EDITORIAL - Maloof: A model leader, civic cheerleader
The writer Eric Hoffer could have been speaking of Jim Maloof when he wrote, “The leader has to be practical and a realist, yet must talk the language of the visionary and the idealist.”
To this day, Maloof speaks of Peoria with a twinkle in his eye because he is an idealist and a visionary. He knows keenly that opportunities abound here. Maloof knows this because he sought opportunities, created them, benefited from them and inspired others to benefit from them.
Maloof turned 90 last week. His gait is slower, but his wit and capacity for friendship seems to be picking up its pace.
Maloof stands as a testament to vision and leadership. The story of how he became mayor says it all. It was 1984, Thanksgiving Day. At that time, Peoria, and the rest of Central Illinois, was gripped in a recession that seemed it would never end. The U.A.W. was on strike with Caterpillar Inc. Maloof had been on the verge of bankruptcy, bailed out at the last moment by his friend, Danny Thomas. People were turning in their house keys at the bank and walking away. An oft-heard saying was, “The last one to leave, turn out the lights.”
Maloof, rather than taking a defeatist attitude, stood up and said, “I want to be mayor.”
Maloof knew Peoria needed a leader, specifically a cheerleader. He decided to take on the job without being asked. He was criticized. He was laughed at. Yet, Maloof kept saying better days lay ahead for Peoria.
Maloof said it over and over with the conviction of a preacher. A few began to listen, then a few more. Soon, Maloof convinced enough of those left in Peoria to be elected mayor.
When Maloof became mayor, he turned on his charm doubly and, combined with his dogged determination, began working to make what he said about better days lying ahead a reality.
He had ideas. He had volunteers from the community. Maloof and his volunteers spun the chaff of Peoria’s economic woes into gold, turning Peoria into an international media darling.
Maloof saw something special in Peoria then and he still does. He still inspires people to see something special in this city by the river.
And, among the most special things here is Maloof himself.