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No city sticker contest, but not because of 2012 gang flap: clerk

City Clerk Susan A. Mendozholds copy new City Vehicle Sticker during meeting with Sun-Times Editorial board Tuesday April 2 2013

City Clerk Susan A. Mendoza, holds copy of new City Vehicle Sticker during meeting with Sun-Times Editorial board Tuesday, April 2, 2013 | John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 4, 2013 6:35AM

City Clerk Susana Mendoza’s plan to shift to year-round sales of Chicago vehicle stickers will eliminate a political headache for the freshman clerk: the annual sticker design contest that became embroiled in a gang controversy.

“There will be no more contest because we’re moving to year-round sales. The sticker will look completely different. It was designed with enforcement in mind, so it’s easy to see when it expires,” Mendoza said Tuesday.

The annual design contest was the “outgrowth of seasonal sales,” the clerk said. Year-round stickers required a no-nonsense design, she said.

“We will have different months of expiration. People charged with enforcing the sticker helped design it so it’s easy for them to see when it expires. It doesn’t have much room at all for any fun designs,” she said.

“The bulk of it will state the month and year of expiration. The rest will have information specific to that vehicle, including make, model and partial VIN number. That is an anti-counterfeit measure. To do it any other way is just not feasible.”

Last year, Mendoza was forced to dump the contest-winning design for the city’s 2012-13 vehicle sticker because student artist Herbie Pulgar’s heart and hands design might be “misconstrued as containing gang symbols” honoring the Maniac Latin Disciples.

The 15-year-old’s design was selected in an online contest. The stickers were just days away from being printed when the allegations of hidden gang signs arose.

At the time, Pulgar joined his mother in tearfully denying that he was in a gang or that the design was anything other than the young man using his artistic talent to try to improve his life.

During the controversy, Mendoza also admitted that tears had been shed in the clerk’s office over the decision and that she would personally give Pulgar $1,000, the amount of the savings bond for the contest winner.

The clerk then chose the design by the runner-up in the sticker contest to put the gang controversy to rest.

But, Resurrection High School senior Caitlin Henehan requested that her sticker not be used in the face of “unwanted media and public scrutiny and criticism of her artwork that soon followed.”

“What should have been a happy accomplishment in her life has now turned sour,” Caitlin’s parents, Marty and Maria Henehan, said in a statement issued by Mendoza’s office.

The Henehan family was reacting to anonymous criticism online about Caitlin’s colorful design, which showed Chicago’s first responders as caped superheroes flying beyond the city skyline, officials said.

Now, there will be no more sticker contest and no associated political headaches for Mendoza, one of Chicago’s fastest-rising and most personable Hispanic politicians.

Asked if she’s relieved to wash her hands of the contest, Mendoza said, “I don’t’ think of it that way. I’m just happy we’re moving to year-round sales. It’s been over 100 years in the making. People will be pleased to see shorter lines and be able to better budget for the cost of their vehicle sticker.”

A City Council committee is expected to approve the change on Wednesday. The first major overhaul of city sticker sales in a century will begin next year after an exhaustive outreach campaign. Sticker sales will be tied to license plate renewal dates.

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