Letter to the Editor

As a resident of the North Mayfair community, I find the tone of Russ Stewart’s column in the July 2 Northwest Side Press highly insulting and a gross misrepresentation of what’s going on in my neighborhood. To devote an entire column to the rantings of Mike Stirk does a disservice to the numerous hard-working volunteers in the community whom he has bullied and offended in the past two years that he has been a visible neighborhood presence. Stewart refers to Stirk as "acerbic and irascible." There are many residents in North Mayfair who would describe him rather as an obnoxious bully with an enormously oversized sense of self-importance.

In his "Analysis and Opinion," Stewart refers to Stirk as "a former officer of the North Mayfair Improvement Association . . . part of a group of residents, including Matt Robertson, who replaced the officers who had run the association for decades." Stirk was, in fact, an officer for less than 5 months, elected unopposed to the vacant position of advertising secretary in December 2013. He took office Jan. 8, 2014, and his resignation letter, to which Stewart refers, was read at the June 4 meeting. He had been visible in the organization for no more than a year prior to his election to office.

Further, the circumstances of the December 2013 election are vastly different than portrayed. The previous treasurer and membership secretary, both of whom had held those positions for several years (but certainly not "decades"), were re-elected without opposition, although the treasurer soon resigned in the face of Stirk’s bullying behavior, and the position remains vacant, according to the NMIA Web site. (Not coincidentally, the association’s web master had also previously resigned as a result of Stirk’s relentless bullying.) The vice president for parks and environment, the one officer who has held his position for more than a decade, was also re-elected without opposition. The current president and secretary were, like Stirk, elected unopposed to vacant positions. Robertson and one other officer won contested seats. No one was ousted who had held office for "decades." Further, during several prior election cycles, various former board members had attempted to persuade Robertson to run for office, but he had previously declined.

Contrary to Stewart’s implication, Stirk had been relentlessly criticizing Alderman Laurino long before he was elected to the NMIA board. His constant vitriolic public attacks (including a "New Alderman for the 39th Ward" Facebook page and frequent postings on Nextdoor North Mayfair), while serving on the board of a 501(c)(3) neighborhood association, were unseemly, at best. He was asked to preface his comments with disclaimers that he did not speak for the organization. Criticizing a public official is not, by definition, political. I fail to see, however, how any fair-minded person could view Stirk’s activities in soliciting candidates to run for political office as anything other than political. I have no idea what the alderman may or may not have planned, but I do know that some neighborhood residents would have challenged the tax exemption had he kept up his clearly political activities, while serving in an office charged with soliciting advertisers for the association’s newsletter and Web site.

Stewart quotes Stirk as saying "(the alderman) failed the ward on Foster Avenue safety issues." It would be more accurate to say that she did not give Mike Stirk what he wanted. There were many residents of the North Mayfair community who opposed Stirk’s ill-conceived plan to reduce Foster Avenue to a bike route with one traffic lane in each direction.

Stirk is correct in his assertion that his attacks on the alderman generated considerable speculation that he was planning to run against her — or perhaps at least to support Robertson in another bid to unseat her. Stewart’s implication that Stirk had any chance of winning is, however, patently ludicrous. The man who threw a screaming fit at an NMIA meeting because another member did not do his bidding would have shown his true colors soon enough and would have faded into the sunset. Stirk’s moving out of state (as he claims he plans to do) may, however, have some small impact in the neighborhood. It may make it possible for some of us who have abandoned the association’s meetings to avoid being exposed to his bully tactics to once again attend without fear of a blood pressure spike.

Candace Gabriel