By Michael Romain
After Mayor Perkins’s swearing-in on Tuesday, and after witnessing the jubilant fete thrown by her supporters at the 200 Building, I walked the short distance down the street to Mariella’s, where the Maywood United Party was situated. When I walked in, the place was letting out. I saw a woman I recognized sitting at a table across from Mayor Yarbrough. She urged me to get something to eat (unlike down the street, there wasn’t a line for food), but I told her I’d eaten already.
“What did they have?” she said, betraying a hint of dissatisfaction with the current fare. “Fried chicken, meatballs, mostaccioli, macaroni and cheese, bread rolls…” She turned to her friend. “We’re at the wrong party,” she said. “What food did you all have here?” I asked. I really wanted to know. “Sandwiches,” she said curtly. And that about sums up the atmosphere.
There was no music playing. At least, if there was, I don’t remember it. The room’s silence was louder. I had approached the Mayor, because we had an interview set-up for the following day at the building that served as his campaign office on 17th and Madison. I wanted confirmation that he would actually show. When I emailed his communications director, Larry Shapiro, the request, I figured it to be a long-shot, that the last thing he’d want to do now that he was out of office and had time to breathe air less constricting was talk about what I assume had to be eight of the most constricting years of his life.
The night, no doubt, had to be the nadir of a mayoralty that was increasingly being defined by its descent, one that the election only magnified. For the average resident, it was becoming increasingly hard to ignore the reports unleashed by the Better Government Association (BGA) on what seemed like a weekly basis. They were amplified by the West Suburban Journal. Links to their digital versions were posted on Facebook. They were like abandoned treasure for smart political strategists in opposing camps.
They had titles like, “End Maywood’s Mayhem,” “Village of Maywood Hit With Lawsuit Over Alleged FOIA Violations,” “Maywood Democracy Isn’t Easy — or Pretty” and “Arrest of Maywood Cop a Symptom of Larger Problems in Town.” And then there was Fox 32 and images of Maywood officials involved in all kind of alleged imbroglios.
There will always be those crying wolf, but when the wolf criers outnumber those telling me to be calm and stay put, I am going to run. And to be quite frank, this writer was running in the direction of the charges, until after a while, as with any sane, moderately out-of-shape person, one must slow down and breathe. When I regained my oxygen, one inquiry popped into my head that, if I’d still been running full-speed with the charges, I would not have thought to ask. “I wonder what the Mayor has to say about all of this?”
Regardless of the truth of the reports (and there has to be a degree of truth), it occurred to me, about ten minutes into the interview, that Yarbrough had a lot to get off of his chest. He seemed like a man thirsty for personal vindication, to set the record straight.
After he briefly considered rescheduling our interview due to time constraints (and flirting with a possible interview over the phone), the Mayor, to my surprise, spontaneously directed me to an isolated area at the back of the banquet hall. He would talk tonight, if I didn’t mind (“I like to look people in the face when I speak to them,” he said). I didn’t and quickly produced my laptop, whereupon the Mayor, typically reserved and tight-lipped, turned into a reservoir over-flooding with words. And by the end of the night, my fingers would be heavy and languid from sponging them in.
This interview is broken into three parts. This is the first:
How surprised were you by the outcome of the election?
It’s not what I expected, but I always gave [Mayor Perkins] an excellent chance, based on Guzman getting in the race.
That’s good you brought that up, because there were some hushed accusations that you may have planted candidates to run for mayor so the vote would be split in your favor.
I didn’t know either of those ladies [Nicole Gooden and Mary ‘May’ Larry, the two main candidates held under suspicion of being Yarbrough ‘plants’]. Larry, I had met once before, because she wanted to do something in Maywood and so she came to my office once. If she had come back again, I probably would not even have recognized her face. So no, no. I’ve never played those types of games. I never even considered them.
I’m assuming you knew all along that it would’ve been (and was, in fact), the opposite case. A fractured electorate would’ve hurt you. As, in fact, it did.
I knew [Trustee Gil] Guzman and I would be sharing the same voters. Trustee Perkins, I knew, pretty much had her own audience. Those votes were locked in for her. Guzman and I weren’t going to take her voters. We all can count. Guzman and I couldn’t share Perkins’s voters, so I had to share what vote remained with him.
Was turnout what you expected?
It was. We made an effort to get people to turn out. Trustee Perkins also communicated constantly with her constituents. She stays in constant, one-on-one contact with her people. I give her credit. When you communicate one-on-one with people like that, you can get people’s ear and they’ll believe whatever you say. So, I wasn’t going to gain any votes based on what she was saying about me. And we, in fact, lost a few votes, because some people believe every negative thing that comes out. So, I always knew she had an excellent chance of winning. In fact, every time I had a conversation, I would say the one candidate with excellent chances short of me is Mrs. Perkins.
Do you think you could’ve done a better job reaching out to citizens while in office?
Yes. You can always do better if you have the desire and the energy to put forth, but I work a full-time job and fulfilling the positions as a part-time mayor, with all of the meetings and all of the different things I had to attend to…I didn’t have a lot of time. I have a full-time job and you have to have a full-time job unless you’re retired, because we have a managerial form of government. [Note: The mayor is only paid part-time; whereas, the village manager is the full-time, day-to-day point man or woman].
So I spent a lot of the time I had doing things like bringing in more than $17 million to redo all of our main arterial roads, installing new streetlights, making infrastructural improvements. With the economy being on the worst downtrend in sixty or seventy years, economic development was not going to happen rapidly in the Village of Maywood. We had too many things to overcome. It did happen in some surrounding communities, because they didn’t have to overcome the stigma that Maywood has.
Why do you think Maywood is so stigmatized?
Unfortunately, a lot of the stigma is attributed to our own citizens who talk negative about the town. Some people only talk about the bad things, not about the good things. So that’s our challenge. We have to change the way people think about Maywood. So, I did not have the time to go door-to-door everyday talking to people about what’s wrong. Basically, people know what’s wrong. I was trying to fix what was wrong and make it right. But while I was working, other people were talking and sometimes talk can overcome actuality. I think we did enough positive things to build on, things that made Maywood better.
We reduced crime by twenty to thirty percent. Those kinds of statistics mean something to some people, but nothing to other people. Some people base their votes on what’s happening to them personally. Also, trust has a lot to do with it. That’s one thing I thought I would never have a problem with — trust. In my heart, I always knew that everything I do, I do for the good of the town. I never, ever considered doing anything for personal gain. Nobody even approached me with anything like that, because they knew me or heard something about me. I never expected my integrity to get called into question, but people hear things.
There was, for instance, a lack of trust of the police. I took blame for the police department. But once I took accountability, we investigated our own house. We were responsible for that. We wanted to make sure our house was in order internally, because if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be able to do anything externally. But, instead of getting credit for what we got done, we got blamed for what we didn’t do. That’s the nature of politics, though. That’s what you do when you’re running for political office. You make up stuff about what the incumbents aren’t doing or you focus solely on the negativity.
I ran on cleaning up government, on reform, and I was serious about that. I never expected to be blamed for it or accused for any kind of corruption. My whole purpose was to clean up corruption wherever it existed. VFP
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