By KEVIN BEESE
Seniors should not be subjected to business pitches and political campaigns when gathered for a social event, according to the village’s senior services coordinator.
Larry Shapiro, who started the Maywood Senior Club in 2008, contends that too often the organization is used as a marketing tool for businesses or stumping ground for candidates. “We had a sign made that we put in the reception area saying that the Maywood Senior Club is a private enterprise and that only members are welcome,” Shapiro said this week. “Still some elected officials saunter in during the meetings and glad-hand people as they go along.”
Shapiro said he wants the club to be void of businesses pitches and political campaigns and took exception with actions at the club’s recent Christmas dinner.
Shapiro said Trustee Isiah Brandon and Mayor Edwenna Perkins showed up in the middle of the event and Brandon had attendees put down their name, address and telephone number for a raffle, sponsored by Oak Street Health.
“It was a $10 gift certificate to Portillo’s. We aren’t talking about a trip to Vegas,” Shapiro said. “We protect our seniors. We don’t share their addresses and phone numbers with elected officials or businesses … The agency would not have been allowed to participate even if they had called ahead for permission. We don’t want individuals on the for-profit side or government side getting seniors’ information. So many agencies do the same thing. We don’t want our seniors to be deluged with for-profit marketers.”
According to Shapiro, beginning the day after the dinner, Senior Club members began getting calls from Oak Street Health asking them if they needed health care services. One senior received seven calls from the agency, Shapiro said. “I know individuals who have blocked them on their phone,” Shapiro said. “It left a bitter taste in my mouth.”
Brandon said that he went to Oak Street Health to get support for the event and that the agency simply wanted to reach out to seniors to ensure their health needs were being addressed. He said he was just looking to help with the dinner.
“Oak Street Health has a long history of working with residents,” Brandon said. “I went and asked Oak Street Health to be a sponsor. They said they would give a donation of gift cards.” He said getting seniors’ phone numbers was done to gauge whether they might want to get involved in the agency’s offerings.
“They reached out to seniors to see if they were interested in different events,” Brandon said. “It had nothing to do with the election. It had nothing to do with politics. I apologize if there was any confusion.”
Shapiro said the raffle prize was not the kind of support the event, which costs more than the village’s annual financial allocation, needed. “Is that’s Trustee Brandon’s way of saying he supported the event by getting a gift certificate?” Shapiro asked.
“You are saying a $10 gift certificate is worth 200 calls to seniors? Who’s kidding who? It detracted from the spirit of the event.”
Shapiro went before the Village Board’s Legal, License and Ordinance Committee last week and asked that candidates for office not treat Maywood seniors as political pawns. Shapiro said politics also entered the Senior Club earlier this month during 70 members’ visit to Home Run Inn Pizza when Maywood mayoral candidate Mary “May” Larry coincidentally showed up at the same time. Shapiro said that Larry told him that she just happened to be there as she goes to Home Run Inn at least once a month. Larry could not be reached for comment as of press time.
“The whole thing is crazy,” Shapiro said of politics seeping into club activities. “Just leave us alone.”
The village’s senior services coordinator started the club when he worked for former Mayor Henderson Yarbrough. Shapiro, who worked for Karen Yarbrough when she was state representative for the area, said the former mayor never wanted the club for political reasons.
“He never said, ‘Make me look good.’ He only took the position that if we did something for seniors, they may look on him favorably.”
He said thoughts that he is looking to make Brandon, an ally of Mayor Perkins, look bad for the betterment of Henderson Yarbrough, a candidate for mayor again this spring, are ridiculous.
“I’ve drawn a line in the sand, separating government and politics,” Shapiro said. “If anyone intrudes on that, I am going to do what I can to respond appropriately. I am not going to allow anybody who is running for office come in and distribute literature. This whole thing is an embarrassment.”
In his comments last week to Village Board members, Shapiro encouraged officials and candidates to “treat seniors like they deserve, not as votes.”