Inside Booster: Is that a politician sweeping your street? Why yes, yes it is
This article originally appeared in Inside Booster in the August 17-23, 2011 edition. It was written by Peter Von Buol.
On the morning of August 9, U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (5th) and Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) grabbed their brooms and manually swept streets, cleaned sewer-grates and picked up loose garbage and recyclables to help assist the 44th Ward’s motorized street sweepers on a couple of residential streets in East Lakeview.
Quigley joined Tunney and the ward’s streets and sanitation crew as part of his on-going “Undercover Congressman” job series in which he experiences first-hand a variety of jobs in the 5th Congressional District.
“Street cleaning is very important. It’s one of those things people always notice about Chicago, the cleanliness of the streets,” said a focused Quigley as he picked up loose cardboard to deposit in blue-carts on the 500 block of West Melrose.
“This harkens back to my days in the 44th Ward as chief of staff to former Ald. Bernie Hansen in the 1980s. The philosophy of the late Richard J. Daley was to put an emphasis on city services where the public can see it. People have to know what you are doing,” said Quigley.
Throughout the morning, Quigley expressed his irritation at cars parked on the side of a street that was scheduled to be cleaned. According to Quigley, not only do parked cars cause a portion of the street to not be cleaned by the motorize sweeper, they force posted signs to remain up long after the motorized sweeper has finished.
“Because of these parked cars, signs won’t be removed. No one will be able to park legally until the posted expiration time on the sign because car owners need to see why they were ticketed. Because of the parked cars, this part of the street won’t get cleaned until next month,” said an irritated Quigley.
While Quigley swept the streets with a manual brooms and picked up loose trash to recycle or dispose of, Tunney moved from sewer grate to sewer grate to pry them open and clear debris from the intakes.
“I believe it is important to be hands-on,” said Tunney, “When the guys from the ward’s streets and sanitation crews see me working out here, they know I mean business!” Tunney added that his ward’s residents pay significant real estate taxes and therefore should expect to receive efficient service from the city, apparently even if that means doing it himself.
One portion of Roscoe Street was still affected by partial flooding due to the recent storms and Tunney used the opportunity meet with some frustrated local residents and to call the city’s sewer-department to confirm a repair date for a gutter box.
Quigley added that he is frustrated with the current financial problems which have caused the city real difficulties in terms of their ability to deliver city services.
“No one was saving money during the boom years. There were no advocates for saving those years, and now, we are in a freefall. We need to make government more efficient, and this applies to Washington D.C., too. Cutting at the eleventh-hour, which is where we are at now, never works. We end up cutting the wrong things. Services need to be streamlined so we can keep providing them. It takes long-term planning and one-on-one conversation with colleagues in local governments and the federal government. If you don’t take into effect long term obligations, this (the loss of the federal government’s AAA bond rating) is what happens,” said Quigley.
Quigley has taken on a number of jobs as a part of his “Undercover Congressman” program. The job included assembling industrial pumps and Graymills on Lincoln Avenue north of Addison; conducting the school band at Batemen Elementary School; cleaning the rhino pen at Lincoln Park Zoo; greeting guests at a veteran’s hospital; fishing for Asian Carp with the Illinois department of natural resources; manufacturing parts at the stern Pinball factory (the only one remaining in the world); providing traffic reports during WLS AM-890’s Don Wade and Roma morning show; working as a car-hop at the landmark hot dog restaurant SuperDawg; delivering pizzas; and joining a postal-carrier on a local delivery route. Last year he picked up garbage with the Streets and Sanitation department.
“At the time I had worked with the city garbage-truck crew, I was serving as a speaker pro tempore of the House of Representatives. NBC had a funny split-screen of me moving trash-carts around and in the house as speaker,” said Quigley.
Quigley said his work as an undercover congressman has been enlightening as it puts him into contact with people from all walks of life.
“Across the board, whatever they do, and this was highlighted by the late author Studs Terkel in his book Working, people take pride in their work,” said Quigley.