SOUTH HOLLAND | Robert Storman is ending a 42-year career that saw him work in public relations for assorted government interests in Chicago and the south suburbs.
The last 13 years, he has been a spokesman for Thornton Township Supervisor and Democratic committeeman Frank Zuccarelli.
Yet his retirement isn’t going to stop him from promoting causes and issues he thinks are significant.
Storman said he plans to leave the township payroll the first week of January. Following a visit to his son and grandson in Bellingham, Wash., he plans to spend a significant portion of 2014 in both Iowa and Michigan, visiting sites that once were tourist attractions for African-American people.
The locations were scattered across both states in the early- and mid-20th century, and total about 365,000 acres in size. They were various places where urban-residing black people could get away to experience a country setting without having to deal with racism and segregationist sentiments that pervaded society back then.
“These used to be the places where blacks went from the 1920s to the 1960s when they wanted to get away from it all,” Storman said. “They could not go anywhere else.”
Yet Storman said he senses few people today have any clue these locations ever existed. He calls it his “special project” to promote the history of these places, and perhaps encourage people today to check them out.
“We shouldn’t forget the significance of this story,” he said.
Storman plans to keep his home in the area, but is leaving the south suburban political scene with the belief he has been successful in convincing people how important township government can be. Even though some "good government" activists often criticize it as offering services redundant to what local and county governments provide.
“We offer a food pantry in Harvey that is the second-largest hub in Cook County behind the (Greater Chicago) Food Depository” in Chicago, Storman said, while also mentioning programs that cater to senior citizens.
“It is the township government that often sees challenges and steps up to the plate to try to resolve them,” Storman said. “People don’t often appreciate that.”
Although Storman also is leaving many memories of the accomplishments made in Thornton Township during his time working for Zuccarelli.
Those include political achievements such as Zuccarelli’s electoral victory in 2001 over former Democratic committeeman Frank Giglio, who wanted to eliminate Zuccarelli from the local political scene altogether.
Instead, Zuccarelli has become the all-powerful political person in the south suburbs, heading up a township organization that often produces more votes for Democratic Party candidates than other suburban townships and many Chicago wards.
“I’m going to remember the Giglio challenge," he said. Storman said the rise of the Rev. James Meeks, of Salem Baptist Church in Chicago, to a 10-year stint in the Illinois Senate was a significant moment in local politics because it prevented former Chicago Alderman Robert Shaw and his brother Bill, a former state senator and Dolton village president, from gaining influence.
Storman also said the rise of Calumet City Alderman Thaddeus Jones to a seat in the Illinois House of Representatives is also a significant Zuccarelli achievement he is pleased to have been connected to.
“It has been very challenging, the candidates just go on and on and on,” he said.
Although Storman is not limiting his list of achievements to political people.
He also takes pride in the fact that during the past decade, Thornton Township government has created celebratory events for Black History Month in February and Hispanic Heritage Month in late September/early October, along with a toy giveaway event where lower-income area children get a chance to meet Santa Claus.
“I think we have done a good job of filling the needs of the people who live in the township’s communities,” Storman said. “I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished.”