Gov. Rod Blagojevich sprung a surprise visit on a room full of West Side residents last week at the Garfield Conservatory during Ald. Ed Smith’s (28th Ward) regular community meeting.
The governor was able to hold up his political agenda, such as health insurance for children and increasing the state’s minimum wage. He was able to tout his record to a room of residents who didn’t even know that he was coming. Most of the residents were present for the regular 28th ward meeting.
“We’ve never had a governor to come to the West Side. He’s the very first,” said Smith.
Blagojevich received a room of applause before launching into a speech filled with stories, all aimed at connecting him to the sea of West Side faces. His stories ranged from shooting hoops at Austin Town Hall to getting an unexpected ride on Air Force One as a rookie congressmen with former President Bill Clinton – a still popular figure among many black voters – during which he illustrated his best Clinton impersonation and referred to the former president as “Slick Willie.”
Blagojevich talked about the state’s $5 billion deficit he claimed was created by President Bush and former Gov. George Ryan. He also didn’t fail to jab his Republican opponent, Judy Baar Topinka, on her opposition to raising the state’s minimum wage. To prove his allegations of Topinka’s position against increased wages, he said the minimum wage in Illinois is $6.50 compared to $5.15 in the nation’s capital.
“I know where she would take us,” he said of Topinka’s position on the minimum wage. “That would be back the other way.”
After piling on the stories, Blagojevich finally said why he had ventured to the West Side.
“It’s easy for me to come to the West Side. It’s the best side,” he said. “We’re here to ask you to do what you do – get out and talk to your friends. We want you to encourage people to get out and vote.”
He conceded that the West Side has been ignored, and that there is only one remedy for that: “Let all the politicians see you get out and vote, and they won’t ignore you anymore,” he said.
Although at times many residents appeared to wonder what all these stories had to do with them, it was apparent by night’s end that Blagojevich had won a couple extra votes by steering his campaign trail to the West Side.
“I was shocked that he was here,” said Austin resident Clyde Branch, 68. “I think that it’s fantastic what he said.”