CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot isn’t the only Chicago politician leaning into social media and other digital tools to keep up with residents during the coronavirus outbreak.
Measures to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus in Chicago have closed many businesses and workplaces, including aldermanic offices. But while aldermen and their staffs work remotely and practice social distancing guidelines, their services are needed more than ever, with residents seeking help in coping with the outbreak.
“We’ve seen an uptick in questions and concerns” regarding coronavirus, Ald. Matt Martin (47th) said. “We’re trying to be nimble, to be responsive but also to have as personal a way to communicate as possible.”
To help residents in this time, many elected officials have turned to social media and tools like digital meeting platform Zoom to perform their public duties.
Aldermen are also getting in on the light-hearted social media fun. Martin has produced his own meme-able photos encouraging residents to stay out of parks. Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) uses bitmojis in her email updates to help share coronavirus information in a fun and personable way. Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) makes his own infographics to share on social media.
“For us, it’s about relying on the resources we have,” Vasquez said. “We want to make sure people feel connected through it all.”
Aside from keeping residents informed on coronavirus updates, aldermen are also working to perform their regular duties, albeit in a virtual space.
In the 47th Ward, Martin regularly holds “ward nights,” which allow residents to come in the office for one-on-one help with specific problems. Now, the office is holding “ward night in,” where residents can sign up for virtual meetings with Martin and his staff.
“A ward office, we’re on the front lines of responding to these issues,” Martin said. “We’re being as responsive as we can be.”
Ald. Sophia King (4th) said her office has moved all of its regular duties and outreaches to the digital realm, including her response to the coronavirus outbreak.
That includes a webinar held for South Side small businesses left reeling from the outbreak. Over 100 business owners and managers joined the meeting. It was the first such meeting virtually attended by Gov. JB Pritzker’s office, and U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Chicago) joined the meeting from the floor of Congress, King said.
“I would have held the meeting in person in much the same way, but we did it virtually, and it worked really well,” King said. “We’ve just switched everything, and are really getting familiar with doing everything virtually.”
The virtual services are not without their issues. A Zoom press conference held jointly by Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) and state officials Tuesday was highjacked by someone who began to broadcast pornography.
There’s also the issue of access to the internet. Not every resident can jump on an e-meeting. For some, walking into an alderman’s office is more convenient.
“We used to get walk-ins, and they might not check in digitally,” Vasquez said.
The coronavirus outbreak is new territory for everyone, including elected officials. Politicians are using the tools they have to help as best they can in this unprecedented time.
“I’m working harder from home than I ever did from an office,” King said with a laugh. “If I can work in sweats, I can get a lot more done.”
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