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Stick with reality, not perception

Updated: March 11, 2012 8:42AM

Perception is a funny thing.

My perception at this very moment is that City Clerk Susana Mendoza showed herself Wednesday to be one of the more chicken-hearted public officials I’ve seen around here in quite some time.

I could be wrong, of course.

Others will certainly have the perception that it was quite brave of Mendoza to admit her mistake and throw out the winning design for this year’s city vehicle sticker on the basis of concerns that it could be perceived as depicting gang symbols.

Just to be clear, though, she didn’t say she had made a mistake, just as she didn’t say the sticker depicted gang symbols.

It’s the perception, you see. Mendoza said gang experts told her that aspects of the sticker might be “misconstrued” or “mischaracterized” as gang symbols.

Once that perception was out there, the reality no longer mattered, Mendoza explained, even if others — like me — have a totally different perception.

Therefore, I can’t say how much credence you should give my perception that it was easier for Mendoza to throw overboard the 15-year-old special-needs kid who drew the perfectly innocent winning artwork than to go toe-to-toe with those who drummed up the controversy, led by an anonymous blogger whose often vile site is popular with police — or my perception that Mendoza should have called “b.s.” on the paranoia and stood firm.

That’s how it looks to me, but maybe you should check with a better expert, like Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who certainly must have wanted the controversy to go away as fast as possible — with his name set to appear on the sticker.

For the record, this blog, the name of which can’t be printed in a family newspaper (although for those familiar with the terrain, it’s the one authored by an individual who claims to shave in obscure places), makes a habit of using hate words to slur Latinos and African Americans.

But I don’t want to be accused of playing the race card.

No, let’s keep this on gangs and artwork.

Much of the controversy surrounds two aspects of the original winning design by Herbert Pulgar, a Lawrence Hall Youth Services student with an admittedly troubled past. (I guess we’ll have to start running background checks on art contestants, so that we can better interpret their work.)

The portions of Pulgar’s design that roused suspicion are a large heart framing the Chicago skyline and city flag, along with four hands reaching from the top. The heart, we are told, is the favorite symbol of a certain street gang with which Pulgar may have more than a passing knowledge.

Gasp! Let’s not forget it’s also a symbol of love — and will appear in abundance during the next week on all manner of communications in connection with Valentine’s Day. That gang must love Valentine’s Day.

We’ll set aside the fact that Pulgar’s mom tearfully explained that she was the one who gave him the idea to use the heart in his sticker design and move to the hands.

Pulgar’s art teacher, Janice Gould, showed us quite clearly how she taught Pulgar to copy the hands straight from a manual of clip art she gave her students. (Pulgar was her third student to win the sticker contest.)

Ironically, Gould took the hands in question from the cover of a book titled, Teaching Children How to Succeed, written by a noted psychology professor at Ohio State University and published by the William Gladden Foundation. This subversive group “develops materials for at-risk youth, their families and the professionals that serve them.” They must have been duped by some gang-banger, too.

On that book cover, a child’s hands are shown reaching for the stars.

Mendoza, who never spoke with Pulgar after the controversy arose (of course, under her theory, once certain people had that perception, there was no point), wouldn’t say whether she’ll follow through on awarding Pulgar the $1,000 savings bond he was promised as the contest winner.

But she has already taught him a valuable lesson: Don’t bother reaching for those stars, Herbert. The perception is you’ll never make it.

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