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SKOKIE, IL — Elected officials were sworn in to new four-year terms Monday, as five current and former Cook County judges administered the oath of office to the mayor, clerk and six village trustees.
The newly elected board includes the first Black trustee in village history and the first female Asian American trustee in village history. It also includes the first candidate in six decades to win office without the support of the dominant Skokie Caucus Party.
Mayor George Van Dusen, who has served as mayor for more than 22 years, said he was proud that his children have chosen to remain in Skokie and raise his grandchildren in the village.
"We love the village of Skokie. It's been very good — not just to me and my family — but it's been welcoming to thousands of people from all across the globe. We have in our community people from over 100 different countries all over this wonderful world. We are a welcoming community," said Van Dusen, who was first elected to the village board in 1984.
"We have challenges ahead. We have economic challenges. COVID has wreaked havoc on our budget, and we will be going forward to take a look at this budget," he said. "We also will be taking up to policing and the use of force. We have a citizens' committee that has been holding hearings and will be reporting to the village board within the next couple of months."
Village Clerk Pramod Shah thanked the outgoing trustees — Michele Bromberg, Karen Gray-Keeler, Randy Roberts and Ilonka Ulrich — and praised the work of village staff across all departments.
"I appreciate their help and professionalism," Shah said. "Without them, we cannot function."
Trustee Khem Khoeun, the outgoing Skokie Park District vice president and president of the National Cambodian Heritage Museum and Killing Fields Memorial board, said she was honored to be part of the most diverse board in village history. She said it now has the responsibility and opportunity to set new policies for a post-pandemic reality.
"Clerk Pramod Shah paved the way as the first Asian American to serve as village trustee in 2009. Twelve years later, I am joining as the first Asian American woman on the board of trustees in the village of Skokie. The historical significance of this, in a community where 30 percent identify as Asian American, is not lost on me. Diversity, equity and inclusion must go beyond performative acts. We are stronger when we work together, but we must also recognize the unique history that brings us here," Khoen said.
"I speak from personal experience when I say our communities are fighting every day to not only survive, but to rise against people and policies that continue to do harm against our people," she said. "I'm not alone, and I have to watch other parents do the same — care for their elderly or sick while juggling work, taking care of their children's need during the pandemic, and somehow find time to march, mobilize or even run for public office."
Trustee Keith Robinson, a former Niles West High School administrator who now works as an associate principal of Evanston Township High School, thanked the Skokie Caucus Party for slating him and village residents for their votes.
"I'm incredibly honored to be the first elected Black trustee in Skokie. I do not take that distinction lightly, as this provides an opportunity to represent diverse perspectives and amplify voices that have historically been marginalized and unheard," Robinson said.
"The foundation of building relationships has always been essential in my role as an educator, and I vow to continue in the same vein as Skokie trustee by listening, learning and serving this vibrant community," he added.
Trustee Alison Pure-Slovin, another of the newcomers to the board, said her grandparents had escaped antisemitism in Europe.
"Each one of us comes from diverse backgrounds, and sometimes our forefathers or our parents or someone in our generations have escaped hate in other countries and we came here because the United States of America opens its arms to all immigrants," Pure-Slovin said. "And that's what I love about the village of Skokie, we reflect what's the best of this world, what's the best of the United States, and this diverse group of trustees will work hard on behalf of the residents."
Pure-Slovin is the Midwest director of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit Simon Weisenthal Center and a former television journalist, according to a biography provided by the Skokie Caucus Party.
"What I love about the Skokie Caucus is that we represent everybody," Pure-Slovin said. "We represent independents, Democrats and Republicans. We have to remember that the Skokie Caucus Party represents all that makes this country great."
Candidates slated by the party had gone undefeated in every election since 1961. This year, the party withdrew its endorsement of one of the six candidates for trustee selected by its candidate committee — Billy Haido — although he still appeared on the ballot identified as a Skokie Caucus Party candidate.
Trustee James Johnson, who teaches at St. Joseph High School in Westchester, ran independently of the party's endorsement process. He defeated the un-endorsed candidate by more than 600 votes, according to final election results. After being sworn in, Johnson encouraged citizens to engage with the village board and said he would be focusing on issues of environmental sustainability, housing, racial justice and civic engagement.
"We're entering this office in really challenging times, obviously, and the responsibilities of this board are great, not only as we're coming out of this pandemic but also as we're having this national conversation about systemic bias," Johnson said, noting it was his first time serving as a political representative.
"I hope that this gives me a fresh perspective," he said. "I'm a high school teacher, I'm an educator. I teach social justice and ethics courses, and I'm very excited about the possibilities of social justice policymaking here in the village of Skokie in the next four years."
Two incumbent village trustees were re-elected after being slated by the party.
Trustee Edie Sue Sutker, first appointed to the board in 2004, said she looks forward to continuing work already underway and pledged to put the interests of residents before her own.
"I look forward to continuing the work of fighting COVID, economic development, environmental sustainability and pursuing racial equity," Sutker said. "I'm honored to have initiated the co-responder pilot in Skokie, which we hope to start very soon. The pilot will pair first responders with mental health professionals for mental health emergencies."
Trustee Ralph Klein, who is beginning his third term on the board, thanked the Caucus Party and welcomed the board's new members sworn in during Monday's village board meeting.
"I look forward to the challenges ahead," Klein said. "Because we're going into uncharted territory now, and we'll all have to learn together the new ways of the new world."
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