If my dad were still alive, I know how he’d have decided who to back for alderman in his southwest-side ward this year. He’d have read up on privatization and charter schools and all the other important citywide issues. Then he’d have voted for whoever he thought would fix the sunken manhole on his street, fill the potholes, and regularly trim the trees.
He lived west of Midway Airport, on 59th Street, in the 23rd Ward. After he died four years ago, I found a few handwritten letters he’d sent to the 23rd Ward office in his long, frustrating campaign for removal of his next-door neighbor’s dying tree. The letters I found weren’t carbons; in order to have a copy for his records, he wrote them twice. His letters are a reminder still today, I think, of the importance of basic services to Chicago voters.
My dad came to Chicago from Ukraine in 1949. He learned to write English better than I learned to write Ukrainian, but English was always tricky for him.
In a November 1989 letter to the 23rd Ward office, my dad framed the issue: “The problem with tree is that many branches are bare dry no leaves at all and are falling down and plugging our rain gutter & down spouts. I talk to our nabor and her nephew and they both told me that they called Forestree Div. but nothing was done.”
In May 1990, my dad wrote the ward office again. “I met our Democratic Pricinc Captain Mr. Bertalmio at polling place on primary election. I told Mr. Bertalmio about the tree and I ask him if any thing could be done and he told me that he will come & check the tree and he agreed that the tree should be removed and he promise that within 30 day he will come with his cru and will remove the tree.
“So the Pricinc Captain didn’t come so I called him on April 23rd 90 and he promise to cut it in one week. April 30 he also promise to cut it in one week. On May 7 he said he was very busy but I will cut the tree with in 15 days. And that was the end of Mr. Bertalmio’s promises. The tree is still where it was during primary election. Now that final election is coming in November I wander if I will get fulled like that by some other Democratic Poletishan again.”
Eight years later, several of the area Poletishans had been uprooted, but not the tree. In October 1998, my dad wrote to Glenn Poshard, Bill Lipinski, and Paul Stralka. Poshard was the Democratic candidate for governor (he’d lose to George Ryan); Lipinski was a congressman and the longtime ward boss in the 23rd; Stralka was running for judge.
“Dear Mr. Poshard, Lipinski and Paul Stralka,” my dad began. “I received your official sample ballot on 10-18-98 to Punch 23, 47 and 122. But first I would like to explain to you my problem with dying tree. This year on Aug. 4th, seven feet long dry branch fell from that tree and neerly mist leaving room window of my nabor. And again on September 26 two dry branches fell on public sidewalk, one was 12 feet long.
“So on that day I reported it to Pricinc Captain Theresa and she came over and she saw those fallen branches, and she agreed that the tree should be removed. It is not safe for people passing by and small children riding on bikes. I promise you all that soonest that tree is removed I sure and my wife will Punch 23, 47, and 122 and all other Democratic candidates. Thank you and best lock to all of you in this election.”