Oak Brook’s Village President
By Chuck Fieldman
Gopal Lalmalani has enjoyed practicing cardiology for more than 40 years. But the 72-year-old Oak Brook Village President has put much of his heart into serving the people of Oak Brook over the past 15 years. Lalmalani served five years on the village’s Plan Commission, before successfully running for village president in 2011. He has been reelected to additional four-year terms twice — in 2015 and in 2019. And his three consecutive terms as Oak Brook’s top elected official matches the record held by former Village President Karen Bushy, who served from 1991 to 2003. “I always was interested in getting involved,” Lalmalani said. “I’ve always had this bug in my head to serve, and I previously was involved with medical organizations. Some residents suggested that I get involved with the village, which led to me serving on the Plan Commission and then running for village president.” Lalmalani said he increasingly has spent more time on village related duties since becoming village president. He has scaled back his cardiology practice by about one third to allow more time for Oak Brook business, he said. “It’s become a way of life for me,” he said. “I have dedicated my life to the community service of Oak Brook and find that very fulfilling.
I always am interested in what we can do to provide better services for our residents and businesses because we are here to serve them.” Lalmalani said his ears and eyes always are open to Oak Brook residents and representatives from businesses in the village. “They are why we’re here; I have no personal agenda,” he said. Lalmalani has had some disagreements over the years with Village Board members, village staff, residents and business representatives about village business, but that’s all part of the process, he said. “We need to tolerate all points of view,” he said. “I do what I truly believe is best for Oak Brook.” Village Board member Michael Manzo, who also was first elected in 2011 and continues to serve, said Lalmalani’s willingness to always listen to others is a major strength. “He may have an opinion in mind, but he’s always willing to listen to all sides and is very assessable to anyone who wants to talk with him,” Manzo said. “He’s always a uniter and brings people together.” Manzo said he sees the passion Lalmalani has for the village. “He pays attention to what’s going on and has made leaps and bounds in his knowledge of local government,” Manzo said.
“How we can do better for our residents, without taxing people is always a goal, and not having a property tax is part of our branding and we are proud of that”
One major factor Lalmalani considers best for Oak Brook is to continue the practice of not levying a municipal property tax. He also is against any additional taxes, such as for food and beverage, a stance that was part of his campaign when he sought re-election in 2019. “How we can do better for our residents, without taxing people is always a goal, and not having a property tax is part of our branding and we are proud of that,” Lalmalani said.” It’s an ongoing challenge, but it’s doable.” Development in Oak Brook is continuing at a fast pace. Among current and recent projects are new retail stores and restaurants opening in, and around, Oakbrook Center, several commercial/office projects, the ongoing development of multi use Oak Brook Commons on the site of the former McDonald’s Plaza on 22nd Street; and recent discussions about plans for part of the former 80-acre McDonald’s campus site, purchased in June 2019 by JPD Holdings. “I’m a pro-business guy,” Lalmalani said. “I want businesses to feel like they are wanted.
To survive moving forward, we have to be open-minded, but also, our residents don’t want too much traffic and congestion.” One of the ongoing challenges for Oak Brook officials is maintaining a good balance of businesses that generate sales tax, which has been strong enough to allow for no property taxes, and developments that don’t generate sales tax revenue, but add to the community in other ways. “Balancing development with sales tax generators is a challenge that we are aware of, and it is very important,” Lalmalani said. “Going back to (Oak Brook founder) Paul Butler, the idea has been for Oak Brook to be one-third open space, one-third commercial, and one-third residential. That balance makes Oak Brook a spacious and unique community.” The continued challenges of helping to make Oak Brook the best place possible for its residents and businesses keeps Lalmalani going, he said. And having support from his wife, Neetu, and daughters, Puja and Supna has been critical to his ongoing work for the village. “It’s not about me,” he said, “It has to be about the Village of Oak Brook.” That attitude hasn’t prevented Lalmalani from being recognized with awards for his service to the village. He has received several awards from local, national, and international community service groups, such as Outstanding Community Service Award from Congressman Danny K. Davis, Public Service Award from the Metropolitan Asian Services, Inc., and Special Recognition award from the Asian American Coalition of Chicago.
Lalmalani was born in Jakarta, Indonesia and went to India for his pre-med and medical education. After receiving his Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery degree from G.S. Medical College in Bombay, India, Lalmalani practiced medicine for a year in Jakarta. He came to the United States in 1973 and completed his internship, residency and fellowship in cardiology from Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago in 1978. He returned to school about 20 years later, earning his MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg Business School in 1999. “After a while of practicing medicine, I felt I needed to open up my brain,” he said. “I wanted to find out how businesses run their operations. When I first got my MBA, my idea was to move into medical management, but I enjoyed my practice with my patients too much to do that.” Lalmalani continues to enjoy his interaction and work with his cardiology patients, but a big piece of his heart will never leave Oak Brook.
*Photos by Marcello Rodarte