Many politicians can pinpoint a memory that caused them to seek public office. Typically, these are Mr. Smith Goes to Washington moments where the citizen takes on City Hall, walks away victorious and is inspired to do more.
City Council candidate Anthony Blumberg had a similar turning point years ago when he went to Plan Commission meetings to fight against the development of Renaissance Place. He worried about displacing residents who lived in that area of Green Bay Road and wondered about the logic of anchoring a shopping development with a Saks Fifth Avenue store when clothing sales were plummeting.
"You can see how successful we were in preventing it from coming in," Blumberg said with a grin.
Though he lost the battle, Blumberg was fascinated with the commission's decision-making process, one he thought could use some improvement. So when former Mayor Dan Pierce offered him the opportunity to serve on the Plan Commission, he happily accepted.
Once he joined the board, Blumberg made calls to a few people who, he was told, he had offended during the sometimes contentious debate over Renaissance Place. Some forgave the commission's newest member and some didn't.
"In calling around, I learned a very important lesson," Blumberg said. "I learned to listen better and I learned to be less strident."
A Highland Park resident since age 4, Blumberg has seen the city change dramatically over time. He grew up in the community, leaving to get a bachelor's degree from Washington University in St. Louis and a law degree from Chicago-Kent College of Law, part of the Illinois Institute of Technology. His wife grew up in Ravinia.
During his lifetime, Blumberg has seen Highland Park develop to a point that he worries the city's infrastructure might not be able to handle. He referred to Sunset Woods Condominiums, which ran into building trouble when the developers couldn't connect the complex's plumbing to the city's sewers because the lines were so old they were crumbling.
"That exists without a doubt in other places besides that discrete area on Central Avenue," Blumberg said. "Is the income from those developments adequate to offset the physical impact on our city?"
While on the Plan Commission, Blumberg persuaded his fellow members to stop looking at new developments as stand-alone pieces of property but as a piece of the whole community. He pointed out that artist renderings the commission reviewed for new developments never included the nearby residences.
"I wanted to see an artist's rendering show buildings around [the proposed development or project]," Blumberg said.
Blumberg says he wants to apply that kind of big-picture thinking to the issues facing the City Council. For example, he is unsure how he feels about the recent decision to scale back Highland Park's , an effort to limit ground floor storefronts in downtown area to sales tax generating operations.
"Good planning requires forward thinking," Blumberg said. "While we do have the immediate problem of wanting to bring in commercial income, we need to think about how we're going to do that in the long haul."
Blumberg insists he didn't want to run for the City Council. He has a child in and another at Northwestern University. He also runs his law firm where he specializes in medical malpractice. But he said he started getting requests to run from people who he respects in the city. Eventually, he caved.
One of the biggest problems facing Highland Park, according to Blumberg, is a leftover desire from when the city's economy was stronger "to bring in a lot of fun doodads."
"The Highland Park Theatre is a good example of that," he said. "It would be great to have a live theater in Highland Park … but this isn't really the time to be doing that, and it isn't going to be for a while."
Blumberg thinks the city should issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the movie theater, which the city purchased two years ago. He doesn't think the city should maintain ownership of what could be a costly investment.
"Even if it's just going to be fixed up, it's going to be enormously expensive," he said.
When it comes to using reserve funds to pay for city services, Blumberg said it depends on the circumstances.
"The rainy day fund is appropriate to use at times when the economy is not doing so well," he said. "But how much of it do you use and how long is the economy going to be bad?"
After losing the fight to not build Renaissance Place, Blumberg decided it made more sense to focus on planning for the future than to fixate on the past. It's that kind of outlook that he thinks will benefit the City Council.
"I've opposed some of that development; I've insisted on toning some down, but it's all here. So what does it mean for the city?" Blumberg asked. "It means we have to support that, and we have to support it in a very tough economy. Infrastructure things have to be dealt with now."