Anyone who knows Maria Pappas knows that this isn’t an April Fool’s joke. On the contrary, the Cook County Treasurer, whose Chicago-based government office has the bland responsibility of collecting billions of dollars of real estate taxes every year– is anything but bland.
Pappas is one of the most colorful and popular politicians in the City of Chicago, often seen marching in parades with her dog in one hand and twirling a baton in the other, or hanging upside down from the ceiling in a yoga pose, encouraging her thousands of Facebook fans to “blow it out kids.”
She even instituted an annual holiday in her office– the Cutting of the Vasilopita, held every January in the Cook County Building, which is adjacent to Chicago City Hall.
The Vasilopita, she says, is her way of wishing Cook County residents a good start to the New Year, the Greek way, adding that “If everyone else can have their holiday, the Muslims, the Jews, all of the other Christians– why can’t we?”
Well, in typical Maria Pappas fashion: Meet iguana.
That’s right. Iguana. Don’t laugh. Before you know it you’ll be singing along too.
“At a time when children may need the comfort that only a pet can provide, an electronic iguana might be the perfect answer,” Pappas says.
The iguana appears on “Me and My Iguana,” an online video produced by Pappas, Tim Maeder and Frank Lucas. In the video, a child and an Iguana share activities that emphasize friendship while a young voice sings the original kids tune, “Me and My Iguana.”
Quirky? It sure is– but as a trained psychologist, Pappas knows a thing or two about how people are feeling and how to give them exactly what they want to soothe them.
When the City of Chicago taxed plastic grocery shopping bags a whopping seven cents per bag, Pappas introduced her ‘Maria Pappas Bag’ and distributed them to 200,000 people.
Emblazoned with the bold words MARIA PAPPAS BAG on each one, the bags were filled with information about how property owners could use her website to search $94 million in available refunds going back 20 years.
It was classic Maria Pappas brilliance. In a single month, almost a million people visited the website to claim money they were owed– and they had a reusable grocery store bag they could use to avoid the seven cent bag tax.
The idea is for the electronic iguana to provide companionship and diversion to out-of-school children during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Iguana is not known for its handsome looks. But our Iguana offers a beautiful message for children of comfort, enjoyment and fun,” Pappas said.
“As a lizard, an Iguana ignores comments about its looks and just goes about its business of eating insects. Our electronic Iguana is polite and friendly, and an understanding companion to children who would rather be in school but can’t.”
Pappas, a West Virginia native, studied music in high school and college and plays several instruments.
Partners on the project, Maeder is a multimedia designer, musician, song writer and producer who has collaborated with Dee Snider, Jennifer Lopez, War and other groups. Lucas has performed with the Pat Methany Group drummer Paul Wertico, bassist Andy West of the Dixie Dregs, and others, along with violinist Rachel Barton.
Pappas wrote the script. Maeder created the graphics and video. All three wrote the music.
“We need something to lighten things up, especially for children in the face of some frightening times and concerns,” Pappas says. “We hope our little iguana friend brings some joy, especially to the young children.”
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