The die-hard Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo fan has been spotted belting out Nirvana tunes during karaoke night at Quenchers in Bucktown. Photos of him in the dunk tank at Do-Division are on Facebook. This guy isn't exactly your typical Chicago politician.
Forget addressing him as Ald. Proco "Joe" Moreno(1st). He tells people to call him simply Joe, his middle name. The title he really covets is "most accessible alderman."
The 40-year-old – who hates any mention of his birthday – is on his way. He tweets regularly, rides with police and hosts a weekend satellite office in a trendy, cyclist-friendly ward that includes parts of Wicker Park, Logan Square, Ukrainian Village, East Village and Humboldt Park.
He landed in the national spotlight last month when he talked of blocking Chick-fil-Afrom coming to Logan Square after its president, Dan Cathy, made anti-gay marriage remarks. During Moreno's whirlwind media tour with stops at CNN and MSNBC, some anchors blasted him for his stance. The Chicago Republican Party has alleged Moreno is violating civil rights. Moreno wants the company to adopt an anti-discrimination policy in its employee handbook or mission statement, a move not required for other businesses in his ward.
To him, neighborhood issues like noise, public intoxication and recent security concerns at the Congress Theater in Logan Square are just as important as ones that make national headlines.
Moreno said the theater has made improvements to provide additional security and reduce noise, saying it has done a "good job" so far. It's heading in the right direction but isn't all the way there yet, he said.
Theater owner Eddie Carranza is careful about what he says about Moreno. He described their recent interactions as cordial but said he feels his business has seen some fallout from past remarks made by the alderman.
"We have a relationship that we're working to make better. But I don't want it to turn into a Chick-fil-A-type situation where I voice something very natural and then for him it could be offensive," Carranza said.
As alderman, Moreno often is tasked with balancing the needs of businesses, residents and community groups.
Anthony Martinez, executive director of the Civil Rights Agenda, an LGBT advocacy organization, says Moreno is a problem-solver.
"I've seen a pattern where he says something and then does it. To me, that speaks volumes in terms of what he is really trying to do with his position," Martinez said.
Moreno was elected in 2011 with 74 percent of the vote, one year after then-mayor Richard M. Daley appointed him to fill a vacancy. He also ran for state senate seat four years ago but lost the bid.
He considers himself a "pragmatic, progressive" politician. Despite a reported tiff with an aide early in Mayor Emanuel's term, Moreno says he has a "very good" relationship with Emanuel.
A tour of Moreno's ward shows how much the Latino alderman reflects its diversity. Like some residents, he's not a Chicago native. (He grew up in Moline, three hours west of Chicago.) He comes from a working class family, speaks Spanish and went to night school to get his MBA. He works as a consultant to a printing company on top of his $110,847 annual city salary.
"I can walk to Empty Bottle, Subterranean, Double Door from my house any night and see—even if I don't know the band—I can go and probably see a good show. And our parks system is fantastic, especially having a daughter, leveraging that is tremendous," Moreno said of the two biggest reasons he moved to Wicker Park 15 years ago.
Perhaps the phrase that best describes him is doting dad. Moreno, who is divorced, spends any spare time he has with his 9-year-old daughter, Ava.
"Joe, as busy as he is, always puts family first. He always puts his daughter first," said his fiancee, Celena Roldan, 36.
Moreno talks about how Ava plays piano and how he taught her to play chess. This fall, he's helping coach her soccer team.
Moreno also squeezes in time to hang out with his buddies at music fests or dive bars.
"When we go out, we make a conscious effort not to talk about Chick-fil-A or anything," said Bill Maliff, 41, Moreno's college roommate. "We just talk about movies we've seen. We talk about our kids. We talk about new bands that are coming out. We try to keep it very light. When he and I get together, we go back to being 19 years old."
Now, Moreno must set time aside for wedding planning. He proposed to Roldan over the holidays; the couple plans to marry in May in Puerto Rico.
Roldan knows the package deal that comes with a relationship with Moreno. When duty calls, he goes: He canceled their first date during the blizzard of 2011 to dig out his neighbors.
"He worries and carries the weight of his job all the time," Roldan said. "And his heart is in it for all the right reasons."
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