Aldo Goes to School | Our Town | Chicago Reader

Aldo Goes to School 

On a Tuesday Aldo DeAngelis, Republican candidate for Cook County Board president, visits DuSable High School at 4934 S. Wabash. He tells about 100 African American students who are crowded into a classroom and overflowing into the hall that by choosing to live in Cook County they pay 20 percent higher taxes than they would if they lived in Naperville--or anywhere else in Du Page County. Everyone looks bored.

"When I was a young man, the only way I could have disappointed my father was not to go on in school. Because then I couldn't have been a part of the action or gotten a slice of life," says DeAngelis, a polar bear of a man who likes to be known simply as Aldo.

The students have Spike Lee haircuts and wear shiny professional sports-team jackets. They shift in their seats, and their eyelids and shoulders lower in unison.

"With the Democrats, they promise something that we believe they'll deliver. And in the end-- after 22 years--we find it's not there."

DeAngelis abruptly changes the subject. "I'll close because I have more to learn from what you say," But when no one says anything, he continues. "I'll tell you the difference between Democrats and Republicans."

A girl with a Vicks inhaler hanging out of her nose gazes around the room. She keeps sniffing.

"When I went to Springfield in 1978, my family let me know how they felt. They let me know if you can't keep pace, you may be answering to the beat of a different drummer."

DeAngelis leaps from one subject to another. "My philosophy is if you teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime....There's a realization in the minority community that there's a difference between being beholden and being empowered. If you don't remember anything else, remember that when you have an opportunity to receive, look where it comes from and the price you pay."

Aldo goes on to explain that he once sat in a high school classroom in the poorest town in the U.S.--East Chicago Heights. "It doesn't matter where you come from. It matters where you wanna go."

An eager student asks DeAngelis to explain what he means by empowered.

"Well, it's like Provident Hospital. It needs to reopen and be returned to the community. Empowerment. For the county just to own facilities--like Cook County Hospital--it's not consistent with health care. When the county controls, that's patronage. Cook County won't sign the Shakman decree. Cook County keeps feeding the system."

"Beautiful. Beautiful," says a slick black man who appears to be in charge.

Down the bright yellow hallway a huge floor-to-ceiling portrait of a shyly grinning Harold Washington hangs behind a portable decorative fountain circa 1961. Nearby, a girl who appears slightly older than high school age has been stopped and is not allowed to enter the school because she has no ID. "Don't stay out of school," an older man in a gray suit tells her. "Just pay the fee. Or have your mother come by and sign an IOU--you know she can sign one for the fee. Good-bye. Remember, come back tomorrow."

On a Thursday DeAngelis visits Maine Township High School East on Dempster Street in Park Ridge and speaks to 60 students in government classes. At the front door to the school a female school official in black pants and a red golf shirt is tangling with three foreign students. She tells them to go home because they aren't properly registered for English as a Second Language classes.

At the top of the stairwell and down the bright green hallway from where the classrooms are located are four large framed Norman Rockwells.

"Mr. DeAngelis," says a lanky boy on the cusp between childhood and adolescence, "I live in Des Plaines, and we have really dirty water."

Everyone laughs.

"Well or faucet?" DeAngelis asks.

"It comes from Lake Michigan, I guess."

"Well, if it were from a well, your problem would be in the formation of the rock--which is heavy in iron."

Another student butts in, wanting to know where DeAngelis went to high school and college.

Bloom Township High School, Knox College, and University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, says DeAngelis. "I still go to school. I took a course in statistics only a year ago."

Planes from O'Hare roar overhead. A moment later DeAngelis can be heard saying, "Cook County is not a competitive county in the state. You'll pay $1,400 more in taxes on a $100,000 house here than in Naperville. That has to be changed. My 78-year-old mother pays almost half of her social security for taxes on her house. And my 25-year-old married son pays a substantial part of his income."

He goes on to explain that when property taxes were enacted early in the life of the United States, it was assumed that ownership of property meant wealth and that those who owned property had the ability to pay taxes. "Today, owning property does not necessarily mean wealth. The class of people paying taxes has broadened. The functions of government have broadened. Cook County has raised the levy 310 percent. That's not gonna happen with Aldo DeAngelis. We're going to reduce 22 county departments to six."

He then offers a suggestion for how that might be done. "I'd like to get the county out of the health-care business. Seventy-five percent of the patients test positive for drugs. Is that a health-care system? And people in the unincorporated areas pay for that."

A girl with big hoop earrings and suede boots who's paying close attention looks a little disgusted. Boys with crew cuts and T-shirts take feverish notes.

"Phelan wants to spend more money and reduce taxes. How can he do both?" Lunch smells waft through the door. "I don't want to scare you out of your seats, but out of 7,000 Cook County prisoners only 300 are in prison--and that's just for misdemeanors. The other 6,700 are awaiting trial. So what good does it do to build more jails if judges and prosecutors don't work harder?"

DeAngelis outlines these points on the blackboard. ("These are public-policy students," he explains later.) "You know, it's very hard to find witnesses in drug cases. Aldo DeAngelis is not going to build any more jails until I can find out what the problem is. Thank you and good luck."

The bell rings and classes change. Amid baseball caps and jogging pants, one girl walks by with a diamond stuck in her nose. A boy with a long wavy ponytail coming out of a helmet of blond spikes and at least a score of earrings lining his outer ear comes into the room and takes his seat. He's part of the second class to hear DeAngelis's guide to good government.

Why is DeAngelis spending precious campaign time with high school students who can't vote? Is he after the teachers? The parents? The future?

"It's part of my job," he says. "Talking to young people doesn't have quantifiable results. My own kids aren't much older. You can't measure this substantially. But you have to do things that make you feel good. It energizes me--gets me through the rough spots. I like to address classrooms. It really makes me feel good. People come up to me--voters now, sometimes they're community leaders--and they tell me 12 years ago I spoke to their school. Everywhere I walk I cast a shadow."

On the following Monday, after lunch at Harry Caray's with Columbus Day parade marshal Joe DiMaggio, DeAngelis joins about 20 of his supporters on a float. "Al--do. Al--do," the kids and grandmothers riding on the float shout as they ride down Dearborn Street in a cold wind-driven rain. As his float passes the reviewing stand near Madison Street, DeAngelis is soaked from his thick white hair to the bottom of his standard black raincoat.

The MC introduces DeAngelis as he rides by. "Aldo DeAngelis. He's the guy without the umbrella."

"Al--do!" someone shouts. "He don't need one."

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