Ald. Proco "Joe" Moreno (1st) speaks during a City Council meeting. (Tribune file photo)
Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st) laughs uncomfortably when asked about the “hipster alderman” label.
“I kind of think of ‘hipster’ as being more, in my personal opinion, a little bit of a poseur. Doing it because it’s cool to do now,” said Moreno, 39. “But I would say ‘contemporary.’ If it’s used in that sense, I love it.”
It’s easy to see why Moreno has garnered the label. He’s done interviews in which he talks about the bands he loves and the small, local venues (Empty Bottle, Subterranean) where he loves seeing them. He supports the arts and works with Johalla Projects to bring more public installations to his ward. He holds monthly meet-and-greet happy hours at local bars such as Happy Village and Salud. He’s social media savvy and uses Twitter to update his followers about ward happenings. He has refused to let Walmart move into his ward, claiming that it would be a better fit for food deserts: “I don’t have a food desert,” he told CBS in May. He’s fighting to make Chicago the most bike-friendly city in the country. And, in an effort to support small businesses, he proposed to City Council earlier this month an ordinance that would allow lawyers, chefs, retailers, salon owners and others to live in the same places they work (which right now, only artists can do).
Moreno spoke with RedEye about how he relates to his diverse constituents and the kinds of contemporary interests he shares with them.
On moving to Wicker Park:
“Someone asked me once, ‘Are you interested in all this stuff because it’s your constituency?’ I said, ‘No, it’s the opposite. I moved here out of college 14 years ago because I was interested in music and in fashion and art and in environmental things, not because people are out there doing it.’
“Most of the folks that were gradating college at the time — and still is the case today, but it was even much more so then — that they moved to Lincoln Park or Wrigleyville or whatnot. There wasn’t lots that moved here, except for me and a couple friends.”
On the changing neighborhood:
“I’ve always said that some of the changes are great; some of the changes are not so great. It was a little more affordable, but I would still submit that you see what you want to see in a neighborhood, I live next door to a Section 8 public-housing unit on one side, and on the other side is a million-dollar-plus home. Wicker Park and the surrounding area is still more diverse, still more affordable, still has a lot of things going on than other North Side neighborhoods. But there wasn’t as much action on Division Street; there wasn’t as much action on Milwaukee. Some of that’s good; some of that’s not so good. I think it’s great that we have more things now than we had then, but you still want to be cognizant of the people that are here and what they liked about it 15, 20 years ago.
“Look at even Division Street. Let’s say, from a non-taste, in other words, you don’t like a certain bar, but if you look at [Division] from Ashland to Western, there are really only two nationals out of all the restaurants and bars and shops that we have. We have one Starbucks, one Jimmy John’s. Those came after the independents came and built it up. People are like, ‘We’ve gotta bring these national guys in to spur development.’ Well, that didn’t happen in Wicker Park. There’s only two still. That’s maybe two too many in my personal opinion.
“There’s the CVS, but there’s still Sahar, there’s still D & D Liquors. They both do very well. There’s still Rite Liquors — now, I’m using liquor, but all of those serve different things, and they compete with CVS [which doesn't sell liquor — yet], and they’re all doing very well. Actually I supported the CVS because, to save that bank, which we wanted to save as a treasure, the only way financially to do it was to have a national partner. An independent wouldn’t be able to finance and support that. And then we have a local killer restaurant on the underground.”
On supporting local arts:
“[I enjoy] especially the music of the neighborhood and the art scene and the theater, and not just going to a show once in a while, but really supporting their events and getting people to go, so that the Empty Bottle and Double Door and Subterranean, so that they exist and that we’re gonna spend our dollars there. We’re not gonna spend our dollars at Hooters or something.”
On the bars in Wicker Park:
“I support [sports bars] as an alderman, definitely. We’ve got a few on Division now, which we’ve never had before, and they do well. It’s just that I’ve got so many choices, I would choose other places to go first. I like to participate in sports; I don’t really care to view them. But I still would submit, even with the sports bars, it is nothing like going to Halsted Street in Lincoln Park. Nothing against that neighborhood — that’s cool — but it’s pretty much the same bar with a different name over and over and over and over again. [In Wicker Park] these are my favorite places, just to get a drink: Zacopane, Rainbo Club, Goldstar.
“For instance, the Rainbo Club: I would go there because they play incredible music that I love, not live, but they DJ. I always said, one of my dream jobs, and they didn’t have to pay me, would be just to let me bring my record collection there and DJ, play music for the night.”
On how he relates to his constituents:
“I think that when you have a diverse ward and you have a diverse background — I’m Latino (my dad’s Mexican, my mom’s not) — so I can by definition, just on paper, I can speak to different constituencies well, by just life experience.
“I love all my colleagues, but I would submit that we have the most successful office in terms of the things that we do, like 1st Ward Thursdays. I do a satellite office every weekend that I rotate around the ward. Last summer I went to every block party but two, and we had like 38 block parties. And I’m planning on going to the same percentage this year. I’m very accessible to [my constituents], and whether we agree or disagree at the end.”
On cycling and Chicago:
“It’s liberating to bike, I think. And not just biking for recreation — bike for mobilization, transportation. And so when I was in the position to do something about it besides agitate — which I did, bring it up as an issue — now we’re kind of still in that agitate/advocate stage. But now we’re getting some wins. We’re gonna have the first on-street bike parking in Wicker Park, in the city. It’s going to be right at North and Damen.
“I’m throwing it out there, a very bold idea to put dedicated protected bike lanes on Milwaukee, from California to downtown. I’m starting that conversation right now and saying, ‘Look, this is something I really hope that we would get started on in the next four years, and it has so many fantastic components: health, environment and quite frankly speed, getting people around the city quicker.’ It’s the guy, when I went to Sevilla to go to the bike conference — I’m stealing his phrase, but we have to look at biking as making it available … for everybody from age 8 to 80.
“So the seniors feel safe, and maybe they’re on a three-wheeler with their groceries, but also the 8, 9-year-olds who want to ride to Wicker Park down Damen Avenue — their parents, and they feel safe as well.”
On social media:
“First of all, it’s the communication of now and the future. A decent amount of my constituency communicates through social media, but also it’s efficient, and it’s cheap, if not zero. I had a discussion with the city — I don’t want them sending me a fax ever again. At my business in the last year, I received one fax, that I know of, in a year. I receive faxes daily here. It’s just ridiculous.
“[Social media] is efficient, it’s contemporary, and we’re on top of it all of the time. I get service requests from constituents now via Facebook. I get requests for meetings and things via Facebook. It’s not just a toy anymore. It hasn’t been for a while. I don’t post a lot of personal stuff, if any, on my Facebook — that’s how I’ve chosen to use it. And I gotta do a fan page pretty soon because we’re almost at 5,000 friends.
“I want to do a Twitter bike for the 1st Ward. So the only thing that is required is that you have a decent Twitter account, and then we give you a bike, sponsored by me and the local bike shops, with advertising on it. You agree to ride this bike, the Twitter bike, this 1st Ward Twitter bike — it’ll be a nice one — for a week, two weekends, so nine days. And you agree to Twitter about cycling — good, bad, indifferent — and about cultural events in the 1st Ward.”
On Green Music Fest and Yo La Tengo:
“Yo La Tengo’s coming to the Green Music Fest, which is, if not my favorite band, one of my top favorite bands of all time. And I’m creating T-shirts that have, in the front … these little Chicago flags, and then on the back — there’s a song that’s called ‘Georgia vs. Yo La Tengo’ — Georgia [Hubley] is the drummer — and I have on the back this really funky design that says, ‘Alderman Moreno vs. Yo La Tengo.’ We’re gonna sell them at the fest, and the proceeds are going to help — because kids in our schools need musical instruments — buy some musical instruments.”
An earlier version of this story misstated Moreno’s age.