Dan Pierce, former Highland Park mayor and state rep, not ready to rest on laurels
Former Highland Park mayor Dan Pierce and current Mayor Nancy Rotering showed Tuskegee Airmen James Collins Warren (center) around town last spring. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
SPRINGFIELD: Member of the Illinois House of Representatives from 1965 to 1985
HIGHLAND PARK: Mayor from 1987 to 1995 and 1999 to 2003
Updated: March 26, 2013 3:08PM
HIGHLAND PARK — It’s been 28 years since Daniel Pierce retired from the Illinois General Assembly and a decade since he completed the last of his three terms as mayor of Highland Park.
But don’t expect the 84-year-old, still-practicing attorney to be tuning out politics and government any time soon.
Pierce still holds elected office as a commissioner with the North Shore Sanitary Sewer District and as a member of the State Central Committee for the Democratic Party of Illinois.
Q: Many people would want to take it a bit easy when they reached your stage in life. What keeps you so involved?
A: I have always enjoyed and thrived on politics and government. When I was a boy, I was interested in two things: Playing baseball and politics. I was never good enough to play professional baseball. Just like some kids follow movie stars, I followed politicians and people in government. I would have liked to have gone to Congress but never quite had the chance. The district had a very popular Congressman, a moderate Republican, in John Porter and Robert McClory before that.
Q: If you had to name one accomplishment as a state legislator you are most proud of, what would that be?
A: I was able to chair some important committees. Where I felt I did the most important work was in environmental protections and special education for mentally challenged young people. There was no mandatory special education until 1969. We did provide tuition and transportation to special education private schools when the public schools did not have the programs available. We created the Junior College Act, now called the Community College Act. When I started there were no community colleges in Lake County.
Q: Was the legislature as partisan back then?
A: Because there were two parties represented from almost every district (under the cumulative voting system), we got along better. We would drive down to Springfield together. Sometimes we would have dinner together. Now, if the Republican or Democratic leaders see one of their members having dinner with someone from the other party they are very suspicious that they’re not being faithful to the cause, or that they are giving away secrets.
Q: What stands out during your time as mayor?
A: As mayor, I assumed what made Highland Park special were three things: Good schools, Lake Michigan and a good transportation system to Chicago. It is very easy for professional people to commute. The hardest thing to do was balance a healthy downtown, which we have retained and a lot of towns haven’t. With a residential community, if you put too much attention into the downtown area, some people think you demean the residential part. If you put too much focus on the residential sector, you are not as diverse. We updated our infrastructure and public safety buildings. We worked on affordable housing and adopted one of the first fair housing ordinances.