CHICAGO - Whether debating Barack Obama during the 2004 U.S. Senate campaign or slashing "government waste" in the Cook County, Ill., Treasurer's Office, Wheeling native Maria Pappas believes the values and principles she learned during her early years in Wheeling have served her well.
"I have always been able to be successful here because I kept the fundamental basics of Wheeling at the forefront. I don't steal. I don't lie," said Pappas, who grew up at 1001 Warwood Ave.
While taking a break from her job as treasurer in Cook County - which is home to the third largest city in the United States - Chicago - Pappas recalled her days in West Virginia. She graduated from the former Warwood High School in 1967, and then earned degrees at both West Liberty University and West Virginia University.
Upon finishing her work at WVU in the 1970s, Pappas met a psychiatrist from Chicago who urged her to give the Windy City a try. Her education now includes a doctorate in psychology and counseling and a law degree. Pappas has taught across the United States, in Israel and in eight European countries.
Pappas' public career began in 1990 when she was elected Cook County commissioner, a post she held for eight years. She became treasurer in December 1998. Since her election as treasurer, Pappas has remained committed to cutting unnecessary expenses. She has reduced the staff in her office from 250 positions to 114 - and will soon cut the number to less than 100.
Following a successful run as treasurer, Pappas decided to seek the Democrat nomination for the U.S. Senate race in Illinois in 2004. The man who won that nomination and the following general election was none other than Obama, who would become president four years later.
"On the night I lost, I told people that he (Obama) was going to be the next president of the United States," Pappas said. "He was just such a natural and had everything going for him."
Pappas added she considers Obama "a good friend."
In her career, Pappas has traveled around the globe to help teach people how to address problems with public debt and excess government spending. She said the situation in Detroit - in which that city recently filed for bankruptcy protection - is an example of what can go wrong when public employees have too much power.
"Unless there is serious downsizing, you are going to have massive amounts of unfunded debt," she said. "Some people people cannot afford the taxes on their property if they go too high, and may just walk away."
Though she has lived and worked in Chicago for several years, Pappas said she could be enticed to return to West Virginia if the right position would open. She said serving as president of one of the Mountain State's institutions of higher education would be "ideal." Pappas remains active in seminars and think-tank sessions. In the summer of 2003, she participated in the European Union Summit in Greece.
Pappas also is an avid bicyclist, participating in triathlons and long-distance rides for charity, including the 500-mile Midwest AIDS Ride from Minneapolis to Chicago; Cowalunga Tour to benefit the American Lung Association; and two Ground Zero-to-Pentagon rides to commemorate the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"I'll always be a Warwood girl," she added.