RESPONSES TO THE OPCTA QUESTIONNAIRE
What motivates you to seek this office? How have you participated in public service in the past? What skills, experiences, and perspectives would you bring to the board, and why would those contributions be valuable to the Village of Oak Park?
I’m motivated to run for office by my intense passion for Oak Park, and for doing what I can to make it an even better place to live. I’ve been a public servant for the past twelve years – first as a two-term member of the District 97 School Board (including serving as Board President from 2011-13), and I’m just completing my first term as a Village Trustee.
What makes Oak Park special is its diversity, and maintaining that diversity is a top priority of mine. I’m black, my wife is white, and our daughters are mixed race. We moved to Oak Park specifically so we could be a part of a truly diverse and truly integrated community, not one like my hometown of Evanston – which professes to be diverse, but is not (the block I grew up on remains 100% black to this day). I’m committed to doing all I can to not only maintain but to enhance diversity in our village.
Would you describe yourself as an agent of social change? Why or why not?
I am an agent of change, and my record as a public servant proves that. As a D97 board member, I led the introduction of full-day kindergarten into our schools, something that had been talked about for years but hadn’t been implemented. I know the importance of a strong early education experience in help our community’s kids be the best they can be. I also led the multi-governmental effort to provide community support for the Collaboration for Early Childhood, which has resulted in a first of its kind partnership between the Village of Oak Park, District 97, and District 200, to provide essential funding for the Collaboration as it works with children from birth to pre-school in identifying and addressing early learning challenges. This is a long-term initiative that will not only help our kids perform better in school, but will also lead to a lessened need down the road for remedial services, truancy interventions, teen disengagement and more. It’s truly a great example of what local government can do to foster social change, and I’m proud to have helped make it happen.
Oak Park has a long 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?
Oak Park is remarkably diverse by all accounts, and has actually gotten more diverse based on information from the last census, showing an uptick in the number of seniors living in the village. As an African-American trustee, I have been actively engaged with members of our minority communities, especially church and school leaders who are connected daily and weekly with their members, and I will continue to participate in such dialogue moving forward.
As a current trustee I’ve done much to help insure Oak Park will also maintain affordable living options in the future. Through my work with the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation I’ve helped the village obtain almost $1 million for affordable housing opportunities, which the village is now determining the optimal means of using.
With shifting values at the national level, what role do you see for the Village in helping provide access to critical services such as healthcare or housing support? How would you approach a loss of funding from the Community Development Block Grant program?
Through negotiations with the most recent developments that have been approved for downtown Oak Park, I have helped assemble an affordable housing pool of almost $1 million that the village board is now going to use to assist in housing support for our community. This may be done through housing assistance, but my preference is to use the money as a down payment for creation of a new affordable housing development that can support a number of families for the longer term. We know some developers that focus on such opportunities, and this would be a more lasting way of contributing to longer-term economic diversity.
While there is unquestionably concern about the possible loss of block grants, we’re not seeing that so far – and we’ve been aggressively pushing to get as much as we can for Oak Park. Just a few weeks ago we received a $3 million grant from HUD that will be used to support small business development in Oak Park, which will be vital to encouraging more entrepreneurs to set up business in our town.
Oak Park recently passed a strong Welcoming Village Ordinance clarifying the relationship between Oak Park officials and federal immigration authorities. What else can we do to provide protections for residents? How far should the Village go in responding to injustices at the federal level that reach into our community?
My vote for the Welcoming Village Ordinance is one of the proudest votes I’ve made as an elected official. The ordinance demonstrates in no uncertain terms that immigrants are welcome in Oak Park, and that we as a government will not be supporting the federal government in any of its anti-immigration and deportation efforts. This reflects the true meaning of diversity in Oak Park – we welcome all, and we will defend the rights of all to live here.
My support of the Welcoming Village Ordinance serves as demonstration also as to how far we may have to go as a community. I have been deeply concerned by many of the Trump administration’s decisions, and I am prepared to put myself and our village further on the line in saying “no” to efforts that infringe upon the constitutional rights of our residents. These are very concerning times, and we must all be willing to stand up for what is truly right and just – not just pay lip service to it.
How can the different taxing bodies in Oak Park coordinate planning and spending to manage the overall tax burden on residents?
One of my main goals is to help make our existing Intergovernmental Committee (IGOV) a more powerful vehicle for change when it comes to working together to better manage the community’s overall tax burden. IGOV includes representatives from all six of Oak Park’s governing bodies, and it’s helped create a better base of understanding and collaboration among all elected officials. I’m confident we can now turn IGOV into a more active good government planning group, one that will more aggressively find ways to work together – and save the taxpayers money.
Do you support the Albion development? What responsibility does the Village have to obtain public input on this project and similar requests for significant zoning variances?
I think we’ve done a great job in getting three major developments in place for downtown Oak Park, and I don’t believe we need any more at this time. I’d like to see the developments we’ve already supported come to completion and become filled with new residents before we start taking on more.
The proposed Albion development is not one that was sought out by the village, and I do not plan to support it if it creates a negative impact on Austin Gardens. It’s important to note that the Village must always obtain public input on projects like this, especially when zoning variances are being requested, and that such public notice has always taken place. I know there are some in the village who believe that decisions are made in secret and that somehow the Albion project is a “done deal,” but I will state unequivocally that that is not the case.
Please describe how environmental stewardship been a value in your own life. How do you envision bringing that perspective to your service with the Village?
As a village trustee I have been very attentive to how we handle our garbage and recycling services. I was proud to have pushed the board in 2016 to seek a more unique approach to handling our contract with Waste Management, which has resulted in better service for our community. While we are paying a modest increase versus our past contract, in return every resident now receives free, unlimited, on-call pick-ups of hazardous wastes (old paint, computers, TVs). Additionally, the village is currently testing a composting alternative in southwest Oak Park, which provides both environmental benefits and lowers garbage fees for the residents involved. If the test proves satisfactory, I expect the program to expand village wide, which will be great for our overall sustainability efforts.
Violence is a significant problem in neighboring areas and has taken its toll on our community as well. What should the Village do to improve public safety? How can Oak Park work with neighboring communities to support their efforts?
We’re fortunate to have a great police force in Oak Park. They do an outstanding job of keeping us safe, and they work hard to insure that all members of our community are treated with dignity and respect. I want our police to continue their close collaboration with the Chicago police to help limit the impact of crime in our village.
Recent years have seen primarily multi-family and retail developments coming to Oak Park. What ideas do you have for bringing more commercial development to the Village? Would you consider funding an incubator for tech start-ups? How can the Village attract and support entrepreneurs?
Oak Park has actually seen continued growth in the number of small businesses in the village, and we’ve been working hard to make even greater gains. Just a few weeks ago I voted to accept a $3 million HUD block grant that will specifically support additional small business development in Oak Park.
Smart economic development for Oak Park means considering lots of options. I know the Oak Park Economic Development Corp. welcomes the opportunity to hear from developers interested in exploring incubator concepts that could work in our village, and any other unique and innovative approaches.
Please list the three largest donors to your campaign by dollar amount contributed.
I am campaigning with Glenn Brewer (for trustee) and Lori Malinski (for clerk). The two largest contributors to my campaign have been myself ($1000) and Glenn (also $1000). We have several contributors who are tied for third at $500, including Robert Kane, Rosemary Ferreri and Max Miller.
Village Trustee Endorsement (Wednesday Journal)
Candidate Profile (Wednesday Journal)
Candidate Profile (SUA)
Oak Park Trustee Barber to run for second term (Wednesday Journal)
Onayemi: A hearty endorsement for Barber and Brewer (Wednesday Journal)
Milstein: Not dropping the challenge (Wednesday Journal)
Why listen to 30 of our neighbors? (Wednesday Journal)
Professional Biography (Lipmann Hearne)
Trustee Candidates talk taxes, development at forum (Wednesday Journal)