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Only Oswego

Letter: Johnson Won't Stoop to Negative Campaigning

Mar 23, 2015 03:39PM ● By Steven Jack

The pace of growth doesn’t seem to be slowing in the far western suburbs. While I’m not a resident, I have witnessed the boom firsthand on frequent drives to and through Oswego over the past three decades.

If growth is inevitable, why shouldn’t your village get its fair slice of the retail tax pie? Better your bottom line than neighboring towns’. Think of the new Sam’s Club in Montgomery, for example: Village board trustee and 2015 mayoral candidate Gail Johnson contends that Oswego dropped the proverbial ball on that deal – and she’s far from alone in her opinion. The fact is that sales tax leads to decreased property taxes, which as we know, have risen substantially nearly everywhere.

Who doesn’t want a sturdy tax base? I’ve seen what retail expansion can do for a suburb. Where I grew up, 47 miles away and just beyond the far northwest border of Chicago, the Harlem Irving Plaza (HIP) has been a boon to residents since the mid-1950s, when it opened with 46 stores. (Today, there are more than 100.) Believe it or not, the village of Norridge then looked a lot like Oswego would 25 years later, in the early 1980s, when Gail and Mark Johnson were settling there and starting their family. To those who worry about increased traffic patterns, the people and their cars are coming anyway. This isn’t “the country” anymore, and it hasn’t been for quite some time. In Norridge, the HIP was so successful that they put a roof over all the stores in 1975, making it an enclosed shopping mall. (Prior to that, it had been the open-air Oakbrook Center of its time, albeit downscaled a bit.)

If you choose to elect her on April 7th, let me assure you that Ms. Johnson will “rule” Oswego with a stern yet loving hand. For those who think they may not be ready for a female mayor, I can tell you that Gail truly is her father’s daughter. He taught his children about integrity and determination. Joe Vruno, a World War II veteran, personified what it means to be a “stand-up” guy upon whom people could depend. In his post-war civilian life, he married, moved to the aforementioned Norridge, raised three kids, was an active leader in his church, and had a nearly 40-year, distinguished career with the federal government.

Mr. Vruno beamed as his youngest daughter, while still raising her own two daughters, went back to college at night and finished her under-graduate degree in the early 1990s. His smile broadened later, when Johnson earned her master’s degree. In 1997, she started up and has built her own communications and training firm into a very successful business. Johnson had a dream, a vision then, just as she does now for Oswego and her fellow constituents. And fiscal responsibility is the cornerstone on both fronts. Johnson’s husband, Mark, a former Bell Labs/Lucent Technologies engineer, has been a sound money manager since his youthful days as a DeVry graduate. Needless to say, much of his practical frugality has rubbed off on his wife.

Were he alive, Johnson’s father would no doubt respect his daughter’s refusal to play the popular negative-campaigning game. The verbal attacks do, however, bother her 88-year-old mother, who doesn’t quite understand her daughter’s desire to lead and undergo microscopic scrutiny in the process -- the muckraking, as it were. “If you don’t have anything nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all:” It’s the way many of us were taught yet, sadly, that advice seems to fall on deaf ears these days, particularly among political opponents at all levels of government.

“I know that [negative] strategy can work,” Johnson told me last week after an afternoon of door-to-door canvassing in Oswego, “but I won’t do it,” refusing to stoop to that level, preferring instead to take the high road.

Dad would be proud. I know her brother is.

Mark Vruno