The Undercard No More -- Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza

With the local media fixated on each of Rahm Emanuel's first 30 days, it becomes easy to forget that two other city-wide elected officials settled into their digs in City Hall a month ago as well.

City Treasurer Stephanie Neely, who after a successful ballot challenge found herself being the last candidate standing, returned to a position not many in Chicago have a clue what the job entails. There is a certain benefit in running unopposed, besides knowing you are going to win -- you don't have to campaign. There are no late night strategy sessions, no volunteer meetings and most importantly you don't have to spend money. The downside is no one has a clue who you are or what you do, which maybe is how Treasurer Neely likes it. Almost 30 days later, and how many Chicagoans are any closer to understanding the role of treasurer?

New City Clerk Susana Mendoza, didn't have that "advantage." Not only did she have a challenger candidate supported by the black community -- she had the unenviable task of defending the importance of the position, as eliminating it became a talking point for mayoral candidates. However, even if she would have found herself unopposed, something tells me the high-strung former state representative would still have been out there knocking on doors and holding campaign events.

With no incumbent in the mayoral race, this was an opportunity to introduce and define oneself as an independent to the Chicago electorate, and it appeared as if the Mendoza campaign not only realized this opportunity but relished in the challenge. It wasn't a traditional campaign for citywide office, in fact the campaign managed to run without the traditional mailing blast that we have all come to expect to pack our mailbox every election season. It was a decision made both out of necessity and choice.

City clerk is normally placed somewhere slightly above Judges and slightly below nonbinding neighborhood ballot questions in the order of public interest on election day. So how did her campaign make her relevant? We have to start with the candidate herself.

With an iconic hairstyle, classic commercial smile, and an infectious energy, Susana Mendoza is one of those people you feel instantly at ease with, as if she was one of your lifelong friends.

And then she begins to talk... to say she is motivated is an incredible understatement.

When I met her, I came pre-warned from my friends in Springfield and prepared for our conversation appropriately. One large coffee with two sugars, two espresso shots and a large cafe Mocha from the Chava Cafe was consumed and yet I still couldn't match the energy level the pint-sized Mendoza was at.

For someone running for a position that is often referred to as the parking/dog license distributor, I expected a more subdued administrative outlook. Mendoza had a vision. She was going to revolutionize the position of city clerk through real innovation and an outlook that the position could be more than the administration of the city parking services. For her it starts with technology.

During the last city election, much was said about Rahm Emanuel's large online media buy, yet no one was doing a better job of mining the tools of social media than the Mendoza campaign. Her campaign embraced new media technology not only as a tool to disseminate information (an underwhelming practice of political organizations), but also as a real engagement platform to expand her brand, make her relatable and still motivate the electorate. The Gery Chico campaign achieved a lot of the similar goals but the ability to humanize the candidate through social media channels was lost -- a factor I can only assume was created because it never seemed like Gery Chico truly bought into the medium.

Maybe it is the fact that despite six terms as a state representative, Mendoza is barely 40 years of age, maybe it is just because she is a closeted techie herself, but outside of possibly Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey, Susana Mendoza is one of the most personally active political social media personalities in the state of Illinois. Her smartphone goes everywhere with her, her battery needing a constant charge. So it wouldn't come as a surprise that she is applying what she learned on the campaign trail to the job of city clerk.

I consider her one of the Gov 2.0 "Trifectas" (which include Rahm Emanuel and John Fritchey): local politicians who see not only the public and political advantage to modernizing and opening the communication of local government, but also sees the monetary advantage as well. One only has to look at the city of Chicago and Cook County government open data initiatives to see the plan in action. The final aspect of that plan is communicating and creating buy-in from the public which is perfectly suited for City Clerk Mendoza and her team.

If you follow her on Facebook you no doubt have seen the constant barrage of reminders on how simple the process is to purchase your city sticker online. If you happen to miss her Facebook posts, she will find you on Twitter and even has a YouTube video out. (What, no Quora or Pegmo Account?) Her goal of 25% of all tickets purchased online is being realized and efficiencies will no doubt be reflected in city's bottom line.

Her plans to streamline and modernize everything from city stickers to business licenses, is not only long overdue, but will finally improve the city clerk process times and customer service. I was more than a little surprised to read on Twitter:

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That is not a typo, the city clerk's office stuffs stickers in envelopes by hand (and in this case the City Clerk herself). It is a simple example of how far our city has fallen behind in embracing technology and how badly we need political leadership willing to push for a real paradigm change. We also need our local government to be open, accessible and approachable. With Mendoza being one of the "Trifectas" we may finally have that, hopefully the next 30 days will be even more innovative than the last.

Filed under: City Council

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