| 8 | Tuesday October 21, 1986—we meet face to face with Jesse Madison

     On Tuesday, the 7 committee members and Manuel carpooled down.  Tish Martin greeted us, saying   Madison was in a meeting, but would join us in the conference room as soon as it ended.  She opened the door to the conference room and let us in.  Then she left and closed the door.  

     We were alone in the conference room--dominated by an elliptical table, with built-in leather chairs.  On one end, a king-size chair was surrounded by two, larger-than-average chairs.  “Those are for the bosses,” observed Miguel.  “So we sit there,” said Manuel.  “Take those three and two on each side.  They didn’t tell us where to sit.  Take them out of their comfort zone.”  We arrayed ourselves in the bosses’ seats.  The doorknob rattled.  “Remember--total unity,” whispered Manuel, as four people entered the room. 

      Jesse Madison was small in stature, carried himself proudly and radiated charisma.  Balding, with a neat beard, the former state legislator from the west side of Chicago wore a dark pinstripe suit, a red tie and gold jewelry.  As he noticed the seating arrangements, he smiled slightly but took a guest seat without commenting. He introduced Tish Martin, lawyer George Galland and chief architect Bob Meghier.          

     Delia introduced each of us and started to talk about the playlot.  But Madison interrupted, and took over the meeting:  “I agree with you about all that--that we cannot deny.  But it’s not just Playlot 293--do you know we have 300 playlots in the City, and I’m responsible for all of them?   Some of these lots have been neglected for 40 years!  I inherited this whole mess.  So my question is, what are we going to do about all these playlots?  And I invite you to think with me, as my partners--help me figure this out.”

     Madison’s lawyer smiled, as we sat open-mouthed, dumbfounded by our good fortune.  

     “We put most of our capital into the larger parks with field houses”, continued Madison, “And we’ve been selling off these little playlots whenever we can, but there’s very little interest.  We stopped buying insurance years ago--the premiums!  Now every time a child injures herself, we pay their medical expenses.

     “So I agree with what you are saying, and I’ve given this matter some thought.  We might be better off as an entire City, if our little playlots in the neighborhoods finally got some attention, so they are safer and more inviting than they are today.  But we would have to plan.  We would have to determine where we are going to find the capital, because major improvements to playlots are not in our current budget. 

     “So I would like to work with you, but I have to ask for your patience.  I think we can all win, but I must insist on three conditions:  First…”  Here he paused, then adopted a wounded look, and whined: “First…you all have to promise to stop kicking my butt!  Through the media!”       

     Everybody laughed.  He had broken the ice.  We all felt then that we would win concessions.  “The problem is…we can’t just fix your playlot,” explained Madison.  

     “Why not?  We’re here, and they’re not,” said Connie.  

     “I know, and it’s a good thing you’re here,” said Madison.  “It only means we’ve got to talk about a pilot program.  We’ll do five playlots, all next year, one on every side of town.  But yours will be the first.

     “OK, now, my second condition is:  community cooperation.  This means sweat equity, say, 300 hours of community service?  Helping with the construction?  You make this kind of commitment, I’ll know you’re going to be out there taking care of things.  I expect you to form a permanent group to take care of the playlot.  You’ll be our partners and report problems.  And, it’d do you good to get out there and do some physical work, cleanups, a couple of times each year.  If I can build a group around each of these five pilot playlots, I can ask the Mayor to expand the program citywide.  This way, he can distribute the capital projects more widely around the City.  And he wants to see neighbors active in their communities.

     “Now my third condition is:  You must write a letter of apology to my Trustee.  She was very hurt and humiliated by the way you treated her.  And you must send me a copy.”  We all nodded dutifully.

     Then, Madison looked at Meghier.  “Now, I’ll leave, and Bob and my planning staff will take over.  Tell them what you want.  Give them a few days to come up with some plans; we’ll call you back next week.”

     Madison and the others left, except for Meghier.  Four planners entered.  We talked about what we wanted; they took notes, and we left.  

     Our committee met at LSNA two days later, on Thursday.  Manuel had us role-play a group negotiation.  On Friday afternoon, the Park District called LSNA, inviting us to review their plans next Monday.  

     On Saturday, my doorbell rang at home.  It was Manuel.  “I came to make sure that you write that letter,” he said with a grin.  

     “Oh, I thought you were going to write it.” I said.

     “It’s your job,” he said.  You and Delia are the leaders, I’m just an organizer.  You live here, this is your neighborhood.  My job is to make suggestions, help you learn what needs to be done.  Organizers move frequently.  Our job is to build movements, train local leaders, make sure they’re in place, then move on.”   

     We sat down together around my kitchen table; Manuel put his feet up on the radiator, lit a cigarette, and stared out the window, reflectively.  “How do you say you’re sorry when you’re not sorry at all?” he mused.  We both laughed as I hand-wrote a short note of apology to Ms. Herrera.  
Comments