Mike Royko once suggested, not so facetiously, that Chicago’s official motto ought to be changed to “Ubi Est Mea,” which is Latin for “Where’s mine?” Royko’s take on things is still fresh today, as was demonstrated recently by Chicago 20th Ward Alderman Arenda Troutman.
“What’s in it for me?” she asked of a supposed constituent who was, unfortunately for her, a federal informant outfitted with a wire.
That all came to mind Thursday night as I watched CUinFP’s Steve Backman pose questions to mayoral candidates Theresa Steinbach and Patrick Doolin. There was a third chair near the table, empty but waiting to be filled by Anthony Calderone, who never showed up.
People get involved in politics for a variety of reasons, some good, some bad, but most existing in a broad psychological grey area. Then as now, however, too many people view public service more as a trough to feed at than as an opportunity to genuinely serve the public.
It’s up to voters to figure out before an election whether each candidate’s motives for seeking office are acceptable. That includes my cousin, who is running for village council. He’s smart and he’s honest, in my estimation. But he shouldn’t be spared such questions as, “What’s in it for you, John Plepel?” It’s not a loaded question, merely a blunt one. We’re making too important a decision here to just allow our assumptions to go unchallenged.
What do John and the other candidates want to get out of serving as commissioners? What do Theresa Steinbach and Patrick Doolin want to get out of serving as mayor?
When we don’t ask hard questions up front, we end up with $600,000 “finder’s fees” for disbarred lawyers, and janitors who take home more than teachers because of their relationship to the school board president. We get sky high legal fees and civil settlements that threaten to force Forest Park yet again into an expensive, high risk insurance pool. We get a multi-million dollar village reserve fund irresponsibly spent down to near zero.
Representative democracy is a messy business. And for those who opt to run for public office, it’s a time consuming affair. So it’s eminently fair to ask anyone who’s announced their desire to seek election, “Why are you bothering? What do you hope to get out of the next four years?”
Back in my Navy days in the 70s, I learned an important lesson. There were two types of men wearing officer’s uniforms-those who brought something to the uniform, and those who expected to get something out of the uniform. It wasn’t hard to spot back then, and it isn’t today, be they political candidates, cops, teachers, lawyers, judges, clergy, and yeah, even journalists.
Voting people into elective office is too important to wing it. Forest Park needs elected officials who bring something to their jobs, not people primarily looking to obtain something from it.
We need to make the effort to make sure that the people we choose are genuinely looking to work for all of us, and not just a chosen few.
Thursday night 60 people braved bitter cold to question two people who want to assume the lofty responsibility of handling our civic business and representing us to the rest of the world for the next four years. Patrick Doolin and Theresa Steinbach showed that they respected those citizens enough to sit for nearly two hours and answer their questions. In the process they demonstrated clearly that either of them would be a solid choice for mayor.
Anthony Calderone simply showed, yet again, that even after eight years in office, he’s still unfit to run this town.