Ald. Nicholas Sposato (back row, center) poses with children helping unlooad toilet paper and paper towls donated by Procter & Gamble for the schools in his Northwest Side 36th Ward. Photo by Mark Brown
Updated: November 2, 2013 6:29AM
Ald. Nicholas Sposato (36th) stood awkwardly off to the side late Monday afternoon as schoolchildren pressed forward for their chance to help unload boxes of toilet paper being donated to their schools.
It took a young public relations representative from Procter & Gamble, flown in from New York for the occasion, to make sure Sposato took advantage of his own photo opportunity by posing him with the kids squeezing their rolls of Charmin.
Some assumed it must have been a joke or a publicity stunt when Sposato put out the call in his ward a few weeks back for toilet paper donations to help out the cash-strapped schools in his ward.
Anybody who thought that doesn’t know Sposato very well. He’s just one of those simple neighborhood guys who hears about a problem and thinks you do what you can to chip in to solve it.
When local parents and school representatives explained to Sposato that under CPS’ new budgeting system, every scarce dollar that a principal allocated for supplies such as toilet paper was a dollar that couldn’t be spent on something else, he thought he’d figured out a way to help.
I doubt it even occurred to Sposato that some folks at CPS and City Hall might not appreciate an alderman drawing attention to the fact that public schools principals in Chicago were being forced to weigh the need to eliminate toilet paper purchases.
But Sposato’s initial efforts drew national attention, along with some 6,000 rolls of donated toilet paper.
That drew the interest of P&G, which came through Monday with two truckloads of its products: 10,000 rolls of toilet paper, 1,800 rolls of Bounty paper towels and 4,300 boxes of Puffs facial tissues.
Sposato plans to deliver everything later this week to the nine public and parochial schools in his ward, apportioned by enrollment.
Accidental or not, it was a public relations masterstroke for the rookie alderman who was left for dead politically by the ward redistricting process that took away some 80 percent of the constituents he was elected to serve by throwing him into a new 36th Ward that is two-thirds Hispanic.
Re-election will be an uphill battle for Sposato, and he hasn’t made it any easier on himself by refusing to abide by the City Council tradition of representing the 36th Ward as it will look in 2015 instead of the one he has now. He believes he owes his first responsibility to the people who elected him, not the ones he will need for his next election. I admire that.
Sposato said this means that he provides services to everyone from his old ward boundaries, as well as anyone turned away by other aldermanic offices because they live within in his new boundaries.
“Needless to say, our office has been very busy. We don’t turn anybody away,” said Sposato, who has been the odd man out at City Hall ever since beating the old Banks-DeLeo 36th Ward Democratic organization two years ago.
Sposato said he knew that his constituents would respond to the toilet paper drive but admits he had no idea what he was starting. He’s now planning to make it an annual event.
Sposato said some schools indicated they might have preferred donated copy paper and toner to toilet paper, but he didn’t think that would be as successful.
“Copy paper just wasn’t as catchy,” Sposato said.
As an indication of just how much the toilet paper is needed, Sposato said one of the school principals in his ward called last week and asked to get an early delivery because they had almost run out.
Sposato said he ran right over to drop off three cases.
By the way, this problem is hardly limited to the schools in Sposato’s Northwest Side ward. At other schools, I’ve heard of teachers just adding toilet paper to the list of supplies each child is supposed to bring at the start of the school year.
CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll responded cautiously to Sposato’s help.
“We appreciate the efforts of the alderman to help offset costs at schools in his ward,” she said. “However, it should be noted that schools in the 36th ward received a net increase in funding over last year. And while every dollar helps, we will continue to experience these tough choices unless we get meaningful pension relief in Springfield.”
That’s a problem that may be beyond the reach of a simple neighborhood guy.