Among the 21 people who filed nominating petitions to run for mayor of Chicago was Conrien Hykes Clark, an 87-year-old Roseland resident who volunteers four days a week at a Chinatown elementary school where they call her “Grandma Clark.”
Grandma Clark is a Mississippi native and former public housing resident who now lives alone with her tabby cat Gold Dust in a modest house owned by her niece.
There’s a poster of the 10 commandments in the front window alongside her handmade campaign sign.
“Running for Jesus” is Grandma Clark’s campaign motto, which brings us to how she decided, against all odds, to become a mayoral candidate in the first place.
“It really wasn’t my call. It was God’s call,” Clark told me. “He kept calling me and pulling my toes. I couldn’t sleep.”
“Yeah, that’s the truth,” she said, recounting how it reminded her of when her grandson, when he was just 2, used to wake her up by pulling up the covers and biting her on the foot.
Lately, the city’s violence has been weighing heavily on her.
“Something happened on the South Side, and I was laying there crying,” she said. “And all the peoples running for the mayor, and a voice just said: ‘Why don’t you run?’ I thought it was just me, but it worked out that it was the Lord.”
So let’s stop right here before anyone accuses me of making fun of a sweet old lady and her faith. And sweet she is, so much so that I felt compelled to set aside my reporter’s detachment and give her a hug upon parting company.
I’m sure the second- and third-graders at Haines Elementary School feel the same way about her. Grandma Clark says she loves everyone at Haines, which helps explain why she makes the long trek daily via CTA to a school located in a neighborhood she left years ago.
The last thing I want to do is hold her up to ridicule. Not that I’m suggesting you take her seriously as a mayoral candidate either.
But meeting her got me to thinking: What possesses anyone to think they should run for public office, especially a job as big as mayor of Chicago?
Hunger for power? Usually.
A selfless call to public service? On rare occasion.
Divine intervention involving the toes? Who am I to say?
If we were to dismiss candidates on the basis of their belief that God wants them to be mayor, then we’d have to knock out at least half the field. Just because the others don’t say it aloud doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking it.
And of the half that doesn’t believe they’ve got God’s endorsement, most of them already realize they’ve made a pact with the devil.
Does Grandma Clark have any business running for mayor?
Not according to my conventional way of looking at it. But, again, who am I to say her effort doesn’t serve some larger purpose.
Either way, the days of Grandma Clark’s candidacy are numbered.
Mayoral candidates were supposed to submit 12,500 signatures of registered Chicago voters. Serious candidates turn in at least twice that many.
Clark said she never counted her signatures, but records show she only submitted six petition sheets, which means fewer than 120 names total.
That leaves her 99 percent short of the minimum requirement. She can expect to be removed from the ballot in short order by the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, even if her opposing candidates don’t bother to challenge her.
“I turned in what I had,” she said. “It wasn’t no lots of them, but I started this mission, and I wanted to keep it going.”
Clark says nobody else urged her to run, and nobody helped her. In fact, most tried to discourage her, including family members, usually telling her she was too old.
I wish I could tell you Grandma Clark is full of sage wisdom about what the next mayor of Chicago needs to do, but that’s not the case.
“I really don’t know how to be no mayor,” she said.
But she also said she’s teachable and would approach it like any of the many other jobs she’s held — in factories, stores and restaurants.
Clark recalled how, in her first supervisory position, she had to tell her balky subordinates, “I’m not looking for no friends. I’m down here to do a job.” After a while, “all of them just loved me,” she said.
That might be Grandma Clark’s best lesson for the “real” mayoral candidates.