Wednesday, May 29, 2019 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
Henderson Yarbrough — who went from working as a special projects coordinator for the village of Maywood in the 1980s to being its mayor from 2005 until 2013 — sat in on his last meeting as an elected official on May 21 (elected a trustee in 2015, he decided against running for reelection).
During an interview afterwards, Yarbrough, 76, looked back on his nearly 40 years in local government and reflected on what he hopes his legacy will be in the village.
On his beginnings
I started working for Maywood in 1983, as a special projects coordinator in the community development department. Joe Freelon [the village’s first African American mayor] was mayor at the time. After a short time, less than a year, they asked me to take over as public works director on an interim basis until they found a replacement. So I served as interim for, I believe, close to a year. When they found a director, I stayed on as an administrative assistant.
Village government back then versus now
At that time, trustees were elected by district. I think because of that, things were a little more politicized. Each trustee had his own district to be concerned with and didn’t really have to worry about the others.
How was your interest in running for mayor sparked?
I was never really interested in becoming an elected official in the beginning. Not at all. But based on my observations of how things were being ran in the village, I did get interested in politics. My wife [Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough], who wasn’t my wife at the time, had accepted a position as a campaign manager for a guy who became the trustee in the third district.
I ran for trustee in around 2003 and I lost. In 2005, I was put on a committee to search for a candidate for mayor, and a couple of people on the committee one day just said, ‘You know why don’t you run for mayor?’ I said, ‘Not me!’ I never even considered running. But after some conversation, and after talking with my wife and family, I eventually conceded. I ran and I won.
What are some personal highlights from your two terms as mayor?
As mayor, you feel close to people and I’m a people-oriented person. I was pleased that people showed that kind of confidence in me, particularly with me not being an ‘original’ Maywoodian (laughs).
I really enjoyed working with people, listening to their problems and being able to affect some change — even if it was often one person at a time. If I could solve a problem for one person, that gave me a special feeling that I was doing something worthwhile.
What are some large-scale initiatives you want people to remember you for?
During my time as mayor, Karen was state representative, so we were able to get a lot of money from the state. I was interested in the infrastructure in Maywood — how the main streets looked and how well the town was lit up along Fifth, Madison, Lake and other main streets.
At the time, the streets were just dim and kind of dirty, so we took on infrastructure improvements and, with the help of then-state Rep. Karen Yarbrough, we were able to bring in over $17 million worth of infrastructure improvements.
We completely redid Fifth Avenue, then we worked on Madison, Lake, St. Charles — all those were improvement completely, with new street lighting and resurfacing. That’s what I’m most proud of. We also brought broken down or defaced properties along our main thoroughfare and knocked them down, if we didn’t redo them.
What are you most proud of as an elected official?
I’m most proud of the fact that I never got caught up in any kind of scandal. One thing I take a lot of pride in is being honest and having never gotten caught up in any kind of scandal or being accused of anything, because that would’ve really hurt me. I’m proud of the fact that people saw me as an honest person who was doing the best he could do.
What will you do after leaving Maywood government?
I’ll be working with my wife, as long as she is in public life, and we’ll be dong lots of traveling. Lots of traveling! VFP
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