Scott Drury is not a politician.
The presumed Democratic candidate for state representative in the Illinois 58th District (which covers all or parts of Highland Park, Deerfield, Northbrook, Lake Forest and Winnetka) is running for office for the very first time. He doesn't speak in sound bites. He has very clear positions on the issues. He is motivated by ideology, not power. In short, Scott Drury is a regular guy who wants to make things better.
I spent several weeks trying to figure out what's wrong with this picture, and what I realized is that the only thing wrong is our assumption that political candidates have their own agenda. Drury's agenda, shared over an early morning coffee on what the candidate could have considered a day off, is simply to make the State of Illinois a better place for us and our children. Unlike most idealist candidates, though, Drury is well-versed on the issues, has already earned strong endorsements, and is completely at ease with the campaign ahead of him.
Though we grew up in the same part of Highland Park, went to the same schools, know the same people, and now live in the same neighborhood, I only really encountered Scott Drury a year ago. At the time, the city of Highwood was contemplating whether to allow video gambling machines. Drury took the debate out of the hands of industry lobbyists and put it front and center for Highwood residents, who in turn pressured Highwood officials to pass up the money in order to retain city character. A few months later, he announced plans to run for State's Attorney in Lake County, a logical progression for a prosecutor and law professor. The race had barely begun when Karen May announced she would not seek re-election for state representative, and Drury made a now-prescient decision to exit a multi-way race and run for the state house.
While he will have a Republican challenger in the fall, Drury is running unopposed in next month's primary election.
Drury contacted me at the start of the campaign and suggested that we get together. What surprised me is that he then knocked on my door later the very same day, already trying to cover neighborhoods nine months ahead of the general election. We talked for a good 20 minutes that night -- and he never gave the impression that he was anxious to get on to the next neighbor. In fact Drury tells me now how surprised he has been at the warmth he has experienced on the campaign trail. People open their doors, invite him in, offer to work on the campaign. He believes these individual encounters to be critical to his success, as the 58th district is "an intellectual district -- they don't just want sound bites."
During our second discussion, one subject emerges as a hot button. Days earlier, a national candidate had criticized America's public school system. Drury will have none of that. We talk about District 112 and the issue of where the children of Navy officers attend elementary school. Drury doesn't hesitate to call out one of the great anachronisms of Highland Park. While some of our schools underperform on state-wide ISAT testing, Drury notes that all the schools are producing successful students. More importantly, he emphasizes the value of the diversity of student populations.
I often tell people that I didn't realize I was short until I got to college; Drury responds by saying that only in Highland Park could he have been a 150-pound football linebacker. Children of our soldiers should be welcomed into our community, Drury says, embraced for the service and sacrifice their families make; yet here in Highland Park, their presence in some schools is seen as a detriment. This topic then rolls into a conversation about teacher recognition and reward, and how the Illinois pension system is broken; Drury's idealism comes through again, hoping to get elected in order to help solve this problem and deliver to teachers only what they expected when they signed on to their jobs. The schools are not the problem, Drury emphatically says, and he points out that each of us was the successful product of public schools.
As with the day he stopped by my home, Drury the candidate is in no hurry. We happen to be like-minded on many issues, but I get the sense that even if we had disagreed, the conversation would have been cordial and respectful. He seems honored to have the opportunity to run for office, without entitlement or expectation. I even believe him when he says that he wasn't looking for early press out of our meetings, just a chance to talk with a neighbor. In turn, I was disappointed when I ran out of time, as I know we could have talked through the electoral landscape for several more hours.
Over the next several months, I'll be meeting many more candidates in the 2012 election. I can only hope they are all cut from the same cloth as Scott Drury.
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