Conversations with the aldermanic candidates of the 32nd Ward
Topic: Surprises of running.
Part of working in government is working with other people and taking ideas where they come. Is there any idea you’ve heard from your opponents during this campaign that made you say, “You know, I didn’t think of that, but that’s a good idea!”
I’m surprised that there is not more apathy. There is a sense that people don’t care about their communities, that there’s kind of a malaise when it comes to politics and what’s going on in the city. Going door to door, talking to folks, people actually have legitimate concerns about what’s going on. And not just the simple things like potholes. They’re aware of what TIFs are. They’re aware of charter schools vs. neighborhood schools. They fundamentally want to see their kids and their families do better. They’re willing to put up with a lot of stuff, but there are certain areas that I think are troubling to most people.
I use schools as an example. You’ve got a family that lives in Roscoe Village, and they have a nice home. They pay fifteen thousand dollars a year in property taxes. And their street has got potholes in it, and that’s part of Chicago, but it’s excessive in their community. The high school that their kid is going to be going to is below standard, and no one would ever send their child there because it’s not meeting the standards of a quality school.
They’re forced to make a choice. They’re either going to cut a tuition payment check to some private school, participate in a selective enrollment process – which is stressful for all families – or they’re making the choice to move to the suburbs because they want to send their kids to a better school. The third one obviously is bad for all of us. We don’t want to lose families that want to stay here that are a part of the community, but we should expect more from folks.
These are well constructed needs and concerns that people have, and I get that every single day. So that’s something that I think is a positive: I was surprised at how much energy there was for what really troubles people and what they’re concerned about. People were very honest. When you say, “What are some of the issues that you and your family have?” these things come out. It’s helpful. It’s guided a lot of the issues I’ve taken on the campaign, not because I have preconceived notions of how things should be, but because I’ve spent time listening to folks and coming up with solutions to these problems.
The time commitment is difficult. You get up in the morning, and you’re trying to get as much information about what your day looks like, and you’re calling people constantly on the phone, spending evenings knocking on doors, or with community groups. Come home at nine o’clock, 9:30, and then do a big wrap up on the day. It certainly is taxing. But I don’t think that it’s anything unusual to the work I usually do. I often work late at nights with my organizing work.
From a mental standpoint, the sheer volume of information and things that you need to keep on track is something I was not quite prepared for. You feel like you always have 75, 80 plates balancing at all times, and you can’t drop one of them because all of them are so important. So making sure that a community group gets a return phone call, or you’re following up with something as simple as a yard sign or a window sign – if you don’t get that to them in a reasonable fashion, you don’t know how that will negatively affect things.
The experience has been great. I know it’s not for everyone. People say all the time, “Why in God’s name are you running for alderman?” At the end of the day, I care about my community. I wasn’t born here. I wasn’t raised here. I’m not a native 32nd Ward lifetime resident. I’ve chosen to live here. I’ve chosen to raise my family here. I’ve chosen to own a home here. Because I care about the community. I think it’s a great place to live, and I don’t want to see it go in that direction.
I anticipated this being very busy. But I don’t think that, unless you’ve managed a campaign or had a sibling running and were involved on that level, you could understand how much time and how involved you get. And the diversity of ideas that come out. People in certain parts of the ward are very worried and upset about not having recycling, and other people are more concerned about schools. There does seem to be a very wide range of things that people are concerned about.
The huge time commitment – one is the number of questionnaires. You get questionnaires from every group. I got a questionnaire from a taxicab association wanting to know my positions on certain issues to see if they would endorse me. I think it would be good if somehow there could be a clearing house for some of this stuff, because as a candidate, you spend a ton of time answering questions on questionnaires that ultimately, I don’t know if they have much bearing in terms of what happens in the race. I think a lot of it is for the organizations, to kind of know where you stand on certain things – clearly it’s for that – but I also don’t know how important how all of the various questionnaires are. I think some of the questionnaires are very important, and others maybe don’t have as much relevance to what’s going on in proximity to the 32nd Ward.
But the questionnaire thing is absolutely something I didn’t expect – all these nuanced groups coming out of the woodwork to ask questions about, you know, where you stand on two aldermen proposing a dollar tax on taxicabs. Different things like that. But you learn a tremendous amount. Which is great.
No matter what, running for office is a good thing. I don’t think that everybody’s going to have the inclination, and I think it’s unfortunate, but economics is an immediate entry barrier to getting into this. That’s going to keep a lot of great people from running. And I think that’s a shame. But going back to the issue about running for office, you become much more cognizant of what we really need to do. What are the issues? What are the problems out there? It’s going to make me more of an informed voter. It’s probably going to make me much more pointed in why I’m going to support a particular candidate, or why I wouldn’t.
It’s been a good surprise. It’s been people’s reception to hearing what we have here, a strong message. We’ve ended up having to block out more time for when we’re going door to door because folks are feeling pain out there. Folks are scared. It’s serious. People are getting their hours scaled back at work. People are losing their jobs outright. People are losing their homes. They’re worried about college tuitions. They have no faith in government on the federal level or on the city level. They think everybody that’s in now is part of the problem. And so it’s been surprising how receptive people have been to what we’re doing out there. I think it’s because we’re running a really, really grassroots campaign. We shovel snow for elderly and disabled. We’ve been setting up neighborhood watches for folks in areas that have been hit with heinous, egregious crimes.
I saw the job fair signs.
We’ve done a job fair. Right! We’re the only candidate doing it. We actually got notice from somebody that they got a job from the job fair. They’re working with Edward Jones now. We said, “Come back as a representative,” because we’re doing a second jobs fair.
I have very specific proposals for the budget, and how we can do some great things with increasing efficiency and decreasing wasteful spending. I’ve got a very specific proposal for small business owners. My family owns and operates a small business in the ward – Roscoe Village Pub on Addison and Leavitt, right there – and so the business community’s been really receptive.
My general day is wake up at 5:30, emails until about 6:30 or seven, shower, get myself going, hit the El stops until nine, meeting with business folks, meeting with influential folks during the day, take my lunches and do stuff like this. Then some time around four o’clock we get out there and knock doors until about 8:30, and then it’s businesses. Businesses that are open late, bar and restaurant owners – anything that’s open past 9:30. Get out there and get to them. So that’s been surprising.
Second thing that’s been surprising has been the amount of operating that goes into running a successful campaign. Every day you start off with a clear plan. I gave you my schedule for the day. But at the drop of a dime, it can completely change. Yesterday was absolutely derailed by an appellate court decision that knocked Rahm off the ballot. Today it was rear-ended by a Supreme Court that said, “Leave him on the ballot. We’re gonna hear his case.” Stuff like that comes up. We have no control over those x-factors.
Another one today: as soon as we’re done here I’m going to meet with a business owner on Armitage in between Hoyne and Leavitt. Been there thirty years. I was meeting with somebody who’s going to help raise money for this, which is just a necessary evil of running a campaign, raising money. He said, “Yeah, a guy saw your sign, saw a representative of your campaign, wants to meet with you. He’s been in the community for thirty years. He knows tons and tons of folks.” So just the x-factors and the absolute needing to rapidly respond and change direction and be fluid in your campaign – you never understand until you’re in it as the candidate how many of those are happening.
But of course that helps in the event that you’re elected –
Absolutely. It’s great. And it’s great for us because I think we have an incredibly talented team. You see here, we’ve got eight people out there right now banging away in the middle of the day. You stop by 4:30 or five, there’s fifteen or twenty people in the office, there’s forty or fifty people on the street, and you’re just getting the calls: “Hey, come meet this guy.” Boom. And I will do it.
People have handed the phone off to a constituent who has a specific question about what I’m doing. A guy wanted to talk about no-leash laws in parks. He thinks it’s crazy that you should have a leash on your dog. I walked him through it – I got bit in the behind by a dog once, and I’m very protective of people’s rights in a park, and I think there should be leashes on dogs.
But we spent about 45 minutes together later that night, and I’m kicking around a proposal for a time when parks are closed to the public to open them up to dog owners. You’ve signed, you’re on file – however we have to figure out the litigious side of it. You can all congregate and let your dogs loose together.
I think there’s an interesting public safety component to it, because those people are going to walk their dogs out at 9:30 or ten o’clock at night, and then they’re going to walk home. So now there’s a bunch of people with dogs on leashes walking to and from home at 10:30 at night. And that’s great. In areas where a vast majority of crimes are property crimes, a bunch of people walking around with dogs is going to be a natural, organic deterrent.
I haven’t made a decision on it, but it’s certainly worth dedicating some of my bandwith to seeing, “Is this a sensible solution to getting people who really don’t want to see leashes on dogs?” We’ve had people flooding in now that have just heard message or are excited about the campaign or are looking for a referendum on Scott, and it’s been awesome. We’ve said, “You be the sail, we’ll be the wind, let’s do this.”
On one end of things, you’re putting in a lot of time that takes away from your family, whether you have kids or not. I don’t think people realize how much more time you spend on the issues of everyone else verses your family. Your family takes a huge hit, both in terms of time away from them but also your ability to have a life over there.
If you were a person who came in and did whatever the administration wanted you to, and you’re just another guy in the system of the fifty aldermen, yeah, you could walk in and sit here and not do much of anything. But if you want to effectuate change, if you want to do TIF reform, if you want to do zoning and development reform and you want to make much bigger changes, you have to put a lot more hours in. I wasn’t so much surprised about that, but I was surprised that in four years we could create so much change that the whole system was shaken up. And I was surprised that a lot of the ideas that we’ve put forward have turned into actual action items.
What have you been most pleased with?
I would say our changes in the education in the ward and the zoning and development. Zoning and development probably moreso, because I think with the housing crisis, the market tanking, it kind of exposed the old system in ways that people just didn’t realize was happening.
When you think about some of the rules that we put in play there about how we were going to have a set of guidelines that would benefit more people, I think when I look back at that and when I speak to people now about the process that we put in place, they are overwhelmingly happy. Even though it was more restrictive, it slowed things down for a lot of people and literally saved a few businesses from going bankrupt. People have come to me and said, “You know, if you hadn’t slowed things down, I would have been off running, continuing to build, over-leveraging,” and they would be out of business.