Ray Blanco and I were neighbors in the same block of West Seventh Street for most of a quarter century.
Most of that time we were social friends and our contacts had to do with -- what else? -- food and socializing among friends and neighbors, including Ray and Ken's legendary New Year's Day parties.
Though I learned early on of his involvement in politics as friend and protégé of Democratic Assemblywoman Angela Perun, a former city councilor, we never talked politics after Angela's rough treatment at the hands of the party. And neither of us involved ourselves in the hurly-burly of Plainfield politics in those days.
Ray concentrated on his calling as a documentarian: traveling everywhere, producing memorable -- and sometimes biting -- work. And mentoring young people interested in careers in media and communications.
Ray could not resist being helpful.
So, when I asked him early in Al McWilliams' first administration if he would sit on a blue ribbon panel to look into a proposal to develop the long vacant Park-Madison site into a film production studio, he only had two questions: Who else was being asked? Would the panel be free to make any recommendation it saw fit?
Assured, he consented at once. And that has made a great difference for Plainfield in two ways.
First, he took the lead in helping save Plainfield from what could have been an expensive mistake, if not an outright fiasco.
With his understanding of the business as well as the artistic side of film production, Ray quickly determined the proposal was all smoke and mirrors. As he put it to me privately, "These people don't have a pot to pee in." He pointed out that they didn't have great connections in the business, and a commitment by the city would no doubt be disastrously expensive and embarrassing in the long run.
In a few weeks, the panel completed its work. The proposal vanished into thin air when the city pressed for written commitments and proofs of financial viability.
This was a case of due diligence duly done.
And it saved Park-Madison for what was a better project.
The second difference was that through this experience, Ray and Mayor McWilliams became acquainted, with Ray being drawn back into local politics after an absence of many years.
I worked with Ray on the production of a series of political 30-second spots in 2004.
What a whirlwind!
He worked in a frenzy of creativity. We outlined the spots and worked jointly on blocking dialog. This would go on until late in the evening. In the morning, I would awake to find at least one -- if not more -- completely revised scripts in my email inbox.
He used his connections in the industry to assemble a first-class crew.
He obsessed over the 'sets,' the makeup, the camera angles, the indoor shots, the outdoor shots, encouraging the candidates through endless takes and retakes. One candidate he was finally able to 'loosen up' by seeing to it they had a drink, a short break and then a -- successful -- retake.
But that was only the beginning!
It was during the editing that I really learned how demanding and attentive to detail Ray could be. To magnificent effect.
We spent an entire weekend editing the footage down into the five spots. And I mean entire. It was arranged I would be there early in the morning to work with Joe, the editor. Ray would come later, and then the work would really get under way. Until late in the evening. Make that very late.
Everything had to be right. The pacing, the voiceovers, the music, the fades, the graphics. And it all had to fit into 30-second pieces. It was then that I could see what made Ray such a success in his profession.
And it was those same qualities that he brought to his service to the community as a Councilor.
How would Plainfield have benefited had Ray served out a full term? We will never know, but his last public act as Council President -- in the context of a failure by the Administration to observe the rules -- was to declare that the Council "would not be made fools of again by anyone."
Challenging words. And he gave every indication of being ready and willing to live into the challenge. We shall all miss his not being able to.
-- Dan Damon
A memorial service will be held at the Queen City Academy, 815 West 7th Street, Plainfield, at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 8. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Ray Blanco Scholarship Fund at the Queen City Academy.
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