Kadner: Former ‘outlaw’ runs for Chicago seat
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org January 24, 2014 10:30PM
Brian Hopkins | Supplied Photo
Updated: February 27, 2014 6:39AM
I first interviewed Brian Hopkins in 1985 after he had been hauled away in handcuffs from a polling place on Election Day.
Today, he’s planning a run for alderman next year in Chicago’s 2nd Ward.
If you’re thinking, well, that’s just typical of Illinois politics, you couldn’t be more wrong.
Hopkins was the “outsider” when he was arrested, a young college student distributing campaign literature in support of a tax increase for Moraine Valley Community College.
But he had the misfortune of standing outside a polling place in Crestwood, which was run with an iron fist at the time by former Mayor Chester Stranczek, who used a sign outside the village hall to urge a “no” vote on that MVCC referendum.
“I knew it was going to be difficult when I went out there,” recalled Hopkins, a member of the student government at the college. “That’s why the first thing I did was go inside the polling place and ask the election judges where the line was 100 feet from the polling place (the legally required limit for electioneering).
“They showed me the spot, and I put up a stepladder to mark it. I made sure to stay in front of that stepladder.”
But Crestwood police officers arrived, slapped handcuffs on Hopkins, shoved him into the back of a squad car and took him off to the lockup.
“They couldn’t get an election judge to sign a complaint against me because they knew I was obeying the law,” Hopkins said. “So they ended up charging me with a violation of a village ordinance that applied to door-to-door solicitation.”
Burton Odelson, a prominent election law attorney, was an MVCC trustee at the time and represented Hopkins, and all charges against him eventually were dismissed.
During our interview, Hopkins said it had been his dream since he was a kid to run for public office.
When I asked him if the incident in Crestwood had altered that dream, he insisted just the opposite was true — he was more determined than ever to run for elective office so he could do things the right way.
I cynically chided the young man for setting his sights too low. A bright young fellow like Hopkins, I said, should have higher aspirations in life.
“I still have that newspaper clipping of th e column,” he told me Friday. “That last paragraph you wrote made me more determined than ever. I said to myself, ‘I’m going to prove that guy wrong.’ ”
Hopkins went on to the University of Illinois at Springfield, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1991. For the past 20 years, he has been chief of staff for Cook County Commissioner John Daley, the son of one Chicago mayor and brother of another.
“It was a form of public service, but I never gave up my dream of running for office myself,” Hopkins told me. “I just kept waiting for the right chance.”
That chance arrived when the Chicago City Council redrew the ward map last year and revamped (some would say blew up) the 2nd Ward of Ald. Bob Fioretti, who had indicated at one time he might run for mayor. The ward, which once ran through the South Loop, West Loop and Near West Side, now is a zigzag that goes from the Gold Coast to Ukrainian Village.
Hopkins, who grew up in Oak Forest and now lives in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood, saw his chance.
“Fioretti (whose home is outside his new district) hasn’t announced, but I’m running no matter what he does,” Hopkins said. “No one else has announced yet either because 2015 is still a long way off. I have yet to make my official announcement, but I am running.”
A graduate of Sandburg High School in Orland Park, Hopkins said his parents inspired his life of public service.
“My mother has been an election judge for 40 years,” he said. “She never missed an election because she believes it’s every citizen’s duty to vote. She’s my inspiration when it comes to good citizenship.”
Hopkins’ home, like Fioretti’s also lies outside the new 2nd Ward because the map cuts Streeterville in half.
“I will move into the ward before the election, although that’s not technically required by law,” he said. “I’ve been a member of a community organization in Streeterville for about 15 years, and it’s the community organizations in Chicago that can really make a difference in shaping development.
“All of the communities in the new 2nd Ward — Wicker Park, Old Town, the Gold Coast, Ukrainian Village, East Village — have that in common. They all have strong community organizations.
“And if I am elected alderman, I will involve them in all important decisions and consult them on a regular basis. I’m going to be doing that throughout the campaign as well.”
Hopkins said he’s putting white papers together on important issues such as education, crime and business development but likes an idea put forth by another alderman to use off-duty security officers to protect business strips.
“They would be paid by private entities but have full police powers while working off-duty,” Hopkins said. “It’s a way of maximizing police resources within current financial constraints.”
I asked Hopkins how he could defend a life spent in public service, when cynics often ridicule those who live out of the public trough.
“There are a lot of good people who have devoted their lives to making government work,” he said. “And government performs a lot of vital functions for an enormous number of people.
“I’m proud of my public service record. I think I have made a difference for the good. If I had gone into the business world, I could have made a lot more money, but I believe we have a responsibility to the public to make sure the government works for them.”
It’s been nearly 30 years, but Hopkins stills sounds like the idealistic college kid I spoke with in 1985.
“I’m going to fulfill my dream of running for elected office,” he said. “I told you this would happen someday.”