The first time Greg Paulmier ran for City Council, his son drew a picture that showed Paulmier physically running. The youthful misunderstanding was actually surprisingly accurate.
“You’re running yourself to death, man,” one of Paulmier’s campaign workers said as Paulmier handed her a brown, paper bag. And then he was off again, dashing back to his car to continue delivering meals to his campaign workers at polling places.
The 1993 Volvo with over 300,000 miles that Paulmier drove on Election Day was actually a lot like its owner: it may have been around for a few years, but that didn’t stop it from moving right along. This particular election was Paulmier’s fourth, but his political career goes back further than his bids for City Council.
Encouraged by his father, Lou, Paulmier was elected a Democratic committeeman, and later a ward leader. No sooner had he become a committeeman, than one of his constituents called with a demand: that Paulmier do something about an abandoned house on her block.
So Paulmier bought the house, renovated it, and rented it out. It was the start of a lifelong career, as evidenced by the phone call he received from a tenant on his way to the next polling station. Just because it was Election Day didn’t mean the landlord had the day off.
As he drove through the intersection of Wayne Avenue and Hansberry Street on his way to John B. Kelly Elementary School, Paulmier noted the traffic light. Before 1996, he said, there was no light at the crossing, and the community was having problems getting children across the street to school. A crossing guard placed at the intersection was hit by a car.
Then Paulmier decided to lobby the city government for a traffic light, at a time when it was actually removing lights from communities. “We stood in the street for four and a half hours and our neighbors were mad at us and we caught hell,” Paulmier said. But he got his streetlight.
Fifteen years later, Paulmier was no less persistent. Some people have criticized him for it, saying his candidacy helped former Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller win re-election in 2007. But Paulmier does not take this criticism seriously. “Democracy is not an exclusive sport,” he responded when asked about such critiques.
With the lunches all delivered, Paulmier finally made his way to the polls himself, taking his youngest son, Drexel, into the booth with him. Ballot cast, Paulmier began the anxious waiting game.
The energy he showed earlier was still evident, but without meals to deliver, Paulmier paced in and out of his West Coulter Street campaign office and fielded phone calls. The building is one that Paulmier bought and rehabilitated. Then he took to the streets again with a handful of campaign literature and a smile.
A few hours later, after the polls had closed, Paulmier headed back to West Coulter Street. Slowly, campaign workers began to trickle in, and soon the one-room headquarters was buzzing with chatter, laughter and the ricocheting noises of a ping-pong match.
“I’ve got winners,” Paulmier shouted up to the two campaign workers squaring off on the ping-pong table.
But as the night wore on and people began to wander home, the noise gradually died down. Campaign workers and friends periodically wandered over to the small laptop on a corner windowsill to check the election results.
The returns filtered in slowly, but with each update it became clearer that Paulmier was losing ground. “I’m tired of being second, I want to be first,” Paulmier said, half-jokingly.
Around 11 p.m., Paulmier walked over to a bulky radio sitting next to an almost-empty food table. Without a word, he turned up the volume to hear the final election results: he had come in second, in a field of seven candidates. The room fell silent for a moment, before conversation continued again.
Paulmier’s disappointment in his electoral loss was palpable, but he took it with a smile and an eye toward the future. “We’ll continue to persevere and push for better schools and jobs in the community,” Paulmier said.
He noted that he remains optimistic and was grateful to his campaign team for their support. “I feel like we did the best we could,” Paulmier said. He ran his hardest.