32nd Ward: Why should Chicagoans trust you?

Conversations with the aldermanic candidates of the 32nd Ward

Topic: The voter-politician credibility gap

There is a gap in trust between citizens and public officials. Here in Illinois, we are particularly dubious, where politicians say one thing and do another, and where so many are indicted or even imprisoned. Knowing everything we know, why should people trust you and take you at your word? Why should voters think you are different?

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David Pavlik

The first thing I can demonstrate to people – and I do it at every forum and when I’m at their doors – is I’ll propose term limits, I’ll propose campaign finance reform, and I’ll propose a payroll cut for city council members. To show folks the buck stops with us as the city council. Our job is to work for you. I think that these institutionals that have been around forever are not necessarily the best thing for the process.

When you tell people right off the bat, “I’m going to put a termination date on my time as alderman if I’m fortunate enough to be your alderman. I’m going to share in the pain that I’m asking you to, because I’m going to cut your programs as part of being a good budget manager right now, so I’m going to take a cut in the dollars that go in my pocket,” when you demonstrate that to people, they say, “Okay.”

Second thing is, I’m gainfully employed right now. Budget manager for the governor is a very, very big job, and it’s a huge responsibility. But I’m willing to leave it behind, because this is more important to me – serving the community, and being a part of a reinvention of government. We’re there. New mayor. Up to 25 new city council members. We have an opportunity to reinvent the City of Chicago’s municipal government system and put it on track to work for people, and I want to be a part of it.

I’m young. I’ve got no wife, I’ve got no kids. I’ve got this job and a mortgage. And I can easily satisfy my mortgage by going out into the private sector and getting a job. I don’t need the governor’s job. I wouldn’t need the alderman’s job to pay my mortgage or support myself. I’ll be able to do it. I’m not doing this job for anything else.

People are seeing my programs. They’re seeing what I’m doing. When we decided to do this, we made probably a thousand calls, and after we did our due diligence on it, “Is this a viable, winnable race?” we said, alright, from day one, we need to be showing the community we’re a value add. Not “We’ll promise to be a value add when we win.” Proof’s in the pudding. Actions speak louder than words. They taught us that at Ignatius. Do onto others as you want done onto you. And that’s what we’re doing.

Chicagoans tolerate a lot from their elected officials and the governmental process. What won’t they tolerate?

This is The City of Big Shoulders. Folks around here work hard and expect their elected officials to work hard. The ones that are out there doing a crappy job get recalled during the election cycle. In this next cycle, we’re going to see a residence and a city that won’t stand for any more of this wasteful spending and corruption that’s built into the process. They won’t stand for laziness. It’s worse to be lazy than stupid. I think folks are there.

We hear about corruption and scandal and salacious activity from all sorts of congressmen and senators, and I think the Obama election was a referendum on a lot of that. It brought in a ton of folks that aren’t really part of the process, because it was ‘change’ and it was ‘hope.’ There are a lot of folks that are still inspired by that, and I think we’ll see it now really trickle down into the municipal level during this election. I hope so, at least.

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Alderman Waguespack

I think you’re exactly right: you can say a lot, but you also have to do a lot. When I came in ’07, I said, “We’re going to tackle the zoning and development issue, and we’re going to put in a set of guidelines, and we’re going to even the playing field.” And we did. If you talk to developers, their attorneys, builders, if you go downtown – even with the guys who are deep inside the system and have been in there for twenty, thirty years – they’ll tell you, “The thing we like about Scott is that he raised the flag when he came in and said, ‘It’s an even playing field. Everybody gets an even playing field.’” That wasn’t the case before.

When you walk in, we’re all working from the same set of guidelines. The rules don’t change when you walk in the door based on how much money you gave, who you knew, stuff like that. To me, that translates instantly to a form of trust in the process, which translates into, (if that person sticks to it), a form of trust in the way that they’ve conducted themselves and that process.

The same thing goes for what we do with crime in the ward. We came in and shook up the CAPS system, we shook up our different departments – districts, I should say – and said, “We need to change the way we’re working with the community. We need to change the attitude between the police and the community members who show up to meetings.” I went in and said, “We’re going to change the way this works.” And people who were sitting there at the table for a long time said, “We like the way this is happening. Keep it up.”

So that’s also a form of action. At every level of government – whether it’s city, county, state, federal – everybody’s like, “Trust in me. Believe me when I’m doing this.” I’ve learned not to say that, and just do instead.

Chicagoans tolerate a lot from their elected officials and the governmental process. What won’t they tolerate?

If you talk to them about what you think the important issues are, like the waste and corruption, I think they get to a certain level, and it really is about the pocketbook. It’s about the corruption of ideals – I think they do get to the point at times where they say, “We’ve reached the limit on that.” I don’t think there’s an unlimited amount of toleration. If you explain to people how things are working internally – and I think that goes back to your question about “Why did you run for alderman?” – to me it’s about showing people, “Here’s how things are working on the inside. Here’s what you need to know. If you didn’t know this before, you need to know now. Here’s where money’s being wasted. Here’s where your pocket book is being hurt. Here’s where your children are being hurt by not having a good education system. Here’s where the value of everything you’ve put into your home is being hurt.”

Let’s say a developer didn’t take responsibility for something and he’s now off in some other country or some other state enjoying the fruits of his labor – a lot of people, when they’re given the opportunity, or when they’re exposed to those things, their tolerance becomes a lot shorter. They were never given that opportunity before. They were always told, “Everything’s hunky-dory. Just look the other way.”

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Brian Gorman

The only thing you have in this world is your word and your integrity. Once you lose that, you can’t go back. I tell people I’m in it for the right reasons. I wasn’t groomed for this. The role of being alderman was never something I’d focused on, calculated and moved and positioned my way into a spot where I could be here two weeks out from the election. This is something that evolved out of a sense of being a part of the community, from adapting a certain set of principles and empowering and engaging my neighbors and friends to achieve political success and legislative success. This is a natural evolution of that.

Look to the work that I’ve done. Has it been honest? Can you trust the way I got here? You can certainly trust me as I go forward. But all I can do is ask people for it, be earnest, be sincere, and say, “I’m out here at eight o’clock on a cold, Tuesday night asking for your vote. I’d much rather be reading a book, hanging out with my daughter, putting her to sleep. But I’m doing this because it’s important. I’m here to help.” For some people, that’s all they need.

If you hold up a piece of campaign literature, you don’t get a sense of the man. It can be manipulated, airbrushed, all kinds of fancy messaging. But there is no hiding when you’re on someone’s doorstep and you’re asking for their vote. That is the approach that this campaign has had. We’re going to get me out on the doors as much as is humanly possible, not focusing as much on the mail and the direct mail and the messaging. The messaging is, “This is the work I’ve done. This is what I want to do. Let me help you.” And that, I think, is all you can do. You get people’s trust by earning it.

Chicagoans tolerate a lot from their elected officials and the governmental process. What won’t they tolerate?

I think we’re getting to that point where there is not a proper return on taxpayer investment. Like I said, you’ll pay fifteen thousand a year in property taxes, and you’ll pay an exorbitant sales tax because the quality of life in the city is so great, but there is a tipping point. I don’t know where that is yet, when they see that the money’s not getting back to them, or the money’s being spent on a patronage system, where money’s essentially being thrown away. Their schools are no good. Their streets are falling apart. The challenges that we all know exist in terms of our pension obligations and our budget are not even close to being addressed.

There is no one overarching issue. It depends on the voter, on their particular situation, on what that individual values. If it’s an education issue, then they’re already there. You can see it. There’s a Raise Your Hand coalition, which is developed here in the state. The Friends of Audubon. These are really engaged, active parents that are frustrated with the leadership as it relates to education issues, and are supporting me in my campaign because I value that. Other people are simply pothole and rat-based people, those small little details that for them, if it looks like a certain way and they call and it’s another year and it hasn’t been fixed, that’s their tipping point.

From where I sit, there’s no one thing to say, “Okay, I’m not going to tolerate this anymore.” You have to find out. Maybe people are satisfied with the level of service. I haven’t found that, but maybe people are not there yet. So it depends on who you are. What you can’t tolerate changes from spot to spot.

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Bryan Lynch

I think the biggest telling mark is I’m sacrificing probably more than anybody else in this race to run for the office. The time that I’m losing with my kids, that’s something I’ll never get back. My seven-year-old’s birthday was last Friday. Spent some time with him, but not nearly as much as I would have liked. Those are things that I’m sacrificing, as well as to take a four-month hiatus to try to generate business for my firm. Those are real sacrifices. They’re personal, financial, and I wouldn’t be doing those things for some grand idea, “I think it would be fun to be alderman.”

There’s a genuineness, and it’s backed up by what I’m giving up. It’s not like I need a job, or if I didn’t win I wouldn’t have a job. I think that shows that I’m actually giving something up that is more valuable than anything this office can offer me. There’s nothing more valuable than your family and your kids.

Chicagoans tolerate a lot from their elected officials and the governmental process. What won’t they tolerate?

People are getting to the point that they’re not going to be tolerant of being taxed further for the inefficiencies, to be polite, or corruption. I think people are at the point where they’re overtaxed, especially with what’s going to be coming with income tax increase in Springfield, and with Governor Quinn signing the pension bill. There’s going to be some pretty significant changes, and I think they’re probably at their tipping point with those issues, where they have to say, “We have to reform it, or people are gonna move out of the city.”

So I think taxes. I’d like to say that candidates that don’t follow through on what they say, they’re not gonna tolerate – Blagojevich unfortunately is an example of that – so maybe that’s it. On a local level, I think sometimes people throw their hands up and say, “Well, that’s the way things should be,” which is kind of disheartening. But I do think the demographics have changed quite a bit, especially in the 32nd Ward. I think it’s very independent-minded, people want to make up their own minds, which is great. People try to educate themselves on what’s happening, and I think that the more that happens, hopefully they’ll become less tolerant for some of the other things we’ve seen.

Jack M Silverstein is the author of “Our President” and editor of 2007 49th Ward alderman runner-up Don Gordon’s “Piss ‘Em All Off.” Trade alderman talk on Twitter @readjack

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