Sunday, March 24, 2013 – Maywood
I came to the Quinn Community Center on the campus of St. Eulalia Parish about thirty minutes before the mayoral forum hosted by Neighbors of Maywood Community Organization (NoMCO) was scheduled to begin. There were already people inside prepping. There was food for sale, the proceeds of which were to go to the Center, which has experienced some tough financial circumstances recently. Some young women offered me the chance to enter a raffle. I bought a $1 hope of winning $500. The money raised from this would go to the Center, as well.
When I was approached with the opportunity to join NoMCO, I did so on the spot (full discretion). The process was rather simple. I paid $5 and filled out a few lines of basic contact information on a card. “Where’s my receipt?” I joked, sending the woman administering my membership into a minor tailspin. She looked around blankly before looking at me, saying with her eyes, “Really?” She didn’t quite connect with the humor, but I walked to my seat (passing by tables covered with colorful campaign slogans and bold-printed promises and professional headshots) feeling slightly accomplished.
After talking with a few people who were waiting for the forum to begin, I sat down and looked at the empty stage where the candidates would hold forth. After some minutes, I spotted Mary ‘May’ Larry in my periphery. She was here in the flesh passing out campaign literature and telling people about her connections to some developers who were poised to build a movie theater and a “5-star hotel” in Maywood.
She mechanically handed me a campaign card. This was my first time meeting her in person. Outside of this, we’d only talked briefly over the phone. I didn’t tell her who I was. I wanted to see if she’d make any effort to get to know me (and any of other the attendees) on a more intimate level. She didn’t. And as with our rushed cell-phone dialogue, I got the distinct impression from our rushed physical encounter that Mrs. Larry puts more energy into running away—from potential voters, from candidate forums, from interview requests, from simple conversations—than she does into running a campaign. Indeed, as was made apparent later, she seems so busy doing everything she can not to win this race that she doesn’t have time for much else.
“You need to take one of those,” one man said, pointing at some papers that were neatly placed on empty chairs around the room. I’d met him at a campaign event a few weeks ago and had gotten up from my seat to greet him. The papers featured the Better Government Association’s series of reform proposals published in November of last year and titled, “End Maywood’s Mayhem.” Among the BGA’s recommendations—“ban employment of relatives,” ban the “solicitation or acceptance of gifts” and establish a board of ethics.
In back of the first page were several pages of headlines pulled from various news outlets such as The Huffington Post and Chicago Magazine (“Maywood Democracy Isn’t Easy—or Pretty,” “Cook County Circuit Court Employee Denies Alleged Gang Affiliation,” etc.) and printed under a general header ironically called ‘Maywood Confidential.’ The BGA proposals and headlines would coat the night’s proceedings like a stain.
While reading them the day after the forum, I thought about Ham, the son of Noah, the one who saw his father naked and told his brothers. Ham didn’t receive a Pulitzer for reporting Noah’s drunkenness. His son, Canaan, was cursed. And therein lies the rub of ‘airing dirty laundry.’ Sometimes, there is no right way of handling the truth. In part, this is because ‘truth’ has so many dimensions.
As an empathetic onlooker, it’s hard not to feel the frustration of those who condemn the consistently negative attention the Village receives, often from people who rarely deign to drive through it, yet alone talk to the leaders whose actions they judge largely corrupt and inept. Given the twisted history of race relations in this country, it’s also hard to resist reading in those proposals a veiled paternalism and even some condescension. Even against my better judgments, it’s hard to resist the slightly paranoid claim that the proposals are fodder for all kinds of racist assumptions, one being that predominantly black municipalities are incapable of thinking through and/or administering their own reforms.
And yet, it’s also extremely hard to resist the sound arguments of those who say that the Village brings the attention on itself (because the headlines and the proposals reflect a valid, albeit ugly, reality). It’s hard not to take seriously the BGA and Chicago Magazine and Huffington and the rest. The fact remains that the ugliness they expose most likely would still be hidden from plain view if they hadn’t exposed it. We demean, dismiss and/or demonize what they do at our own expense.
Fortunately, our intellectual loyalties don’t have to be wholly with either ignoring ugly realities in favor of positive illusions or confronting ugly realities and perpetuating negative outside perceptions in the process. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s test of a first-rate intelligence should be applied to the candidates up for election at all levels of government in Maywood. At the voting booth, ask yourself if the people you choose have the “ability to hold two opposing ideas in [their minds] at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” We need people who can both change reality and change perceptions—and often, those aren’t mutually exclusive tasks.
The stage was still empty, but more bodies were coming in. The room would eventually fill with about 70 to 100 people according to my rough eyeball estimation. As the chatter crescendoed around me, I sat waiting in my seat, wondering whether that first-rate candidate would ever show up.
The second of this 3-part series of articles will be posted tomorrow.