Paul Radoy had a few things he wanted to say to Mayor Daley, and on a hot evening last August he got his chance.
The mayor and his top aides were holding one of their budget hearings in an auditorium on the near west side. It’s part of a yearly ritual: every summer they schlep out to a few neighborhoods around town to talk about their priorities for the following year’s budget. Daley typically delivers a rambling speech and then deigns to hear complaints, suggestions, and rants—about everything from crime to water fluoridation—from the rabble.
Radoy, a 36-year-old Northwestern University financial aid administrator whose close-cropped hair, khakis, and polo shirt made him look a bit like an oversize Eagle Scout, has lived in North Lawndale for nearly a decade—more than enough time to put together a list of things he believes the city has neglected in the impoverished west-side neighborhood. And when it was his turn at the mike, he calmly began to tick them off: potholes on 18th Street, sinkholes on Ogden, a missing section of curb at 19th and Lawndale, collapsing sewer drains in need of repair and reinforcement, and the frightening 28 minutes he’d spent waiting for police after catching a would-be burglar in his home just two weeks earlier. And how come the neighborhood still didn’t have blue bin recycling?
“I’m not expecting the city to come and pick up the trash that blows around the streets here—that’s something we have to take care of,” he told me later. “But I am expecting the city to keep the roads from crumbling, to keep the curbs from crumbling. I don’t think that’s too much for taxpayers to expect.”
It’s not unusual for the mayor to appear impassive, even disinterested, as he listens to his constituents gripe at these hearings—and sometimes it’s hard to blame him. But Radoy was taken aback by what Daley did as he began to speak.
The mayor stood up and without saying a word began to walk out of the room.
Radoy paused. “Mr. Mayor, are you taking a bathroom break?” he asked.
“A man’s gotta use the washroom,” Daley responded, chuckling, as he ducked out a side door.
Radoy collected himself and then continued, addressing the empty chair where the mayor had been. “That’s kind of typical of how we feel in the 24th Ward,” he said. “I’m not sure who I’m talking to!”
After he was done speaking, Radoy, like the others who’d testified, was surrounded by city officials wielding legal pads. They escorted him to the hallway, dutifully wrote down his complaints, and handed him their business cards, promising to look into the issues he’d brought up. It was impressive, but that’s the point of these hearings: the mayor is out to show that while things may not be perfect for everybody, there are government officials who care.
That was nine months ago. A couple weeks ago I paid Radoy a visit at his home, near 18th and Lawndale, to find out how much progress had come out of the promises.
The short answer: not much.
Radoy was still miffed that the mayor walked out on him. “I would think his mother would’ve taught him to excuse himself,” he said. But the condition of his neighborhood was still what really ticked him off.
Radoy and his wife, Kim, moved to North Lawndale “intentionally” about nine years ago so they could live out their beliefs in integration and civil rights. They and their three-year-old daughter are part of the neighborhood’s minuscule white population, which accounts for 1.5 percent of the total. For the first three and a half years, Radoy worked for an after-school program run by the Lawndale Christian Development Corporation, a nonprofit formed by the Lawndale Community Church. He’s still an active member of the congregation.
We walked a few yards from his front door to a short stretch of 18th Street that dead-ends at an alley just east of Lawndale Avenue. Not long after the budget meeting, Radoy says, city workers showed up and filled the block’s many potholes with cold patch—which washed away within a few weeks. He followed up by repeatedly calling 311, the city’s help line, as well as the office of 24th Ward alderman Sharon Dixon. Two more times crews came out to spread more cold patch—and both times it washed away again. By the time I arrived, the pavement looked like the surface of the moon, broken every few feet by craters.
Radoy then showed me the concrete reinforcement that workers had poured around a manhole cover at 19th and Lawndale. Radoy said he’d told city officials about the spot and two others like it that he feared would collapse. The others were still surrounded by deep washouts. “I guess one out of three’s better than nothing,” Radoy said.
After passing by the missing section of curb (“Miller Time came a little early that day,” Radoy joked, pointing to two pristine sections of curb on either side) we reached the highlight of the tour: a sinkhole in the middle of one of the local lanes of Ogden just under the Pink Line tracks. It was perhaps two-and-half feet across and three feet deep, big enough to hide a small child. Radoy had called the city about it over the winter, and workers had placed a bright orange traffic cone in front of it to warn oncoming drivers. But the spot had never been filled or fixed, and eventually someone had dropped the cone inside so only the tip of it was visible from the street.
“If you hit it, it would pretty much break your car,” Radoy said. “You’re not driving away from that.”
Radoy is still frustrated about larger neighborhood problems—such as a chronically understaffed police force and badly performing local schools—but he says little things like this have forced him to conclude the city just isn’t paying enough attention to North Lawndale.
“I’ve got nothing against Lincoln Park, but it kind of feels like if I lived in a more affluent area, you wouldn’t see this,” he said, standing on the lip of the sinkhole.
After meeting with Radoy, I called the offices of both the mayor and Alderman Dixon to get their reactions. Neither got back to me, but about a week later, one of Dixon’s aides showed up at Radoy’s door with an official from the city. The alderman even called him personally.
“It started to get a little testy,” Radoy told me afterward. “[Dixon] kind of kept interjecting with things like, ‘Do you ever go to our ward meetings?’ I said, ‘No, my wife’s gone to a few. But I’m a constituent. I brought these things up at the budget hearing.'”
By the end of their conversation, Dixon had promised to stop by his house in person. It seemed like a promising development, but Radoy wasn’t ready to declare victory just yet. “We don’t know for sure if this stuff will get fixed or if she’s just going to come to my door to show her smiling face.” But for now, he says, “I’ll take it.”