JOLIET – Jamal Stockley and Katherine McIntyre, who live in older parts of Joliet, were eating lunch together Wednesday at the Westfield Family Restaurant without knowing they still were in their hometown.
“I thought we were in Plainfield,” Stockley said.
“I thought we were in Shorewood,” McIntyre said.
Both were wrong.
“Joliet,” restaurant co-owner Jimmy Michalopoulos said when asked to verify the location.
“With a Plainfield address,” he added. “Don’t forget that.”
That’s how it goes sometimes on the city’s far West Side, an area often called “Jofield” because of the blending of Joliet city limits with Plainfield mailing addresses and a Plainfield school district.
“It’s still Plainfield, but I pay Joliet water,” said Joyce Scott, a far West Side resident who lives “literally 30 seconds” from her childhood home in an area always considered Plainfield before Joliet began its annexation march westward into Kendall County. Scott still considers it Plainfield.
Election on Tuesday
Those who vote Tuesday in the local municipal elections will see they are voting for Joliet City Council members and not Plainfield village trustees.
But who votes in municipal elections? Turnout is notoriously low. Only 21 percent of Joliet voters cast ballots in 2011, when nine candidates ran for mayor and tried to churn out support.
Randy Williams moved from Chicago to the Wesmere subdivision in Joliet 15 years ago. He has never voted in a Joliet municipal election.
But he did learn while his house was being built that it was in Joliet, and not in Plainfield as he originally thought.
‘You might be in Joliet’
Williams said he was telling a friend at work details about where he was moving.
“I was talking about the Plainfield schools and everything that was out here,” Williams said.
“He said, ‘You know, you might be in Joliet.’ ”
Williams said when he lived in Chicago, he often contacted city officials about what he wanted to see done in the neighborhood.
At Wesmere, he said, there is a homeowners’ association. “We go there with our issues,” he said.
Council candidates are knocking on doors in Districts One and Three trying to drum up votes for the election.
District One candidate Terry Cottrell said some people “were surprised to know that I was running. They were subsequently surprised to learn they were in the city of Joliet.”
A different direction
Cottrell said it’s not so surprising people still are confused. Many people in the area gravitate toward Plainfield, Naperville, Oswego and Yorkville.
“If you’re on Drauden Road, that’s a different culture,” Cottrell said, comparing life along one of the far West Side’s major thoroughfares with that of people living closer to downtown Joliet. “People downtown may think everyone goes to the Joliet water park. But if you live on Drauden Road, you’re usually at the Yorkville water park.”
Some of that simply has to do with location and travel times.
“I live near Plainfield South High School,” said Ray Polikaitis, candidate in District Three. “It can take me a good 20 minutes to get to downtown Joliet.”
City elections typically raise questions about what the city can do to make people on the far West Side feel more connected to Joliet. Cottrell suggests a citizen advisory council of local residents. Polikaitis said he would hold monthly meetings in the district.
District Three Councilman John Gerl said he believes the situation has improved over time. He points to a Joliet fire station, police substation and public works facility on the far West Side.
“From the doors I’ve knocked on, and I’ve been to Kendall County many times, they connect to Joliet,” Gerl said.
To the extent that there is still a disconnect with the far West Side, District One Councilman Larry Hug said it’s a two-way problem. People in the traditional parts of Joliet do not necessarily think of the area as Joliet, he said.
A tough call
Hug tells of a high school football game between Plainfield South and Joliet West where he was a referee. During a break in the action, he posed a question to the two sides.
“I turned to Plainfield South,” Hug recalled, “and said, what city are those guys from? They said Joliet. I said to the Joliet West guys, what town are those guys from. They said Plainfield. I pointed to the water tower.”
The water tower rising above Plainfield South High School says Joliet. It says that because Plainfield South High School is in Joliet. But it does not necessarily clarify things.
Williams said the Joliet water tower is “weird” in a way.
“They have a water tower here that says Joliet, but it’s a Plainfield school system,” he said. “That kind of confuses people.”