Direction of Oak Park board unclear but hopeful

Trustees united in wanting racial equity, but divided in its approach

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By Stacey Sheridan

Staff Reporter

In the aftermath of Trustee Susan Buchanan's now infamous outburst at the Oct. 7 village board meeting, Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb, voiced support for Buchanan in a letter to the Journal and finds himself in the precarious position of trying to unify a fractured and dysfunctional board. 

"I do hope that we can come to a point where we're moving forward," Abu-Taleb said.

 Buchanan, who has since received threats, has taken accountability for her behavior in an explanatory and apologetic statement to Wednesday Journal, part of which read, "I lost my temper at Monday's board meeting and immediately apologized afterwards to my fellow board members, the village clerk and village manager. I will do better going forward." She also reiterated that sentiment in person at a Monday evening finance committee meeting and apologized in emails. 

 Differing views on how to make Oak Park more racially equitable, such as whether the village should join the Government Alliance on Racial Equity (GARE), caused Buchanan's behavior and is driving the division among board members. 

"Honestly, I think we're all passionate about having a community that's integrated and living in a community that's diverse. I totally believe that everyone on the board feels the same way," said Abu-Taleb. "But I think what causes some board members to be upset is when they're sort of made to look like they don't care or when certain board members try to make it look like they have a higher moral standard."

Abu-Taleb said constituents don't expect board members to be exact mirror images of those who elected them. "They do expect us to protect their interest, always be mindful of what's best for the village and provide our best judgment and expect us to do all that while maintaining a sense of civility," he said.

That sense of civility has been lacking in board interactions of late. Constant arguments and finger-pointing preclude the board from moving forward on projects, especially those related to racial equity. However, the incivility in politics on a national level could perhaps be part of the reason it's happening at a local level, some local officials have said.

"It's very easy for the average person to criticize how negative things are on a national level, but we don't have to look far to recognize that there a few people who are constantly creating that negativity," said the mayor. "There are people on the board who do that, but not just my board. There are people who come and make public statements that do that and there's people just in different gatherings."

Abu-Taleb believes that when people only look at issues through one viewpoint it clouds the ability to make careful judgment. "When you apply judgment to a situation from only one particular aspect, from only one lens, you miss a lot of good stuff," he said. "You miss a lot of issues that require one to be thoughtful."

Abu-Taleb believes the practice of posting on Facebook and Twitter magnify the situation. "They use social media to amplify their views and it doesn't help anybody," he said.

Trustee Simone Boutet took to Facebook Oct. 9 to share her exasperation with CBS Chicago's coverage of Buchanan's anger and frustration during the diversity statement discussion. In the now deleted post, Boutet wrote, "SEXISM. People need to understand that today's Channel 2 news story was a coordinated attack by Trustee [Dan] Moroney against Trustee Susan Buchanan for her being fed up with his resistance to racial equity." 

The idea that a board trustee may have been responsible for the TV news report about the diversity statement also reached Trustee Arti Peddakotla-Walker. In an Oct. 9 Facebook post published before Boutet's deleted one, Peddakotla-Walker wrote, "Just wow..... I was alerted to this news report that was apparently requested by another trustee."

Stacia Crawford, a CBS Chicago news writer and producer, confirmed that the station reached out to Trustee Moroney. 

In that same deleted Facebook post, Boutet wrote, "Moroney coordinated his mostly white male cronies to bully and attack [Buchanan] in an email bomb to the Village Board where they preached the need for civility and inclusion." 

Moroney called Boutet's statement "an extraordinary misrepresentation of things that happened" and believes there are "multiple pathways to equity."

Boutet said she believes what she wrote in the post was true but decided to delete it because she said the goal of moving the village forward is "much more important than finger-pointing." 

After the meeting, Moroney sent out a group email stating his concerns about the direction of the board was heading in and how the diversity statement conversation exemplified the "weaponization of race." The email also elaborated on items he wished were included in the final statement.

However, Moroney denies directing people to bombard Buchanan with emails. "It wasn't an attack. It wasn't my email to friends that got people worked up. It was the words of Susan Buchanan who got people concerned," he said. He did acknowledge that CBS reached out to him because of that email. 

Moroney also took issue with Boutet using the term "white male cronies" in reference to the people who emailed the board about Buchanan. "For Simone to call the people who expressed their concern about what happened white male cronies is not listening to the content of their concerns, but just looking at their race and gender," he said. Moroney also said that it wasn't just white people or men who emailed the board. 

Moroney also believes it's unfair to say the board has a problem with sexism. "Simone is free to rally the troops around affordable housing or issues that are important to her. Arti is free to rally the troops for issues that are important to her to pack the gallery with people who will come laugh, deride, distract, boo people who disagree with me," he said. "When it's my turn to express concerns to people who I feel would be concerned about what happened at the board table it's referred to as sexism. The double standard is galling. It's the height of hypocrisy." 

Moroney also believes Buchanan should apologize to the board members she silenced at the meeting. "There was not an apology to individual board members whose voices she shot down, who she said nobody cares about your opinion. That type of oppression warrants an apology." 

Moroney said that he forgives Buchanan for her behavior and doesn't feel victimized by what she said. 

Boutet, Moroney and Mayor Abu-Taleb all can agree on one thing: They all hope that the board will be able to move forward, which the mayor is intent upon.

"What I am focused on is trying to just bring people together and trying to figure out how we can continue to move forward," he said. "But I think that this going to take a little time for things to heal."


This post has been updated to correct a quote.

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Reader Comments

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Kevin Peppard from Oak Park  

Posted: October 23rd, 2019 11:35 AM

@Bob Stokes. Amen. A Tempest in a Teapot.

Bob Stokes  

Posted: October 23rd, 2019 10:58 AM

One of the major hindrances to effective local governance is the inability of elected leaders to work together to build a common vision and support the administrative apparatus to implement said vision. These failures can be caused by many things, but what has hastened this trend has been the ability of largely single issue (often symbolic, aspirational and usually articulated at a larger political scale) candidates, who often do not have any expertise in public administration or policy, finding themselves on an elected board and having to work with other elected leaders who might not agree with their dominant issue or interest. Considering the way people get elected in OP, that is, the progressive tilt of the electorate, the personal wealth of some candidates, and the political polarization that is going on nationally, Ms. Buchanan's unfortunate outburst and subsequent controversy seemed more than predictable. This process, from the very start, resembled Sayre's Law, which is usually applied to academic politics ("Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low"). As this statement had no legal or resource ramifications, it more than met the high controversy/low stakes definition. I think the board would be wise to avoid frittering away its public trust and legitimacy on low stakes processes. Fix the parking problem then perhaps move on to fixing the human race.

Joe Langley  

Posted: October 22nd, 2019 1:35 PM

WOW, I just realized we are 100% out of the error of the VMA. Everyone one in office now has been self-selected and has never had to demonstrate that they "play well with others". Also, does anyone else think that the Wednesday Journal endorses candidates for the good of the Village OR to do they endorse to sell advertisements?

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: October 19th, 2019 3:41 PM

@ Jeffrey Are any youth in Oak Park denied an education? NOPE Is any adult in Oak Park not allowed to vote? NOPE. Is anyone denied housing? Maybe. Is anyone denied employment? Probably. Is anyone denied their civil rights? Nope Still looking for all the resident in Oak Park who oppressed. Once they are identified, I bet there would be hundreds if not thousands of Oak Park residents who would be willing to lend a helping hand.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: October 19th, 2019 2:38 PM

I agree Bert. All this Board does now is virtual signaling. Real stuff like streets, taxes, safety (ha) you know like the two street lights in front of my house that have been out for months (despite repeated calls), is just too mundane to seriously deal with. And Tom is correct. One more SJ warrior on this board, and you might as well "throw in the towel." So I second Tom's idea. Next election, we should get off our collective ass and vote. If not we get what we deserve.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: October 19th, 2019 1:11 PM

@Bert, nobody was censored at all. They all spoke and the whole thing was on video. She doesn't even have the power to limit anyone's voice. If you argue with someone and tell them to shut up are you censoring them? The answer is no. She was rude and that's it. You don't speak for everyone and neither does anyone else here so comments about "people feel betrayed" is based on an extremely small sample size. None of us have any idea how the majority of voters feel. There are over 55k residents in OP so none of us should be claiming who feels what beyond our own small circles. Most I spoke to agree she was rude but that's about it. We won't actually know what voters think until everyone gets to actually vote again.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: October 19th, 2019 11:16 AM

Since the new Trustees joined the board, every single issue has become an argument, under the guise of looking through a racial lens. The strategy to win the arguments is to dominate the conversation and make the other side "shut up". If people disagree, they are name called as racists. Next up will be a push to bring in GARE to oversee every aspect of the town. Employees will be forced into discussion groups, which will really be lectures, not discussions. Good people will be told they are racists, and then lectured about why they are. Anyone not drinking the cool aid will be intimidated by possibly losing their jobs. Everyone needs to ask themselves - is this the kind of town we want? If you want that, Boutet, Arti and Ms Buchanan are your people. We are one Trustee away from them taking complete control. If that scares you, wake up and VOTE the next election.

Bert Fischer  

Posted: October 19th, 2019 8:15 AM

Jason, I would say anytime an elected official tries to censor the voice of anyone, people are indeed materially impacted. Functioning democracies don't prioritize certain voices over others. This is how societies break down. Not only was Buchanan wrong in the way she delivered her message but she also has no message to deliver - that is the source of her frustration. This board hasn't discussed a real issue since Arti and Buchanan joined. It has been a virtue signaling parade. We are all aware that they are morally superior, now we can start talking about streets, taxes, businesses, development anything else besides completely useless things like the diversity statement - which even if you do support, it is clear that Buchanan's action don't align with someone who takes the statement seriously. People voted for this person and they feel betrayed (Rightfully so) because she is not competent and she has clearly divided this town further than it already was.. Wherever people have been assigned to on the oppression scale they are free to feel anger or sadness the same as anyone else. Whatever the goal is for anyone - we are further away from achieving that since she has come along.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: October 18th, 2019 8:50 PM

The struggle for the oppressed white man is real. People of color, women, and the gay community have been fighting serious oppression for literally the entire history of our country, and still do. Forgetting however you want to label Dr. Buchanan's rant I would think this would be a really interesting lesson for the white men here, of which I am one. Dr. Buchanan's comments don't really materially impact anyone yet the anger from many is off the charts. Doesn't that strike any of you as interesting? Imagine you lived this every single day for your entire life because that's what many others deal with but the impact to them might be not getting hired or being arrested or beat up or groped. Instead of getting so upset over something that won't even matter in a week maybe some of you should take this situation as a way to reflect on what others go through all the time, and how much that must suck. Spending a day walking in someone else's shoes can be very enlightening

Bruce Kline  

Posted: October 18th, 2019 8:42 PM

Refreshing Mr. Smith? Well OK. I've been a resident of Oak Park for 36 years. And since I know many of these people commenting, I can assure you many do in fact live in Oak Park River Forest. And yes some don't just like Ms. Knott-Dawson for instance, who seems to have made it her life's work commenting on a community she does not live in. So how about you Mr. Smith? Do you even live here?

Jeffrey Smith  

Posted: October 18th, 2019 7:25 PM

Oh, and...oppression is not telling someone to shut up (which they may or may not do) oppression is denying someone equal access to education, employment, housing, voting, representation, civil rights and other things white men take for granted.

Jeffrey Smith  

Posted: October 18th, 2019 7:21 PM

There are oxymorons and then there are statements like "oppressing white males..." - not just a contradiction in terms but a contradiction of reality. Funny doesn't get any better than the bully ruling class claiming they're victims.

Jeffrey Smith  

Posted: October 18th, 2019 7:16 PM

How refreshing it would be to see that the people who post on these issues are actual residents of Oak Park / River Forest and not disgruntled bad cops living in exile in some godforsaken whites only right wing enclave. But I digress.

George Smith  

Posted: October 18th, 2019 7:07 PM

Between the appalling behavior at the board meeting and the Albion betrayal, the only thing has been shown is that we need a clean slate. Throw them all out.

Steve Loranz from Oak Park  

Posted: October 18th, 2019 5:42 PM

If anyone should apologize to the residents of Oak Park, it's Dan Moroney for demonstrating that his thin skin and weak character focus all of his energy on being petty towards another board member for raising her voice instead of the business of the people of Oak Park. I'm glad he is only a village trustee with hurt feelings rather than a member of 19th century Congress, where members used to physically assault each other... or even British Parliament (at any time) where shouting people down and witty personal insults are par for the course. Everyone is all against political correctness until someone else is mean to them. Then the world has to stop until they get the apology the demand. Grow up, do your job, and stop looking to get coddled.

Jerry Capozzoli from Oak Park  

Posted: October 18th, 2019 2:57 PM

Email exchange between Susan and I says it all - she speaks of power, color, and gender - the exact thing she is fighting for. Excluding a gender or race is oppressive and racist and she has no business being a trustee on our board. My email to Susan... I saw a video of you speaking of equity (equality) in OP and as a white male and tax payer in this village your comments were not only not inclusive or equitable they were alarming, racist, and hurtful. When someone does not allow a person to be heard based on the color of their skin or sex you by definition are a racist. Don't stand there and act as if you speak for oppression when in the same sentence you are oppressing white males. We are all humans and we all should have a voice and you were elected to be mine in the community I pay taxes in and as a white male you are not representing me or listening to my voice. Please understand you don't only represent the minorities or our community but you represent us all and this includes white males so be a cognoscente of that before you demonize us. Susans Email Response... Thanks for your feedback Mr. Capozzoli. I have to disagree with your definition of racism. The concept of racism includes the requirement that those who do the discriminating are the ones who have power in the relationship; it's not just simply not being heard based on sex and color of skin. It matters which sex and which color. I would be happy to meet with you to discuss my position on this issue. Clearly it's an emotional one for me and I got carried away last night. It's true that a white male couldn't have gotten away with it; but that's because white males have the most power in our society and would therefore appear to be wielding it against everyone else, which was exactly my point. ~ Trustee Susan Buchanan

Robert Royals  

Posted: October 18th, 2019 2:05 PM

This morning's interview of Trustee Moroney:

Corey Gimbel from Oak Park  

Posted: October 17th, 2019 6:53 PM

This quote sums things up nicely: "If you don't control your temper, your temper will control you." ? Stephen King, Under the Dome

Steve Kelley from Oak Park  

Posted: October 17th, 2019 3:29 PM

I think it is fine that Susan Buchanan apologized, and I don't need to see it. She is a grown up. I will not be giving her a second chance if she runs for the Board again.

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: October 17th, 2019 1:59 PM

Corel Gimbel this story has been given a lot of play. Do not expect a real apologize. A person who denies they did anything wrong other than raise there voice does not really understand what they did because that requires a lot of self reflection and when you build a confidence about yourself that nothing you say can be wrong, then you leave by it because you feel you will become weak to speak of your shortcomings. If Buchanan did say my thoughts were out of line with what is normal, instead of saying she just expressed her thoughts strongly because she believes in them strongly, then that would bring in to question her ability to continue functioning as a person to represent the people of Oak Park, and that would be not acceptable within the person's make up. I know there are plenty of people who understand this type of personality make up, so the best we can do is observe what happens, and usually a person will do it again and that is why I thought it is very important that the board makes rules on the actions of a board member that needs to be followed. It is not going to happen or maybe it is. As for this apology that she wrote or said, I have not come across it, and it is not important really. What is important that the board did get attacked and I hope they have been in discussions on what will be tolerated moving forward so this does not happen again. As for what people who live outside of Oak Park think, that does not matter. So lets move forward and hope that the board has set some type of code of respect towards each other when in the view of the public

Corey Gimbel from Oak Park  

Posted: October 17th, 2019 6:31 AM

Excuse my ignorance this article says: " Buchanan, has taken accountability for her behavior in an explanatory and apologetic statement to Wednesday Journal, part of which read, "I lost my temper at Monday's board meeting and immediately apologized afterwards to my fellow board members, the village clerk and village manager. I will do better going forward." She also reiterated that sentiment in person at a Monday evening finance committee meeting and apologized in emails." I haven't seen that apology myself. Where can I read it? I don't think apologizing to her colleagues covers it. I think she owes a heartfelt apology to her white, male constituents. Perhaps it should be directed to everyone who lives or works in Oak Park. Unfortunately in my mind an "I'm sorry," isn't enough. That's relatively easy and does nothing to restore the trust that has been destroyed which, hopefully can be repaired over time. The impact on the Village of Oak Park's reputation will certainly take a period of time to untarnish. As for Wednesday Journal's publisher's self righteous snit directed at all us white guys, well, that's another topic and, frankly, almost as disconcerting.I have this vision of people being shunned for adultery in my mind.......

Bryan Rekarson from Op  

Posted: October 16th, 2019 9:36 PM

Dan, I am confident that if the mayor or other trustees bullied anyone to that extent on a consistent basis, it would be national news. The mayor has never said "your skin is too (fill in the color)" or "who are YOU to comment on this?" I want to point out that there are two other stories posted here with over 60 comments and 40 comments, respectively, almost unanimously declaring Buchanan's actions to be reprehensible. The "apology" that is mentioned in this article is clearly not substantial enough, not mature, and not heartfelt. The only outcome here to help the Village move forward would be immediate resignation by Buchanan. What she did is not forgiveable. The horse has left the barn.

Alice Caputo  

Posted: October 16th, 2019 6:52 PM

@Dan L - Please send me a link to the noted video of the "Mayor" and others telling the females to shut up and say they can't comment on issues based upon the color of their skin and gender. If that is true as Dan says, I say throw them all out!

Dan Lauber from River Forest  

Posted: October 16th, 2019 6:42 PM

It sure sounds like many of the people posting here have not actually attended Oak Park Village Board meetings. With the notable exception of Jim Taglia, the other two male Oak Park Village Trustees and the "Mayor," consistently bully and belittle speakers with whom they do not agree, including their fellow trustees. I suspect that Trustee Buchanan was feeling a bit like Howard Beal in the film "Network." She simply couldn't take it any more. She accurately reflected the frustration all-too-many citizens feel when speaking to the Oak Park Village Board where anybody opposing what the "Mayor" or senior staff want is never given adequate time to make their case and subject to disrespect from the above noted members of the board.

Alice Caputo  

Posted: October 16th, 2019 6:06 PM

I'll agree it is sexism coverage when Boutet can produce a recent similar video or transcript with someone of another gender expressing themselves in a similar racist and sexist manner and the press giving them a pass. I'm honestly fine with her losing temper, albeit unprofessional. I am concerned about the content of her words and failure to own up to them as wrong. Boutet doubling down makes it even worse. Boutet and and Buchanan have both proved that they have their own agenda which clearly doesn't include serving the people of Oak Park.

Klara Gabor  

Posted: October 16th, 2019 5:17 PM

Buchanan's apology is a farce and the Mayor voicing support for her is insulting as he is condoning her conduct. The village board needs to grow up and stop all this racist, sexist nonsense to justify their cause du jour. The entire board is an embarrassment and to think we are stuck with these people making decisions on our behalf and, I am quite certain they care less what residents really think or want. It's all about them and what power they can wield.

Deborah Risteen Mercer  

Posted: October 16th, 2019 2:42 PM

I think it's a serious problem that there aren't more people of color on the board.

Corey Gimbel from Oak Park  

Posted: October 16th, 2019 11:12 AM

Maybe, as President* Trump does so often, Dr. Buchanan was just joking...... Works for him, why not her?

Krissy Bee from Oak Park  

Posted: October 16th, 2019 10:23 AM

Tom, Jim, Dan, Paul. The ratios on all of this have been very clear. It's been disheartening to see. There are many of us who see very clearly and we all vote.

Paul Clark  

Posted: October 16th, 2019 7:43 AM

The WJ should fix the typo in this sentence -- "In the now deleted post, Buchanan wrote, "SEXISM. ..... " This FB post was by Boutet. This situation is fraught enough without adding inaccuracy into the mix.

Dan Olson  

Posted: October 16th, 2019 5:57 AM

Susan Buchanan can apologize all she wants, however we now know how she truly feels. There is no inclusiveness in city government, when you have a person of power such as Susan Buchanan, who we all know now will forever discount the contributions of some of her colleagues based on their race and gender.

Jim Bowman from Chicago  

Posted: October 15th, 2019 8:32 PM

I must say that blaming coverage is usually not a good idea. Especially when the happening is sensational, and even of national concern, as was Buchanan's per this site:

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: October 15th, 2019 6:48 PM

A week ago Boutet was complaining about posting the meeting schedule, because people wanted to see the meetings. Now she is unhappy that people are seeing the meetings on video because they are an embarrassment to her crony Buchanan. Pick a lane. Oh wait, does saying this make me a crony? Or just a citizen and taxpayer?

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