People with Passion
Alderman Proco ‘Joe’ Moreno
Interview January 31, 2011
I moved here 14 years ago. I was working at a union printing company, got my MBA at night, and that was sort of my career path. But my true passion was the community. I was raised in affordable housing. At an early age, eight-, nine-years-old, I was going to the Catholic Worker House Dorothy Day Center to help homeless folks. My parents were organizers for that. We didn’t have any money, and I was saying, “Why are we going to these places, Mom? We don’t have any money.” And she said, “These people have even less than we do.” It was ingrained in me then.
When I moved to Wicker Park, I immediately got involved in CAPS as a CAPS coordinator. I got involved in the Wicker Park committee, which deals with everything within the community – zoning, recycling issues – really organizing on a grassroots level. I got elected twice to the local school council at De Diego Academy. All of that behind me, I did run for state senator in ’08. The former state senator had been in office 14 years; as a representative and a senator, he was not doing a correct job. We started a grassroots, very insurgent, independent, democratic run against him. Obviously, I didn’t win. But I got 10,000 votes to his 12. It was my first run. I was 29, 30-years-old, and I won 28 of the 31 precincts in the 1st Ward. There’s 50 precincts, but in his district there were 31, and I won 28 of them. That sort of catapulted me moreso in the political process.
Manny Flores resigned and supported me for alderman. The mayor wasn’t the strongest ally of Manny’s, and I showed the mayor what I just talked about, all those credentials, and that I was gonna run for this position right now whether I was appointed or not. It was my passion to do it, and he appointed me.
You can’t just wake up one day and say, “Okay, I want to run for office.” With few exceptions, you’re not going to be successful, and I don’t think it’s the best for our community. Whether you were raised there or not, that doesn’t matter. But in your tenure in the community, what have you done on a community-based level, a non-for-profit level, to help people, to organize – whether it’s around school issues like I talked about, the local school council, or other neighborhood issues, so that when you do run, you’ve got that resume. I think we’ve got a lot of candidates who say, “I’ve been part of the community for forty years.” Well what have you done in the last ten years? Show me some tangible results of what you’ve done. I easily did that to the mayor. I have a great organization of over a 150 people. I collected the most signatures of any alderman in the whole city. And that’s not just because of me. That’s because of the reputation that I’ve had with a lot of these community groups.
I would sit on the board of, let’s say, Humboldt Park Social Services, which I was a board member of. I would sit on this board with these passionate board members volunteering their time. Our executive director and our local school council, passionate people who weren’t paid, and when we’d meet with elected officials – not all, but some – the passion wasn’t there. It was like, “Yeah, I’ll get to that.” Sort of pandering. We would organize around issues of development or equal housing and what not, and we would get to the meeting, and I didn’t see that passion on the other side of the table from a couple of our elected officials.
That’s what drove me to run the first time for state senator. I wanted to match the community on the other side. The passion for it. The drive to get it done. There’s no second place in politics, but there really was in this case, because it provided a nice platform to the mayor to say, “I did this. I did extremely well in the 1st Ward. I’m doing it again. I’ve got great community support.”
I wanted to be on the other side of that table, and when the community comes to me, I’m gonna get things done for them, not just pander them and say, “Yes, great, I agree with you, move on.” That’s where I am.
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