(Photo by Gabrielle Levy/MEDILL)
By Elias Cepeda
As an IL. State Senator for nearly two decades, Miguel Del Valle cultivated a reputation as a liberal idealist that also could also work reasonably and compromise with peers of all political stripes. But as a candidate for Chicago Mayor this past year, Del Valle – who held the City Clerk position during the campaign – found himself unable to garner enough attention to provide a challenge to Rahm Emanuel’s steam roller campaign.
During his election night concession speech this past February, Del Valle pointedly declared that he would not take part in the Emanuel administration. He wouldn’t take another appointed position should he be offered one, as he did when he Mayor Daley appointed him to fill the City Clerk spot after former Clerk Jim Laski was embroiled in scandal, and eventually jailed.
As he was during the campaign itself, Del Valle seemed frustrated that he couldn’t find much of an audience for his, the most specifically progressive, campaign agenda. Del Valle’s efforts at the few televised forums and debates that Emanuel took part in were well received, but those didn’t come until just weeks before election day, not enough time to make up ground. His campaign also raised little money, in part because of his pledge to not take contributions from companies that do business with the city.
“It’s about ensuring real participation and engagement on the part of those who believe it is government’s role to serve.” - Miguel Del Valle
Now it seems that Del Valle is working to create for himself, the audience his campaign craved during the mayoral election. In early October Del Valle hit the media circuit for the first time since last winter, promoting his progressive agenda – in the form of a panel discussion that he and political consultant Del Marie Cobb convened October 15th.
Leaning up against a hallway wall of a Chicago television station after making an appearance with Cobb to promote the upcoming panel, Del Valle insisted that the new initiative was not about him and not about paving a path for a second run for mayor.
“It’s not a matter of taking an outside approach, or that being more effective than working from within government,” he said in response to my question as to why he shut the door so early after the election to working within government during Emanuel’s first term (De Valle’s most recent term as City Clerk expired this year). “It’s about ensuring real participation and engagement on the part of those who believe it is government’s role to serve.
Del Valle cited the “Occupy…” protests that were at that moment taking place outside on downtown streets, not far from where he stood. “We need to create sparks. Sparks get the attention of the powers that be…People are frustrated throughout this city and this country and we need to take that frustration and turn it into energy and turn that energy into action,” he said.
“We live in a city where the ‘haves,’ are doing better and the ‘have nots,’ are doing worse. We have a serious rate of unemployment in many neighborhoods and a high violent crime rate. We have a lack of education in neighborhood schools and a lack of affordable housing. Addressing these types of things require broad reform efforts, not a piecemeal reform effort,” he continued.
Retired office holders often head into lobbying, a logical and often lucrative second or third career option. Is Del Valle envisioning himself as a kind of lobbyist for the people of Chicago, then, if not admitting to starting another run for mayor?
He demurred, not willing to even go that far, yet. “This [discussion], where we’ve brought together journalists and policy experts for discussion, is about getting information out there for the people. If it is accepted and absorbed, then in translates to engagement, connection then action,” he said.
“It is about turning on the light so people can see what is really there. They need to see themselves a having some power to do something rather than feeling totally helpless.”
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