A few years ago, before blogging had been invented, I was tutoring a single mother toward her GED. When we got to the section on government, I asked Renee if she could name any of her elected officials.
“Do you know who the governor is?”
She shook her head.
“How about the mayor?”
“Ohh…I’ve seen him on TV. I can’t remember his name.”
I was running out of offices, so I tried the pettiest official I could think of.
Renee’s face lit up.
“Joe Moore!” she blurted.
The same thing happened when I was driving around Uptown with Ald. Helen Shiller. Outside Graeme Stewart School, two children ran in front of the alderman’s car, then froze when they saw the neighborhood celebrity at the wheel.
“Helen Shiller!” they exclaimed.
The other day, on WLS’s Don Wade and Roma Show Ald. Howard Brookins Jr. argued against halving the size of the City Council because aldermen are “the face of all government” for many Chicagoans.
“They don’t call their congressman,” Brookins said. “Many of them don't know who their state representative or state senator is. They never expect to see their U.S. senator. And so we are the face of all government, and we get called for all services whether they are state or federal.”
It may come as a shock to readers of this blog, but most people don’t follow politics on TV or the Internet. Instead of Face the Nation or Talking Points Memo, they get their political news from signs in liquor stores and panaderias. Signs that are likely to bear and alderman’s name and face.
Aldermen are so much of a part of neighborhood life that Chicago is the only city where local politicos are more prominent than statewide officeholder, and even congressmen. (Who has more clout on the Southwest Side, Ald. Ed Burke or Congressman Dan Lipinksi?) Downstate, legislators are superstars. Housewives brag about running into the state senator at the supermarket. In Chicago, they’re anonymous. In the past year, three state legislators -- Deborah Graham, Will Burns and Harry Osterman -- have left Springfield to become aldermen. In 1973, Congressman Roman Pucinski left Washington to become alderman of the 41st Ward, hoping to use the position as a stepping stone to the mayor’s office.
Gotta wrap this post up. I just received an e-mail from my alderman about the beginning of street sweeping season, and I have to read it.
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