His hands are soft — no calluses — but the shovel Ald. Ricardo Munoz wielded Wednesday morning to patch potholes was more of a prop in a bit of aldermanic theater that played out in the 22nd ward.
Munoz, dressed in a floral color striped button up, stopped shoveling to explain that he has been pilfering asphalt from various city work sites this week, loading it into the back of his new Ford Explorer and using it to patch the most egregious of the hundreds of potholes in his Little Village ward that have gone unfilled.
“It is a stunt, okay, but the stunt is to make sure the Department of Transportation comes out here and fills these potholes,” he said. “I want to get the attention so the Department of Transportation reacts and takes care of these potholes.”
He says transportation officials have told him in the previous weeks: “We’re understaffed. We don’t have enough trucks. We’re dealing with it citywide.”
“The bottom line is my neighbors are fed up and so we’re taking matters into our own hands,” Munoz said.
“I’m hoping the department gets the sense of urgency to deal with these potholes,” Munoz said.
Munoz says folks in the neighborhood see him and tell him “It’s about f—— time!”
“We can’t deal with all of them,” said Munoz, who expected an angry call from the Department of Transportation Wednesday afternoon. “But we’re dealing with the worst ones.”
Department of Transportation spokesman Peter Scales said crews have filled more than 750,000 potholes around the city since the beginning of the year, including 6,350 in the 22nd Ward alone. “We’re filling potholes at a record pace,” he said.
The number of open requests to fill potholes in the 22nd Ward is low compared to other parts of the city, Scales said.As far as Munoz’s gorilla DIY methods: “I don’t know if I want to comment on that in particular,” Scales said.After meeting with other Great Lakes mayors at the Shedd Aquarium to discuss water quality, Mayor Rahm Emanuel was asked about the decision by Munoz to “re-appropriate asphalt” from other city job sites to deal with the rash of potholes.
“After [last] winter, all cities experienced it. Our roads were old. [There was] tremendous degradation. We had a record paving season. We’re gonna finish up at 355 miles [and] 1,000 miles in four years out of the 4,000 miles in the city. But, there is more work to do. And there’s no doubt about it,” he said.
“The good news is that a newly-paved road for Chicago lasts for about ten years. An old road, you’re gonna get degradation from potholes. And I wanted to make sure that our neighborhood streets received the attention. I don’t know his idea. But, we’re gonna do what we need to to make sure the streets — whether they’re main streets or neighborhood streets — are passable.”
After a brutal winter that wouldn’t quit—with heavy snow and wild temperature swings — Emanuel declared a very public war on potholes that prompted a record number of damage claims against the city.
Well aware that potholes bigger than the surface of the moon can cause a political blow-out for politicians, he sent out an infinite number of press releases, added crews and directed his staff to scour the budget for additional funds to re-pave roads, instead of just plugging holes.