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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