CITY HALL — Derrick Curtis, the 18th Ward’s new alderman, doesn’t want people to think the title has changed him.
“There are already a lot of people out there saying, ‘Alderman, alderman, alderman.’ I’m not used to that,” Curtis, 46, said.
“I just want people to understand I’m still Derrick, that’s all I can be, I’m still me.”
Curtis, who won a runoff election against incumbent Lona Lane, will officially be sworn in on Monday at an inauguration ceremony Downtown.
Curtis, who was the 18th Ward's Democratic committeeman before claiming victory last month, grew up on Chicago’s West Side with five siblings. He is the second eldest.
Growing up, Curtis said there were gangs in his neighborhood, but he stayed away from trouble. Music was his first love and his escape from everything going on around him. He started singing in church at a young age, and in school he played in a band with friends. He is a percussionist and guitarist.
“Singing really, really calms me,” he said.
His love for music and performing didn’t fade with time: Curtis still plays in a band today.
“Since I’ve been Democratic committeeman for the past three years, we had a unity day party on Labor Day, and I had the band there,” he said.
Curtis said one of his favorite groups is Motown's legendary Temptations. His band performs their old songs, blues and anything that’s requested, he said.
Taking on a political position was never on the to-do list of the father of two, who has a daughter, 17, and a son, 22.
Curtis' foray into politics began when former Ald. Thomas Murphy, who left office in 2006 to become a Cook County circuit judge, asked Curtis to be a precinct captain, and then later, his ward committeeman.
Before that, he had held other jobs, all unrelated to his political career. But Curtis said all those jobs helped prepare him for today.
At age 15, he delivered bills for Peoples Gas. In 1988 he worked as a lunchroom attendant for the Chicago Board of Education. After that he worked at an electric plant as a machine operator, but quickly worked his way up, getting promoted to quality control inspector. It wasn’t until his supervisor wanted to demote him that he left.
"I gave them a card that said, a ship that sails backwards will never see the sunlight," he said. "I couldn’t take the demotion or anything like that. I wanted to always move forward, so I started working undercover narcotics with the village of Maywood."
He added, "It was great, I loved it. I was young and dumb. I had guns put in my face. I had to sometimes portray the crackhead buying drugs."
He stayed there for 13 years, until his son was born. It was on to the next. Curtis accepted a job with the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. He said he enjoyed mentoring young people.
Curtis has been the ward superintendent for the Department of Streets and Sanitation for a dozen years.
Curtis is confident that his collective work experience has fully prepared him for his job as an alderman. He said he always enjoyed helping people, and joked that he has told every girlfriend he has ever had that he is a "public servant."
He also said he believes his election win was meant to be.
“I just feel that what God has for you is for you, and can’t nobody ever change the destiny of your life: It was meant for me to be in this place,” he said, adding that he tried reaching out to Lane during the transition period, but they haven't spoken yet.
Keeping the promises he made during the campaign is the new alderman's primary goal, he said. The biggest issue residents had with Lane was her not being accessible. Curtis said he will break that cycle.
“I’m not going to be in an office; I can’t do that,” he said.
“I want to be outside, sitting on someone’s porch, drinking some Kool-Aid and let them tell me their problems, because most of the time that’s all they want to do, just talk, and they will remember that.”
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