Exclusive Interview: Casten reaching out to mayors and people of the 6th District
By Jeff Vorva
Congressman Sean Casten doesn’t want to waste time learning about the new communities in the 6th District.
Casten beat out Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau in the November election and was sworn back into office in January. But the district had been re-jiggered and had changed.
In addition to some of his familiar western suburban terrain, he now is serving places such as Orland Park, Palos Heights, Palos Park, Palos Hills, Oak Lawn, Hickory Hills, Evergreen Park, Worth, Chicago Ridge, Bridgeview, Bedford Park, Willow Springs, Countryside, Hodgkins and portions of Chicago’s Clearing and Garfield Ridge neighborhoods.
Before he figures out goals and strategies for his new communities, he knows he will first have to learn more about them.
He is ready to dive in and do that by two methods – meeting with mayors and hosting Town Hall meetings.
“A lot of these communities are new to me from a representation perspective,” he said during an interview with the Desplaines Valley News. “I have my calendar booked to meet with every mayor. Some of them I’ve met before and some of them I have not. It’s to get through and get plugged in.
“So, a lot of things we are doing with the mayors is to get caught up to speed with them on their local needs and we are in touch with our process and screening through those needs and making our own recommendations for the next year. When we get the needs for those communities understood, we’ll be in a position to advocate for them.”
He has also been a proponent of Town Hall meetings and said he averaged one a month during his first term in office.
He hosted an in-person Town Hall meeting in LaGrange on Jan. 21 and planned to meet with Hodgkins and Willow Springs village officials on Feb. 15.
He also plans to hold an in-person Town Hall meeting in Orland Park in March, but a time, date and location have not been finalized.
“The one in LaGrange had 150 people show up, which is just great,” Casten said. “We did a telephone town hall and had 6,000 people on that one. The good news with the telephone Town Hall is you can talk to more people and the bad news is that it always feels more like a conversation when you are in person and it’s more like a lecture when you are on the phone.”
While some Town Halls have a lot of questions and answers about a variety of topics, Casten said he enjoys spending a large chunk of time discussing hot topics.
“Before Donald Trump’s first impeachment, we did a Town Hall just on how the impeachment process works and constitutionally what that means and what the data is,” he said. “It was controversial, but it was important to have that conversation.
“When inflation started going off, we did a Town Hall on what was going on and what we were watching with the economy. We did one on red-lining and the segregation of neighborhoods in Chicago. We can go on and on.”
He said he is not afraid of sharing his views, even if some members of the audience disagree with him.
“When you have issues that are politically controversial and politicians are advised not to talk about them, one of the things I believe is you should do is a Town Hall on it,” he said. “People are respectful if they are in a room.
“I’m not going to disguise my opinions, but I want to make sure we’re all dealing with the same set of facts. I’ve found that really useful.”
In his first month at the helm of the changed district, Casten didn’t waste time trying to inform people throughout the district of the services his office can provide.
“As soon as we were sworn in, we bought the contact information so that we could text and e-mail folks and we sent alerts out to every name we could get saying, ‘OK, here are the constituent services that we can provide,’ ’’ Casten said.
That includes helping citizens with passports, veterans’ benefits and social security checks that are not being mailed out on time.
“We have been completely flooded – in a good way – with responses and so our casework team is geared up,” he said. “It’s a funny thing, I’m proud to be able to do that but it’s also a little bit depressing to see how much of a need there is.”
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