People with Passion, PREVIEW: Don Gordon

People with Passion PREVIEW

Political activist Don Gordon

Interview September 13, 2010

Don Gordon, in yellow vest, speaking at a community meeting in October 2005.

Don Gordon, Rogers Park political activist.

We are seated in the Gordon family backyard in Rogers Park, the home where Don Gordon and his family have lived for 30 years. After spending the first 25 of those years as a community activist – among other projects, he was heavily involved in the fight against the expansion of the Evanston-Rogers Park lakefront – Gordon decided to oppose incumbent Joe Moore for Alderman of the 49th ward in the 2007 election. He lost a close race, distinguishing himself from his two fellow challengers and forcing a run-off with Moore.

He then took a job at Northwestern as a political science professor, where, in March, he took part in a professor-led panel discussion with former governor Rod Blagojevic. This month, he releases his first book, a guide to political engagement titled “Piss ‘Em All Off.”

In this excerpt of our People with Passion interview from September 13, Don discusses the leadership direction that he believes the city of Chicago will take following the departure of Mayor Richard M. Daley.

For the city of Chicago, but I think for any urban metropolitan area, this is the end of the long term mayoralship. The comparison I made to Cy Young, and baseball – nobody’s going to have 500-plus victories any more, and not because the pitchers aren’t capable of it. The game’s changed. They don’t pitch complete games anymore.

They don’t make 40 starts a year.

Right. That’s right. That’s why it’s not going to happen. And what we’re seeing in politics is that change of landscape. We’re not going to see a mayor in office for 21 years anymore, because we’re finally going to accept the fact – well, first of all, let me say this: there is no Richard the Third in the waiting. Yes, he does have a son, but I don’t think anybody expects that he’s on a path to run for mayor. Now, I may be wrong. Maybe all of a sudden he’ll come home from Iraq and say, “Hey, I think I want to be mayor,” and next term, he’ll run. But it was much more of a given with Richie. He was on his dad’s knee, and he said, “Dad” – for all practical purposes – “when you’re done, I’m in.” I think everybody sort of understood that. It was talked about back in ’79 when he was running against Lady Jane.

That doesn’t exist today. And even if it did, I don’t know if even Chicagoans would have the appetite to elect a third Daley. And because of that, I think we’re going to see a lot more citizen involvement, citizen engagement, in the sense that power bases are going to come up in a lot of different areas. Whether it be Hispanic, African-American, the gay community – I think they’re all going to have these little power bases. And whether that’s good for the city or not, that’s up for debate. But I think for that reason, you’re not going to have that invincible figure anymore. So the next one who gets elected, whether it be a Latino, an African-American, or just a regular lakefront liberal (chuckles) –

Any lakefront liberal you have in mind?

Possibly. Somewhere up on the far north side, 49th ward, Joe Moore – anyway, they’re not going to be invincible anymore. I’ll use Joe as an example, because Joe’s a very formidable figure to run against. He’s a good politician. But if Joe were to run and win, nobody would cower against him four years from now. Even if Rahm Emanuel came in from – is it from heaven that he comes in from? – even if Rahm ran and won, nobody would cower at running against him.

Most people were intimidated about the idea of running against Richie. Even in ’91! Even after he was only in office for two years. People are thinking, “Daley?” It was like Caesar. It’s almost a sacred thing in this city. So it was like, “Yeah, well, it’s Daley. We don’t run against Daley.” You don’t do that. That’s just not going to exist anymore. And I don’t ever see – you know, never say never – but I don’t see that happening in any of our lifetimes again. Who knows, 100 years from now, but I think we’ve got a long time if that should ever happen again.

Jack M Silverstein is a freelance writer covering music, culture, and sports in Chicago. His People with Passion interview series can be found here. Contact him at, or say hey at twitter/readjack or facebook/readjack.

Full version of this interview coming next week

Don will be releasing and signing his new book, Piss ‘Em All Off, at Rogers Park’s Charmers Cafe, TOMORROW morning, from 10 am to noon.

Concerning the above photo: I don’t have a photo credit, but it came from the 24/7 North of Howard watchers blog.

And, because you deserve it…



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