CANDIDATE FOR 2019 OAK PARK VILLAGE TRUSTEE
1. What motivates you to seek this office? What skills, experiences, and perspectives would you bring to the Board, and why would those contributions be valuable to the Village of Oak Park?
As a woman of color, a former low-income single mother, an Army veteran, a domestic violence and sexual assault survivor, former scientist, and now technologist, I bring a complex, intersectional perspective that has been sorely missing from our local government. I know what it’s like to feel priced out of Oak Park. I know what it’s like to scramble as a single parent between school pick ups and after-school programs, trying to secure opportunities tied to my kids’ success. I’m running to represent the people in Oak Park that don’t have a voice at the table, to fight for equal representation, and empower the voices our community has left silent far too long.
Our village is at a crossroads, where residents of Oak Park can either choose to vote for the values that we say we care about, those of diversity and inclusion, or we can choose to protect our pocket book and only worry about the single issues that impact us. It takes bold leadership to resist the anti-tax status quo in Oak Park. We need someone with real integrity that will work to place the most marginalized voices first as we fight for progressive policies across our village.
2. What do you believe makes an effective Trustee?
I look to Army values to define what makes an effective leader. Loyalty to the constituents of the village, duty to serve to the best of one's abilities, self-respect and authenticity to one’s values, honor and integrity to abide by one's values and ideals, and personal courage to fight for what is right even when it is not popular. These are the values I honed during my service in the military and values I believe all elected officials should have. An effective trustee also must possess empathy to understand those that are different from them, and accept the privilege that they exist with in life. More important than any of these qualities perhaps is the ability to work as part of a larger whole. During my service in the Army, I learned how to collaborate across lines of extreme difference towards a larger goal. I worked with people from across the country - with a variety of backgrounds, beliefs and values - and while we didn’t always agree on everything, we always worked together for the betterment of the community and our country.
3. What is your understanding of the purpose of the Village Board? What do you see as the appropriate relationship between the Village President/Mayor, the Board of Trustees, and Village staff?
Our Village board is responsible for making the fiduciary and policy decisions over the infrastructure, village government, and levies. In order to manage all of these areas effectively we must have clear and open communication between the board, Village President, Village Manager, staff and the Village Clerk. This is currently not the case. We have a Village president that works strategically with the Village Manager and the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation to make secret decisions about developments in our village. They work together to decide the agenda, to determine what issues get brought up, instead of listening to the issues brought up by our community-led commissions. The Village Clerk’s office has seen it’s responsibilities eroded over time, and in turn, our government has become less transparent. In 2019, and in 2021, we need to elect Trustees who will work in the best interests of the community and not in the interests of developers, and who will push to give the Clerk’s office the full responsibilities, so that we can have a truly transparent and effective government.
4. When in your experience have you had to balance competing interests? What process did you use? What did you learn?
Being a military veteran, I’ve learned to exist and operate in systems where I had to balance competing interests, and navigate those interests successfully. Understanding how success was defined in each particular case helped provide context as to which interests needed to be centered, and which could be set aside, and this framework ultimately steered my decision making. I’ve learned that there is no dogmatic ideology that can apply to all situations - each decision you make, especially in a position of power, must be evaluated critically and with its own success measures. By this same point, I learned how conditioned many people are to make “gut decisions” that end up loaded with bias and reinforcing systemic racism (among other forms of oppression). I support the adoption of a Racial Equity framework so that decisions at the board level can be processed through a lens of racial equity - ensuring that we consider those voices that might not be the loudest in the room at the board meetings.
5. What does transparency in government mean to you? How would you put it into practice?
Only those in power are served when government is not transparent. A transparent government is a citizen’s right and should be an expectation. As citizens, we should have clear and easy access to the board agendas. We should have clear and easy access to the minutes following a meeting. And we should have adequate time, notice and opportunity for community involvement in government conversations that affect the whole village. I would push for standardizing a process by which we advertise and hold community meetings so that more citizens have a chance to weigh in on issues - not just the most engaged and most vigilant. I would also push for policies drafted in part by community stakeholders, instead of the current system, where policies are drafted by Village staff, and those recommendations are then voted upon by Village Trustees. Trustees should name potential conflicts of interest and recuse themselves of voting on issues that intersect those conflicts. Transparency is more than just allowing latent access to the information. Transparency is actively providing the information to those who are most likely to be affected by it.
6. As more of our local discourse happens in social media, what is your view on how local elected officials should communicate with and respond to constituents? How will you engage with the breadth of the community, and not just the voices that are loudest or easiest to find?
I believe community members need space to be engaged citizens without an elected official weighing in. Angry discourse online can lead to movements and change, and elected officials have no place interrupting the narrative of the community. As a community member, and if I were an elected official, I would be grateful to belong to those social media groups that offer additional perspective and insight into the community. However, Oak Park exists outside of social media - and I would prioritize engaging with the Oak Park community at input sessions, community meetings and other channels that are designed to actively solicit feedback from citizens. I also think that it is the duty of an elected official to have an intentional online presence that is mindful of the impact of social media on residents’ mental and emotional health.
7. In what ways have you sought to better know and understand the concerns and needs of residents outside your demographic group (specifically the demographic groups of race, religion, ability, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status)?
I have belonged to non-dominant groups my whole life, and I understand the balancing act of having to know the rules of the dominant group in order to survive while living the experiences of the marginalized group. I also acknowledge areas of my identity where I hold privilege and haven't experienced marginalization - and it is within those areas that I actively turn to those with lived experience. I listen more than I speak in spaces that aren’t created for me. I show up to support more marginalized people than me, and I actively speak out against injustices that are affecting any marginalized group. A community organizer at heart, I encourage local activist and affinity groups to advocate and pursue their agendas within the village. By embracing the perspective of groups that represent marginalized citizens, we can de-center the “status quo” and build an Oak Park that works for all residents.
8. To what extent should the Village Board rely on the expertise of its citizen commissions? Do you feel the balance has been correct? What do you see as the appropriate responsibilities of the Village Clerk?
Our citizen commissions are under-leveraged. We should rely on our commissions to connect with the community and bring forth community perspectives that inform how we govern. Instead, we see unfilled seats and a lack of diverse representation within our commissions as the word spreads that nothing ever actually gets accomplished. And we see community members waiting upwards of six months to be approved for commissions because the Board President and Village Manager can’t be bothered to add their appointment to the agenda.
Our village clerk, as an elected official, represents an important balance of power and responsibility to the community. The Clerk’s role offers checks and balances that we should be cautious of eroding. The office has already seen core duties taken away - that of licensure, and recently an attempted FOIA change. These reductions in duties are an attempt by the current village president and village manager to consolidate power in village government, and must be stopped. We also need to give the Clerk’s office it's full duties as mandated by the charter to set and release the agenda of village board meetings, which are currently controlled by the Village manager.
9. Oak Park has a history of racial and ethnic as well as economic diversity. How would you engage marginalized communities in the political process? How can we maintain economic diversity in the Village with rising real estate prices and taxes?
My campaign exists to serve marginalized communities. By formalizing a process for listening tours and community meetings, we can be intentional about the voices we seek input from. As a village, we can’t always allow the loudest voices in the room to take up all the space - we must do our diligence to lift the voices that are often left out or not heard.
Economic diversity must be protected, which will take a concerted effort. We do not have to accept this binary decision of high rise condo vs. Frank Lloyd Wright homes. We do not have to pit renters against homeowners.
We need an Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance with guaranteed affordable housing. We need to evaluate our zoning regulations for 3-flats. We need to evaluate our regulations that allow for flippers to come in and buy housing stock and remarket it at astronomical prices. We need to push our state reps to aggressively pursue a progressive income tax, which would help decrease property taxes.No single solution will be enough. We will have to develop a forward-thinking 360 degree plan in order to protect our economic diversity in Oak Park.
10. How do you define equity? Do you favor implementing a Village-wide equity policy, and if so, what specifics should that policy include? Have recent discussions in the larger community informed or changed your thinking?
Equity often gets conflated with “equality”. Equality is everyone getting the same thing. Equity is everyone getting what they need in order to achieve the same results.
I wholeheartedly support the adoption of a racial equity policy. I am the only candidate in this election running on a racial equity platform, where every single policy decision that I’m considering is written and spoken about using a racial equity framework.
I have always fought for racial equity, and recent community conversations serve to push forward this fight. The fact that there is so much pain and oppression and white supremacy in our village, strengthens my resolve that we must formalize racial equity policies, and work to dismantle systems of oppression in our village.
A racial equity policy at the village board level, would require that the board joins the Government Alliance on Racial Equity, that all village staff and elected officials would be trained in using racial equity frameworks in decision making, that we would create metrics to measure and track our improvements, and that we make these metrics and initiatives transparent to our community.
11. Why have property taxes assessed by the Village (as distinct from other Oak Park taxing bodies) increased so substantially over the past 10-15 years? Can the Village continue without additional tax increases? How?
Property taxes have increased for a number of reasons, most substantially due to underfunded pension liabilities for fire and police pensions, and the aging infrastructure we need to replace and repair in Oak Park. Due to state law, which mandates that pensions be funded to 90%, we cannot cut, nor should we cut the payments we make to our pension funds. Because previous Village boards failed to fund the pension funds adequately, we are now tasked with not only catching up on our payments, but making sure we don’t leave future generations with the same crisis. The truth is that the village is unlikely to be able to cut taxes enough to where we can continue without an additional tax increase. I know that’s not what people want to hear, but it’s the truth. The real key to solving our property tax crisis is to close corporate loopholes in the state tax code, implement a LaSalle street tax, and implement a statewide progressive income tax, which would give more money to local governments for school and infrastructure funding. Until and unless we implement these taxes, we will continue to have a property tax problem in Oak Park, and in Illinois.
12. What impact can a municipality such as Oak Park have on climate change, and how will you prioritize that work among other issues? Do you think Oak Park should implement a Climate Action Plan, and if so, what specific elements should it include?
Oak Park as a community is already leading in many ways in the environmental movement, but there is so much more that we can do, like implementing the steps advocated for in the 2008 bike study, make composting more accessible so that more residents can participate in it, and increase the use of community gardens.
I would also galvanize the Environment and Energy commission to work with the village board and propose alternative transportation and incentives for car-less residents, and development models that prioritize green building. I would heartily support a Climate Action Plan, provided the details of the plan were vetted through the G.A.R.E racial equity framework.
13. Oak Park has seen a number of larger developments in recent years that have changed the physical space, particularly downtown. What is your philosophy toward development and the changes that it brings? What is your ideal vision for future development going forward?
I am not anti-development. Development is crucial to providing foot traffic for small businesses, rental apartments at all levels of price points, and homes close to transit points in Oak Park. I believe that there are areas of our community that could benefit from development and have much to offer future residents. But I believe our plan should be intentional and not reactionary.
Right now, we are being sold a bill of goods one parcel at a time through the work of the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation. Instead of relying on the word and secret work of the OPEDC, I would ask the Community Development, Community Design & Community Relations Commissions to come together to form a 5 year development vision for Oak Park, through community involvement. With this plan in hand, we can be more intentional about the landscape of our community’s future. We must also ensure that all new development has an affordable housing set-aside of at least 20% of units, so that we can live up to the value of economic and racial integration in Oak Park.
14. What does affordable housing mean to you? Do you feel that the Village should should work to support housing affordability? If so, what specific policies would you advocate? Would you support an inclusionary zoning ordinance?
Affordable housing means that people at every economic level can live in Oak Park, without spending more than 30% of their income on housing. This definition must expand to include our residents who are currently experiencing homelessness. Affordable housing begets housing affordability. Too often, when we think of affordable housing, we think of the lowest income residents in Oak Park - often along racial lines. Affordable housing actually benefits all residents - those residents who want to age-in-place, who want to downsize and move into smaller homes, those residents who earn below the median income in Oak Park. In addition to adding affordable housing units to Oak Park, we need to work across the state to reduce property taxes, increase the ability for seniors to claim exemptions, and work to implement a progressive state income tax. We also need to allow people that want to live in Oak Park the chance to purchase fixer-upper homes before a developer can offer an all-cash deal (as has happened several times in our community). I fully support an progressive and strong Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, and acknowledge that an IZO can not be the extent of our conversation on affordable housing.
15. Describe a specific initiative you would undertake in collaboration with one or more neighboring communities.
Too often, Oak Park residents think of our village as a progressive island in the Western suburbs, and we don’t reach out a helping hand to other villages that need it. Oak Park doesn’t operate in a silo, and the issues that impact us, impact Berwyn, Maywood, the Austin neighborhood in Chicago.
I would ask that our Citizen Commissions re-charter to require at least one member from a non-Oak Park neighboring community. Any community that borders Oak Park should be invited into our community conversations, as we are all impacted by one another. I would also extend all listening tours and community meetings to residents in these communities, so they are actively aware and engaged in Oak Park’s governing. I would also reach out to local elected officials in neighboring communities to determine how we can collaborate together on issues that affect all of our residents.
16. Please list the three largest donors to your campaign by dollar amount contributed.
Laura Sakiymaya - $500
Sally Wallace - $500
Swati Saxena and Dennis Koutsoures, Shobha Mahadev, Harmony Hermann, Pemalyn Hessing - $200
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[The above answers were submitted on 2/13/19. For current financial information, please see Friends of Arti Walker-Peddakotla financials at Illinois Sunshine. Illinois Sunshine is also a useful resource for identifying past contributions by individuals to political candidates and committees in Illinois.]
Candidate Profile (WJ 3/15/19)
Oak Park activist running on racial equity platform (WJ 2/26/19)
Constitution Day: America Is Eroding the Rights I Fought for (Newsweek 9/17/18)
Friends of Arti Walker-Peddakotla campaign disclosures (Illinois State Board of Elections)
Friends of Arti Walker-Peddakotla financials (Illinois Sunshine)
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SEOPCO candidate forum (Facebook live 3/19/19)
Bike Walk Oak Park Candidate Survey Results (Facebook 3/17/19)
Talking business at Oak Park trustee candidate forum (WJ 3/15/19)
Arbor West Neighbors: Discussion on aging (Facebook Live 2/25/19)
Taxes front and center at Oak Park trustee debate (WJ 1/15/19)
The campaign trail: Trustee candidates weigh in on Oak Park's tax burden (Oak Leaves 1/11/19)
Business retention, assistance on minds of Oak Park village trustee candidates (Oak Leaves 1/10/19)
Suburban Unity Alliance Village Board Candidate Forum Part 1 | Part 2 (Facebook Live 1/9/19)
Election a go-go (WJ 12/18/19)
Now up to eight in race for Oak Park village board (WJ 11/21/18)