Conversations with the aldermanic candidates of the 1st Ward
Topic: Surprises of time commitment.
What have been the biggest surprises in being a candidate? (Or, for the incumbent, of being in office?) What weren’t you expecting? How has your day-to-day been affected on a personal level? For the person sitting at home considering a run at office, what should he or she be ready for?
First of all, I didn’t know that I was gonna be – what do they call it? – objections. That cost me thousands of dollars, just to protect my reputation. They said that my signatures weren’t legit. “And everybody does it,” they say. “They did it to everyone.” Well I had no idea that they were gonna do that. That cost me thousands of dollars just to keep my reputation upheld. So that got me. I’m thinking to myself, “What did I do to him?” I didn’t do anything to him. I just wanted to help better the community.
The alderman. The present one. These are all his people that were coming after me, that were hitting me with these objections. Then I put posters out here, and the posters that I put out, some of the tenants that are renting some of these stores says, “Ron, I gotta take it down, because the alderman came to me” – ‘Alderman’ meaning a representative, not the alderman himself – but a representative says, “Look, we helped you here. We helped you there. We don’t want that name there.” So they take my poster down. And not just mine. They did it to my competitor, Lopez. They did it all up and down Ashland where she’s from, where she’s got the majority. This is stuff that I never expected. I’m fair.
The building next door. The art gallery. My poster was the first to go up there. I guess Moreno caught wind of it and he put his poster up there. I don’t care. This is a free country. Show that you have people competing against each other. I don’t mind. I tried putting one at my dry cleaners. I’m there all the time. He tells me, “I can’t do that, because he’s here all the time and he would be against me putting up a poster.” I said, “Okay, no problem.” I don’t care. This is a free country. Everybody’s entitled to do what they want to do. If I was running and somebody wanted to put their poster next to mine, I would just let them do it. I’m not that type of person.
What haven’t I expected? A lot has happened that I expected, from negative to positive, because I’m familiar with the electoral process. When I’ve been knocking on doors I expected the typical complaints of services, but what I found surprising was the residents’ response. Their eagerness. I expected kind of like, “Oh, yeah, another candidate. Here’s another one talking the same.” And I was pleasantly surprised that they were very receptive and curious to learn and hear. That surprised me.
We hear a lot of cynicism, and let’s face it: Chicago city government, we haven’t been in a positive light with Blagojevich and all that, so I expected residents to close the door and say “Yeah, yeah, yeah, talk to you later. I don’t want to waste my time with you.” (Laughs.) But no, it was the opposite.
I had a pretty good feel. I was so close to Manny for several years, volunteered with the 1st Ward organization, knew how hard he worked and was with him for a lot of that. I put it this way to my staff: this office, and this position, will take more from you than you can give. I’m an overtime alderman. I have a satellite office every weekend. It’s always going to be taking. That’s the thing you have to realize. There are so many issues out there, and you solve some and you move on.
I’m a proactive person. I want to proactively get in there. There’s this talk about, “Well, New York only has 23 council members and they’re eight million, and we have three million and we’re fifty.” But it’s a dynamically different system. Here in the city, they come to the alderman to provide a lot of city services they don’t in New York. We’re responsible for everything from keeping the streets clean to the snow that’s coming. I had a three-hour meeting that I didn’t have scheduled this morning; we have a whole plan on this snowstorm, from the city end and from my volunteer end. I called three private companies this morning that have ATVs. We’re going to try to get on the sidewalks. I have to pay for that out of my own pocket.
It’s not as sexy as some people think, for lack of the better word. It’s not always “The West Wing,” where you’re sitting around and thinking. There is that portion where you’re thinking about the budget, or you’re trying to offer ward-wide recycling solutions, and the politics of that – but day in and day out, you’re providing essential services that aren’t the most glorious. Garbage pickup on a timely basis. Recycling pickup on a timely basis. Making sure the schools are funded on a local level. Things like that – I’m very passionate about it.
I think people have this misconception that, you know, you’re going to cocktail parties and talking about issues, but it’s really hands-on, roll-up-your-sleeves. People come into this office for everything that they should be coming to me for, and maybe below me, and to a U.S. Senator for. They come in here because we’re accessible moreso than any of those other positions.
People come in here that are upset about their property taxes. People also come in here that are upset because they can’t make their rent, you know? Some people come in here because they don’t speak English. You’ve got to be able to deliver all those constituencies. One’s not more important than the other.
 Jackson Junge Gallery at Milwaukee and Wolco