Austin businessman Ade Onayemi made his formal announcement on Sept. 19 of plans to run for Cook County Commissioner in the First District. The seat is currently held by Earlean Collins. Supporters and well-wishers were present at his newly open campaign office, 5845 W. Chicago Avenue.
Onayemi, an Oak Park resident for 25 years is a licensed architect based on Chicago’s West Side. His civic involvement includes serving as treasurer of the Madison Street Development Corp.; board chair of the Austin African American Business Network; member of the Westside Ministers Coalition; former president of the Oak Park Elementary School District 97 Board of Education; member of the steering committee of the Collaboration for Early Childhood Care & Education Network; and founder of the Organization of Nigerian Professionals. He is currently warden of Grace Episcopal Church in Oak Park where he has been a member since 1995.
His architectural firm, Urban Resource, Inc., is working on a mixed-use development that will bring more jobs, a much-needed grocery store and affordable housing to the West Side.
Some of the supporters who spoke at Saturday’s kickoff event were realtor Phyllis Logan, Dist. 97 school board member Bob Spatz, Deacon Wiley Samuels, security consultant John Wicks and church member Donna Anderson.
Hosting the event was Pastor Joseph Kyles of Heirs of The Promise Church, 4821 W Chicago Ave.
Onayemi said, “People have asked me, ‘Why are you doing this?’ These are the people who don’t know me. The ones who know me are saying, ‘Why didn’t you do this sooner?’ Simply put, I was asked. Concerned citizens in the district, who cited the tenor of the times and the need to change the current leadership, approached me. They expressed their desired for the elimination of patronage. They cited a lack of faith and accountability from leaders that has often generated mis-feelings, and it was clearly expressed in our discussions. They wanted to see an end to regressive taxation; Illinois has the most regressive tax structures. We need to be able to work together to see where the money is. When we start talking about a one-cent tax [increase], the lion’s share of that money didn’t go to Cook County. It went to the city of Chicago. They’re trying to get $400 million, but another $2 million went to the city. Well the city should cough some of that back. We need a system that would not continue to create a situation where we have the worst education system as a result of this regressive tax. Property tax is very high and, as a result, we have inequity in education throughout the state in terms of funding.
“What can a county board member do about that? Well, first do no evil, lead the reform of the Illinois regressive tax structure, use your home rule rights wisely. Taxes once levied are rarely rolled back, so we need to be very judicious in what we do.
“Again, why me? Simply put, it’s not about me – people who know me, know that I live by service before self. I am passionate about issues relating to a progressive society. I strongly believe in a just and equitable society, a society that allows each individual to strive for the pursuit of happiness, a society that ensures there are provisions for health services, quality education and a stable economy.”
Onayemi said county government has principal responsibility to protect people and property, provide public health services, maintenance county highways, set policy and levy taxes. He noted that most citizens don’t know what commissioners do, and elected officials need to come back and tell their constituents how the money is spent. But they should talk to citizens before they decide how money is spent.
The first issue he wants to address, he said, is “good government – what are the rules that we all are going to abide by? Are we ready to reform county government? When you look at good government, one of the first items is transparency. Also accountability – we’re going to list them. There are seven principles; we’re going to make sure we all put our hands up and agree to them and abide by them. The second [thing] is going into the community. Hopefully, in the course of the campaign, we can see how people feel, take notes and make sure as we start to work for them that we prioritize them, and I would like to see that the district is involved in that prioritization.
“My character is steeped in my heritage and the legacy of my parents and grandparents, and I bring that with me everywhere I go. They sit on my shoulders and steer me straight.”
Born in Nigeria, Onayemi a naturalized citizen of the U.S. He and his wife, Kathy, have two adult children, Justin and Christine.