Nancy Stevenson embraces idea of fixing politics
VOLUNTEER JOB: President, Adlai Stevenson Center on Democracy
BACKGROUND: Daughter-in-law of Adlai Stevenson II, who ran for U.S. President twice against Dwight Eisenhower
QUOTE: “Money in politics … skews everything”
Updated: July 8, 2012 8:11AM
Nancy Stevenson believes in politics as a noble endeavor.
The trick, the 77-year-old says, is to engage the public in helping to fix what’s broken, restore what’s sound, and improve governments globally going forward.
Maybe. But it’s the foundation of the Adlai Stevenson Center on Democracy, an institution housed in the historic, prairie-style, Libertyville area home of Stevenson’s father-in-law, Adlai Stevenson II, chaired by Stevenson’s husband, former U.S. Sen. Adlai Stevenson III, and of which Nancy Stevenson is the active and enthusiastic president.
“We’re a secret, I’m afraid,” she said of the nonprofit center founded in 2008. “But we’re trying not to be.”
In fact, the center’s been home to impressive programming, such as an exploration of the American presidential nominating process that included in its line-up John Anderson, Edward Burke, Jesse Jackson, Bill Kurtis, Richard Lugar, George McGovern, Richard Norton Smith and Adlai III.
And the grounds, owned by the Lake County Forest Preserve District, offer a chance for the public to tour the historic Stevenson home at 25200 N. St. Mary’s Road, Mettawa.
The site features an exhibit about Adlai II – one-term Illinois governor, two-time Democratic Party nominee for the U.S. presidency in the 1950s, grandson of the U.S. vice president under Grover Cleveland, and great-grandson of Jesse Fell, a close friend of Abraham Lincoln.
“We put together programs we think will be interesting and useful,” Nancy Stevenson said of the center. “I do the followup, the scheduling, organize the database, try to raise some funds.”
Stevenson’s eyes light up behind her wire-rimmed glasses as she talks about a recent program at The University Club in Chicago. It brought together Washington, D.C., lawyer Trevor Potter and former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.
Titled “The Corrupting Influence of Money in Politics,” the roughly one-hour session remains available at www.wbez.org.
“If you don’t mind my saying so, it was fabulous,” Stevenson said of the program, which drew about 250 attendees.
“Money in politics … skews everything,” said the Chicago resident. “It may not necessarily be corrupt. But [politicians] are bound to at least pay more attention to the people who give large sums of money than to the general voter.
“I think it has a lot to do with the cynicism people are developing about politics,” she continued. “As one taxi driver said to me, it really doesn’t make sense. Why does a man raise millions and millions of dollars to run for a job they’ll only earn a couple of hundred thousand for?”
Don’t get Stevenson going on the subject of the new Super PACs and the ability for donors of huge sums to hide behind corporations.
“Freedom of information is a huge issue,” she said. “We’ve been making an effort to raise money for a real study on how peoples in democracies can be better informed.”
How information flows in the modern era presents new challenges, Stevenson added.
“The way the media is now, it’s sort of broken into groups that follow certain causes,” she said. “More people are likely to hear only their side. We need a much broader exposure to both sides – and to the gray area.”
Sue Ulrey, a volunteer at the Stevenson Center on Democracy almost from day one, characterized Nancy Stevenson as a distinct asset.
“She isn’t jaded,” Ulrey said. “She’s all about trying to make things better, and she really isn’t partisan about that.”
Stevenson’s husband summed up what his father, Adlai Stevenson II, likely would think about the center and his daughter-in-law’s contributions.
“He would be horrified by the corruption of our political process and pleased by an effort to restore the democratic dialogue and the values he represented,” he said. “My father adored his daughter-in-law and was always proud of her.
“He has more reason today.”