My name is John Fairman, and this is my “bio.” Most people in Chicago politics believe that an official bio is supposed to trumpet our accomplishments, maybe even brag about how we are better than our opponents. And, of course, they’re supposed to be drafted in the third person as if 1) we’re dead, or 2) much too busy to write about ourselves.
But Chicago has had enough of resumes, of experiences and accomplishments that flickered and died when it really mattered. How many politicians can we name who listed pages of accomplishments only to let us discover it was fluff, pockets of words on paper to meet someone else’s agenda?
What Chicago needs now is neither politics nor lists; it’s character. So, I’m speaking now, as myself to you, about who I have become amid the context of what I have accomplished; how my life has shaped my achievements and how my achievements have shaped me.
In 2001 I became the first student to be part of the Mickey Leland Congressional Fellows Program from Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University. During my time in the program on Capitol Hill I helped draft legislation dealing with the Enron Debacle of 2002 and worked to secure millions of dollars in appropriations for educational purposes. Though I never knew what it meant to be truly hungry, I knew, I saw, many that did. During my time in the program on Capitol Hill I worked tirelessly to secure millions of dollars in appropriations to fight hunger. This fight, this responsibility, was so important to me that I was forced to fight for both credit hours and the program’s ultimate establishment. Now, hundreds of students have completed this program, many of whom have gone on to have successful careers in public service or politics. My continued efforts in maintaining the Fellows Program in Washington, D.C., accompanied by my newly-found purpose to understand and enforce justice among the Illinois criminal court systems, gained the notice of Cook County officials.
In 2007, Illinois Chief Judge Timothy Evans selected me to redesign the court appointed in-court bar program for all of the county courthouses. This included coordinating with local bar associations, judges, and lawyers to establish an inclusive program, allowing all qualified attorneys to participate in a program which allows low income individuals to retain qualified attorneys at a reasonable cost.
So, what has all this meant to me? It’s that accomplishment is not a sum of circumstances, it’s a building of choices. Perhaps some have worked, and some have not. But experience is what we achieve when we can’t achieve what we wanted. None of what I have discussed above came without mistakes. And by mistakes, I mean realizing the problem and owning up to the problem when it was my responsibility to do so. In being that aware, look what I accomplished; look what we can accomplish together.
I turn to my personal life as my ending note. In 2007, my mother passed away. While I was incredibly fortunate to have my wife of fifteen years as my support, I was a grown man with a life, with children. My sister, however, was still a child herself, needing family and guidance. My wife and I chose to claim guardianship over my sister as well as her best friend. I am blessed to report that my sister has since gone on to graduate from high school, college, and secure a job in the area of counseling here in Illinois.
Family, among all, is everything, and it’s what I keep beside me every day. I remember it when I see my sister, my wife, my kids. I remember it when I receive emails from the kids I’ve mentored who now ask me which professors they should avoid in law school. I remember it when I hear of the wrongs in Cook County Jail, how those serving time have families who care just as much as those as I do for mine, how those guards and staff are also there for their families.
None of my decisions were without trial and error, mistake, regret, joy or accomplishment. Above all,
I am the man in the arena.
I am the man making the decisions, taking hits, feeling bruises.
I am the man fighting. There will be many who critique me from the stands, you included, but even you need someone to fight for what is right and fair.
And if I fail, at least I failed Daring Greatly.*
This is my story, with no apologies, with every hope to do what’s best for this great life we live in Chicago and beyond.
*based on an except from Roosevelt, Theodore. “The Man in the Arena” excerpt from “Citizenship in a Republic.” 23 April 1910, Sorbonne, Paris, France.