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I know a secret about a local politician, and I refuse to conceal it

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia-NEWclaudia and burke photo 5-12

Reporter columnist Claudia Parker and state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th) converse over some issues and took time to pose for a photo.

 

It’s been a year since I optimistically strolled into the Illinois State Capitol located in Springfield. I wasn’t there sightseeing, as many of the students I observed on school field trips. No, I was there as an advocate, on official business.

I recall being slightly intimidated by the suits in the room before bravely speaking into the microphone. I’d been invited to share a personal testimony with legislators in a House Appropriations-Social Services Committee meeting. I was pleading for a funding continuation of Respite Care services for Illinois families.

Respite Care makes personalized, in-home care available to families of dependents with autism, cerebral palsy, epilepsy or Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. It’s a state funded program only eligible to those with severe disabilities. I was a recipient of the service for my daughter, Rhonda-Rene, who suffers from a FOXP1 gene mutation that causes several complicated and disabling disorders. In spite of sharing the harm losing the service would cause my family, funding was still suspended- effective July 1, 2015.

The day wasn’t totally ineffective though.

Before giving my speech, I was able to observe the House in session. It was like watching a WWE SmackDown without physical contact. Pretty intense. However, a pleasant experience, for me, was meeting Evergreen Park’s state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th).

An individual in my party stated, “If you write a note to your Legislator saying you’re their constituent, they’ll come out to greet you.”

“Really?” I questioned. I mean, the debates happening on the House floor didn’t seem to lend time for a meet-and-greet. But, I gave-it-a-go anyhow and slipped my note to the guard at the huge door of the House floor.

Within moments, out came a smiling Kelly Burke.

“I’m Claudia Parker”, I told her as I reached to shake her hand. To my complete surprise, she knew who I was.

“Oh yes, Claudia, I read your column in The Reporter,” she responded with a firm shake. We spoke for a few moments. I shared my concerns regarding losing Respite and provided her with a copy of my written personal testimony. Our brief encounter ended with a quick snapshot and she was back to business.

It didn’t occur to me then that that would be the inception of several run-ins where she and I would be supporting the same initiatives.

A couple of months later, we shared a stage during a Southland Rally in front of a couple of hundred people and television news media. I was one of a handful of people who spoke during that rally. My transparency made me feel vulnerable. I held up in front of the crowd but once I got to my car, I had a good hard cry. Kelly walked me off the platform following that speech. “You spoke well,” she told me with a comforting hand on my shoulder. Her encouragement was greatly appreciated.  

The instances I came into contact with her thereafter had nothing to do with lobbying for change. She’s been volunteering in the Evergreen Park Elementary School District. And yours truly has happened to capture a few of those moments on camera. “Well, we just keep running into one another now don’t we?,” I expressed. We recently had a casual chat during a volunteer appreciation breakfast at Northwest School. She’s consistently been warm, sincere, and attentive toward me.

I’ll be the first one to admit, I don’t know much about politics. The little insight I have gained comes from short news segments from television and newspapers, which isn’t the most complimentary. The common sentiment in the media is that politicians are power hungry and corrupt. If one isn’t careful, you could buy in to that notion, especially considering the high profile political corruption cases in Illinois.

That’s why you might agree that the information I’ve learned about Kelly Burke provides a true glimpse into who she “really is” behind closed doors.

Moments before our last encounter at Northwest School, I’d been in conversation with another parent, which I abruptly ended when Kelly walked by. Feeling as though that mom may have felt slighted, I reached out to explain. “My apologies for the swift end to our conversation,” I told her. “That was state Rep. Kelly Burke. I needed to get an update from her on an important issue affecting my family.”

This mom responded, “…I wish I’d known that that was state Rep. Kelly Burke.”

I got a sense she wanted to get something off her chest. She continued. “She saw an article in the newspaper written about an accomplishment of my 7-year-old son and took the time to write him a personal note of encouragement. I would’ve loved to introduce myself to thank her.”

I don’t believe state Rep. Kelly Burke thought this would ever be publicized, but she deserves to be exposed.

She fights for her constituents in Springfield, stands with them during rallies, offering comfort and encouragement, makes herself available for various town hall’s, all while volunteering in elementary schools. She still finds time to write personal notes to students that she’s never met.

Wow!  

I don’t believe Kelly is meeting the needs of the people, she’s exceeding them! My advice to her peers is if you’re going to get caught doing something, make sure it’s something meaningful.