*EDITOR’S NOTE: Candidates submitted their own biographies
Cate Readling grew up in Richmond, Virginia, the daughter of a tough single mom and a father who immigrated to this country. As a teen, she volunteered as an emergency medical tech, witnessing firsthand the challenges so many face. When she later graduated from Boston University and joined her family’s business, Cate focused on sourcing sustainable products and utilizing equitable hiring practices. She learned a lot in a few short years about management and how to be an ally to everyone at every level of the organization.
When Cate felt that she had grown the business as much as she could, she took a corporate position with a global distribution company where she learned how to manage an array of expectations and relationships. Cate worked with people across all types of companies, from local manufacturers and small business owners to Fortune 500 clients.
Cate was so successful that she was assigned one of the largest accounts in the entire company. And through that varied business experience, she learned to understand how durable economic growth must come with the inclusion of everyone, regardless of race, gender or sexual identity, religious faith, or citizenship status.
Strength from diversity is foundational to Oak Park, and it is one of our greatest assets. It attracts new residents. And it must be protected and prioritized. Our community grows best when our policies and our budgets support diversity and inclusivity, rather than conflict with them.
Oak Park is our home. Cate will fight for this community as she has in her work with the Park District, Oak Park Call To Action, Freedom to Thrive, Campaign to Hire Teachers of Color, and numerous other local organizations. Cate will use her local experience as an advocate for the LGBTQ community through Scouts for Equality, and her statewide experience as an organizer for the Clean Energy Jobs Act, the Coalition to End Money Bond, and most recently, the Fair Tax referendum. Cate has worked extensively within the community to further racial equality efforts. Cate has actively supported inclusionary zoning ordinances to ensure the community has a larger stock of affordable housing. And she has advocated for all children by working with D200 and D97 to adopt more fair, equitable, and inclusive educational reforms in Oak Park.
Cate will work for you and for our community. Using her extensive knowledge of local government, its players, and the various taxing bodies, Cate will work to realize our common legacy and the promise of a truly equal and inclusive Oak Park—together.
COVID-19 has detrimentally affected the village’s finances. In detail, explain how you will lead the village and its residents and stakeholders to financial recovery without increasing the property tax burden?
To tackle the Covid crisis, we need to collaborate. We need to work with our Health Department and local health providers to facilitate vaccine distribution. We must underscore clear and effective communication and ensure that it reaches every corner of our Village.
Oak Park needs to align our values with our finances. I will work to limit property tax increases, restructure our user fees, and help to implement progressive taxes at the state level so we can fully fund public health, education, and social services. Certainly part of that involves a participatory budget, meaning the community has a hand in deciding how the Village spends a portion of the budget.
Our current economic development strategy is a race to the bottom, where tax breaks recruit corporations and developers. I will pursue an economic gardening strategy that uses those tools and others to support our existing business ecosystem, especially black and brown entrepreneurs.
I also want to see more innovation come out of Oak Park. Our town has a great reputation and is known around the world for fantastic architecture. We can turn that into more revenue. Bringing outside dollars into our community directly brings revenue into the Village budget. It lowers taxes for homeowners. It makes our businesses more sustainable. It helps to create more success stories that motivate more people to grow their businesses right here at home. And it creates more jobs. Instead of us fighting over some crumbs, we’re working together to build something amazing.
What makes you qualified to lead the village through the continuing pandemic and the associated economic crisis while balancing the future and current needs of residents, in such areas as climate change and equity? Consider that equity encompasses age, cognitive and physical ability, sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity, income level and religion as well as race.
I am running for Oak Park Village Board President to help build a stronger, more inclusive, equitable, and welcoming Oak Park. Together with the community, I want to help Oak Park be a place that is open for all people.
When I first moved to Oak Park more than 10 years ago, I envisioned a home and community that flourished because of a shared sense of accessibility, inclusivity, and government for all people and by all people. But this notion of co-governance—the idea that everyone in a community can participate in the policy-making that affects their lives—is not currently realized.
The Village Board of Trustees is the spoke that links all taxing bodies, municipalities, and organizations in and around Oak Park. The Village President should be a catalyst—a facilitator—someone who can work collaboratively with intention and transparency.
Oak Park was once known for these ideals. And I understand that I am not alone in prioritizing them today. This community abounds in skilled, experienced, and connected people. I want to work for you and with you. I want to be your Village President because I know that together we can build an Oak Park for all of us.
That is why I’m committed to consistent and transparent engagement with the community. All ideas matter. I’m a listener who will always consider all points of view and accept feedback. I’m raising my children to believe that kindness comes first, that listening is the first step toward solutions, that empathy is the key to growth. I promise to create opportunities for all community members to engage with local government and have a voice in our community’s common future. I promise to help make decisions out in the open. And, more than anything, I promise to always think of the community and its members first.
Doing so means creating true constructive partnerships with people elected to office. Gone are the days of secret alliances and deals made behind closed doors. I will prioritize dialogue with all my peers in public service, as well policies and projects that consider the community’s needs, goals, and opportunities.
Beyond your love of Oak Park, why do you believe you are fit for this position and what experiences and perspectives?
We need to start living up to our Village’s ideals of equity, inclusion and diversity. I will use my ability to listen, network and facilitate to bring community members, commissions, and trustees to the same table. With my skills in data analysis and my attention to detail, I will work to bring about progressive, participatory budgeting that benefits the whole, and not just the few.
I am a proud biracial Latina woman, and those life experiences that come along with that rich heritage has motivated me as an organizer and activist, and made it clear to me the importance of having a partner in local government.
I am an organizer and a caretaker, but I am first a mother and I use that heart and gut instinct to guide most things I do. It is why, before I even knew who I would become, I volunteered as an emergency medical tech when I was still a teenager. I care about people, and I will use those lessons, and the ones I continue to learn today, to serve everyone in the community with compassion, kindness and empathy.
How will you address affordability of living in Oak Park for all residents, not just homeowners?
I care so deeply about this issue that I have a plan to improve Oak Park’s affordable and fair housing on my website.
If I am elected I will immediately begin a targeted listening tour to hear the unique needs of renters in our village and, I hope, on our board. I will host “Coffees with Cate” and offer childcare to ensure that everyone can participate. Then I would seek to prioritize those needs and work with trustees to bring them into policy.
I will also continue to lobby at the State level to eliminate the State controls on rent levels.
Despite the threats to fair and affordable housing in Oak Park, the majority of the current Village Board has ignored the input from its commissions, committees, and community at large. In the past four years, the Village stopped collecting essential racial demographic information necessary to cultivate stable integration throughout Oak Park; failed to document or address increasing housing and rental costs; and reduced funding of our nationally recognized Oak Park Regional Housing Center.
The current inclusionary housing ordinance doesn’t go far enough and that’s because it was pushed through without input from informed residents.
The majority of the new housing in Oak Park is unaffordable to most of the community, disproportionately affecting our seniors and working families. We need a strong, effective inclusionary housing ordinance able to incent developers to integrate affordable units.
The only way we’ll really know if Oak Park is integrated is by collecting data each year from tenants. For decades, the Village collected data from landlords on the collective racial composition of their tenants. Now the Village relies on the gross estimates of the American Community Survey, which is collected from 1% of the population and covers five-year time periods (2015–2019, for example). This data masks any discrimination and resegregation in individual buildings. The village needs to survey renters, analyze the data, and identify in a timely fashion where affirmative marketing and other integration efforts are needed. The Oak Park Regional Housing Center would be the ideal delegate agency for this work.
I would trust the Plan Commission on planned development ordinances rather than dismiss it. Over the past four years, we’ve seen the Board vote against their recommendations on major projects. That would not be my practice.
I believe density is important in the areas around our transit stations and along major corridors, but not at the expense of our neighbors. I would use Village incentives to encourage affordable housing and invest in entrepreneurs, especially people of color that want to expand or improve buildings in Oak Park.
Our housing policies and programs are still woefully inadequate to solve the problems we face today. Segregation by race or income always hurts Black and poor people disproportionately, and inevitably hurts the entire economy. My plans will help to address these issues and improve Oak Park for all.
How will you facilitate fair discussion, while navigating disagreement, to increase board productivity?
From parenting four boys and working at the Park District, to organizing with Oak Park Call to Action and The People’s Lobby, I have years of experience bringing people together. Through listening and mutual respect, I expect rigorous and productive democratic discourse.
My candidacy has always been powered by a network of support and accountability. Made up of family, friends, activists, and elected officials, that network has helped me refine my positions and organize. My leadership is collaborative. I call it co-governing. I can call upon anyone in this network for advice and support on any of the brave initiatives I am proposing. And I am accountable to all of them as a result.
I will continue to seek the advice of experts and all other community members before making decisions. I will defer major policy decisions to the appropriate commissions every time, and I will ensure that all our residents have access to our budget, agendas, and policies.
I sought the input from more than 35 content experts when developing my platform. We did not always agree on every point but the plans we developed are comprehensive and inclusive. I will continue to employ that type of co-governing as Village President.
What does community policing in Oak Park mean to you and do you believe the village should spend less, the same or more on policing and police facilities?
We know what makes people safe. It’s good jobs, good healthcare, affordable housing, and accessible community services. The problem is that we’re funding policing and incarceration to the detriment of those things. And that’s not what we need to effectively take care of our community and keep our neighbors safe.
I will help create a truly independent Citizen Police Oversight Commission, where commissioners are diverse and have true oversight authority, including subpoena powers.
I would suggest that we change ambiguous and harmful laws, like the bike registry ordinance, to reduce field interrogations. About one in five Oak Park residents are Black. So there is no reason eight out of ten people stopped for police field interrogations are Black. And 95 out of 100 youth stopped by police are also Black. These stops criminalize our neighbors, causing trauma and other health problems.
Since policing is such a significant portion of the budget and police are currently expected to address issues far beyond their prescribed job, I believe we must remain open to all possibilities for organizing our budget, including the police budget.