Friday, March 31, 2017

‘I’ve Got Thick Skin’: We Talk to the Pro-Trump Mayor Who Was Running From Us

After spending Friday searching for him, we met with Mayor Roger Claar of Bolingbrook, Ill., at City Hall. He had been a bit difficult for us to locate since a fund-raiser he helped organize for Donald J. Trump became an issue in the village’s mayoral race.
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Mayor Roger Claar’s campaign office. Credit Taylor Glascock for The New York Times
BOLINGBROOK, Ill. —It was supposed to be an easy glide to yet another term for the longtime mayor of this suburb of Chicago. But then Mayor Claar helped throw the fund-raiser and things got complicated. Jackie Traynere, 54, a labor organizer, is mounting an ambitious challenge against him. Here’s the story of one village election on Tuesday that has become as much about Mr. Trump as the candidates on the ballot.
• Ms. Traynere was so mad about the fund-raising event last fall that she decided to run against Mr. Claar. The Democratic apparatus in Illinois — senators, members of Congress, you name it — is lining up behind her.
• Mayor Claar hadn’t answered our interview requests, so we had been hoping to catch up with him Friday.
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• Finally, we talked with him at City Hall — he does not regret the fund-raiser, though he has been disappointed by the reaction.
Here’s how the search unfolded.

First up: visiting the “Rog Mahal.”

A little about Bolingbrook, 30 miles southwest of Chicago: About 74,000 people live here and it’s fairly diverse. The mayor’s race is officially nonpartisan, and usually only several thousand people show up to vote. But with a challenger to Mr. Claar and all the attention on the race, this year could be different.
The “Rog Mahal” — also known as the Bolingbrook Golf Club — was the scene of the fund-raiser for Mr. Trump. It was built by the city for $36 million in 2002, according to The Chicago Tribune, and many people in Bolingbrook see it as a sign of lavish excess.

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Residents of Bolingbrook voted early in the mayoral race at the Fountaindale Public Library on March 24. Credit Joshua Lott for The New York Times
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Next stop: Campaign headquarters.

Mayor Claar’s election HQ is along a stretch of strip shopping centers, tucked between an optometrist’s office and a cellphone store. Campaign signs are plastered on the glass doors, and little wooden Uncle Sams decorate the entry. Three workers are milling around. One of them: the mayor’s wife.


Ms. Claar was polite but said she had nothing to add about how the campaign was going or why Mayor Claar might not want to meet. Onward.

It’s lunchtime in Bolingbrook.


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Mayor Claar’s opponent, Jackie Traynere, a Democrat (in blue jacket), with supporters at Sophia’s House of Pancakes. Credit Taylor Glascock/for The New York Times

Around here, Mayor Claar has plenty of fans. Everyone seems to know him. He’s been around through this village’s expansion. Subdivisions have replaced cornfields. The population has almost doubled since 1990, and Mayor Claar has been there through it all.

The mayor’s challenger says Trump’s rhetoric ‘doesn’t jibe with our town.’

At Sophia’s House of Pancakes, Ms. Traynere is meeting with supporters over club sandwiches and bowls of soup. She seems energetic and talks fast, but she also says she’s starting to come down with a cold as her campaign reaches the homestretch. Her complaints about her competitor, the mayor? She says the village’s debt is too high. She says he runs the whole village – top to bottom – and that he can be a “bully.” But most of all, she says the Trump event turned her stomach.
“Trump’s own words,” she says are what threw some residents here for a loop. Bolingbrook is 20 percent black, 25 percent Hispanic and 11 percent Asian — a big change, she says, from when she was growing up here. “The way he talks about minorities,” she says, “that’s not what we experience in our community. That just doesn’t jibe with our town.”
She goes on: “When people realize that that was the mayor who brought him here, that definitely turned their head to think, ‘hmm, maybe I ought to look at a few other things.’”


But why is such an array of prominent Democrats lining up behind her for a little municipal race? Critics say it seems a bit much.


Her supporters don’t seem the least bit troubled by all the backing, though. They’re thinking more about the mayor and the fund-raiser.


Off to City Hall — we need to find Mayor Claar.
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Finally, the mayor speaks.

After a wait in the lobby of Bolingbrook’s municipal building, Mr. Claar suddenly appears in the doorway.
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Mayor Claar agreed to speak to us. “You walk in here and I’m supposed to come running. Well, let’s do it,” he said. Credit Taylor Glascock for The New York Times
Mayor Claar has gotten word of our search for him, and is actually clutching a printout of the story we have been writing today. For the record, he acknowledges that he has gotten our earlier phone messages and email requests for interviews, but says that he simply had not wished to talk to us. That said, he shows us to a conference room and patiently takes more than half an hour of questions.

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Mayor Claar in the meeting. Credit Taylor Glascock for The New York Times

The mayor says that the fund-raiser he helped throw for Mr. Trump is the essential reason that he finds himself with such a hard-fought race. He doesn’t regret the fund-raiser. Not at all, he says. But he adds: “I’m disappointed that some people will take that one thing over 31 years and that’s it.”


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