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No Winners in City Sticker Controversy

Posted: 02/10/2012 6:13 pm

Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

This popular idiom was never more true, and more dramatic, than in Chicago this week for City Clerk Susana Mendoza.

Faced with some incendiary allegations that this year's winning city sticker design contained covert gang symbols, and with the deadline to go to press with the 2012-2013 city sticker just a few days away, Mendoza had to move quickly.

After the story originated on local police blog Detective Shaved Longcock, news media brought the alleged issues with city sticker design contest winner Herbie Pulgar's artwork to the Clerk's attention Tuesday afternoon. The Clerk's office immediately reached out to Pulgar's school, Lawrence Hall School, to investigate the issue.

"They told me, 'You have nothing to worry about,'" according to City Clerk spokesperson Kristine Williams who was advised there was no basis for the story by school officials.

But based on the alarming photos and other evidence posted by DSL and Second City Cop blog, possibly linking Pulgar and/or his family to gang activity, the Clerk's office contacted the police and the Chicago Crime Commission for their input. Both organizations believed the art could be interpreted as containing gang symbols used by the Maniac Latin Disciples according to Williams.

"The Chicago Police Department and the Crime Commission both said we have to take this seriously," explained Williams. "At this point we had hundreds of phone calls from people telling our office they were not going to put a city sticker with gang symbols on their car."

The Clerk, communicating with school officials throughout the entire dilemma, tried to connect with Pulgar before the announcement to personally explain her decision but was told by Lawrence Hall officials, "'Herbie is too emotionally distraught,'" according to Williams.

At a press conference late Wednesday afternoon, Mendoza announced the 2012-2013 Chicago city sticker would sport the second place winner's artwork.

In reality, the controversy stopped being about the artwork, the intentions behind his design, the artist himself or even Herbie's supposed background the instant the allegations were posted.

Winston Churchill once said, "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on."

Nearly a century later, with the world moving at internet speed, the "gang banger city sticker" urban legend may never be scraped from the windshield of Chicago folklore.

"There was no other option," explained Williams firmly. "She had to make this decision. This comes down to public safety. We had the girlfriend of a gang member call us to thank us because she said her boyfriend would have been shot for having that city sticker on his car's windshield."

Since the decision, the Clerk announced she believes Pulgar is still entitled to the prize that comes with winning the contest and will pay for the $1000 savings bond personally.

In the meantime, the Clerk's office has reached out multiple times to try setting up a face-to-face meeting with Pulgar to explain why she had made the decision.

Some ankle biters in the media say Mendoza could have handled the situation better. She should have delayed her decision, she should have given Herbie the benefit of the doubt, she should have stood up for the "truth" and printed Herbie's design anyway.

It is very likely, based on information from our police sources, Mendoza did the kid a favor by being firm and decisive.

If the controversy played out a few days or weeks longer, even more damning evidence about Pulgar may have come out, making things even worse for the boy.

Williams is right, there were was no other choice.

But that's the problem of being a leader. There's always someone who's going to be unhappy with the tough decisions they have to make. Because you see, leaders don't have the luxury of writing about something after the fact. Leaders actually have to make decisions and sometimes, even the right decisions can be painful.

In Chicago and Illinois, political leaders have spent decades putting off making difficult decisions and we can see where that has brought us--a city drowning in debt and a state with the worst credit rating in the nation and literally, verging on financial collapse.

Mendoza deserves credit for bucking this spineless trend and for having the guts to make the correct, but polarizing decision.

"She's very upset about it," Williams says softly. "This was not an easy decision for her."

Armchair quarterbacking the head coach when the game is over is easy.

But there's a problem with using a sports analogy here.

Because in this case, unfortunately there are no winners.