park  

Posted: March 8th, 2013 10:09 AM

I was intrigued at first by the idea of a restaurant owner getting involved in this race, but the conviction and the pardon became non-starters for me. I took the time to read the stories, and I don't like what I've read.

Undecided Voter  

Posted: March 8th, 2013 9:49 AM

Anan covered this on the FAQ of his website... http://ananforoakpark.com/faq.html

Abu-Taleb & Blago  

Posted: March 8th, 2013 9:40 AM

I think its worth asking Mr. Abu-Taleb about his admission of guilt to tax evasion as well as the campaign donations to imprisoned felon Blagojevich, followed by Mr. Abu-Taleb's being granted clemency by the felon. Some serious background issues here need to be addressed.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: March 7th, 2013 10:39 AM

Very hypocritical of former Trustee Hale to state that Hedges is somehow different from Pope, indicating yet another VMA political makeover is underway to cover up their abyssmal rule. While Pope's legacy as board president is one of gross misallocation of public resources, he is the VMA choice this past term, along with a full VMA board. Pope is only 1 of 7 board members, and his poor policy initiatives in the past 8 years were enabled by VMA board members, including Hedges and Hale.

Undecided Voter  

Posted: March 7th, 2013 9:31 AM

Thank you, Lisa & Jon. You said it well. I'm more than willing to give Anan a chance...but so far he has been underwhelming as a candidate. I'm no VMA supporter, but if it's the lesser of two evils I may be leaning Hedges unless Abu-Taleb can step up his game. Anan has so much potential--but I'm not sure he has a firm grasp on the job in totality. Hedges so far seems to be the more comprehensive candidate.


Posted: March 7th, 2013 9:18 AM

@Hale--so by your logic, the only qualified candidate is one who has been a VMA trustee, like yourself. This logic is why the village has been stuck on the spin cycle for so long. "Learning the ropes" is nothing more than learning to do it the VMA way. We want more than that.

Lisa Swenson from Oak Park  

Posted: March 6th, 2013 9:27 PM

I always had a lot of respect for Jon Hale when he was a trustee. I don't understand why anyone would drag his family into this. Hale represented an independent voice on the board, and he expresses some of the same concerns I have about Abu-Taleb. I know a lot of people who have similar concerns, and they aren't the usual VMA supporters.


Posted: March 6th, 2013 7:08 PM

Wouldn't it have been nice if Jon Hale was speaking out publicly when he was on the board? Perhaps his wife, the VMA Slate Campaign Manager, told the silent man that it was time to go public.

Jon Hale from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 6th, 2013 5:57 PM

@heated sidewalks. I agree it's time for new leadership. And John Hedges is that leader. Believe me, I know David Pope and I know John Hedges; I served with them both. John is different and will provide new leadership. He decided to run before David decided not to run. And by the way, John did NOT vote for heated sidewalks! He has been THE most anti-tax member of the Board. After seeing Abu-Taleb at the BCC forum, I found him to be abysmally uninformed on virtually every issue. He would be a huge time-waster for everyone else on the Board while he tries to learn the ropes. I just don't think he has any idea what he would be getting himself into. Hedges is tested, trustworthy, and ready to lead.

Heated Sidewalks  

Posted: March 6th, 2013 5:10 PM

Mr. Hedges should be commended for his service to the village. But its time for new leadership. Lest we remember some of the decisions Mr. Hedges was a part of: Approving a hotel for Lake Forest on a half-baked developer's plan; heated sidewalks for Marion street; the Village's continuing abysmal approval process; continually increasing taxes and cost structures. Its time for someone who knows how to manage fiscal decision making. It's time for Change. Vote Abu-Taleb.

JRM-ARM from Oak Park  

Posted: March 5th, 2013 3:08 PM

We all know the great record John Hedges had as our Park District Director and I know first hand, from 25 years of serving with Rotary committees & projects, what good preparation & judgment John brings to the work of leadership.

Jones from Oak Park  

Posted: March 4th, 2013 3:23 PM

Great debate! Given the VMA has managed to field a host of candidates who can raise taxes, but don't understand investing - I'm glad we get a choice. Now, like all "change" candidates - Anan's policies may not work. But I think all voters should at least hear him out. He may have some great ideas - and they all will certainly be fresher than the same old thing from Mr. Hedges.


Posted: March 1st, 2013 7:37 PM

I'm currently undecided. On one hand Anan is a successful businessman, which is one aspect of what we need, but there are a lot of other important issues to deal with as president such as crime, education etc... So I'm still waiting to hear if Anan has a clear plan for other issues. Hedges has experience working for the village, so his experience is a strong point, especially if he's motivated to use it positively, but the village has made lots of mistakes, which he has to partly own.


Posted: March 1st, 2013 7:15 PM

Finally, a breath of fresh air. The residents of Oak Park will have a brighter future with Anan Abu-Taleb as Village President. Where do I volunteer to help?

OP 2013  

Posted: March 1st, 2013 2:14 PM

Glad the public discussion has begun. Front line business owners can have a depth of knowledge when it comes to real day to day decisions as to the easiness or difficulties of opening and operating a biz in OP. On the other hand, a retired park district director may have insight into the "political" process of how things get accomplished within the Village. Let the FUN begin.

jrm from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 1st, 2013 1:44 PM

Congratulations to the BBC. The debate between John Hedges and Anan Abj Taleb was excellent. Two long-timers in OP, an enthusiastic audience, and great questions made for an interesting political chat in the village. Anan and Hedges are on the opposite polls on issues. It is going to be an interesting campaign.

Gary Sullivan from River Forest  

Posted: March 1st, 2013 1:30 PM

I bet if John Hedges calls to make a reservation at Maya he might end up sitting on the second floor; hold it- there isn't a second floor that's the roof.

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