BERWYN – Superheroes have names like Batman, Ironman or Superman. In Berwyn, Mark Antosiak is known as the Graffiti Guy, but he is no less a superhero to residents fed up with the blight caused by graffiti.
For 10 years, five days a week, Antosiak has been prowling Berwyn’s streets and alleys like a caped avenger, seeking out and obliterating the spray-painted calling cards of vandals and criminals with a high-pressure water wand, chemicals and brushes.
The city program provides graffiti removal to residences and businesses free of charge, unlike communities that give victims a certain amount of days to remove the blight themselves at their own expense.
And yes, graffiti is a crime, and Antosiak takes his job as a crime fighter seriously.
“I take it personally when something is tagged,” he said. “Every house or garage I do I treat it as if it were my own. When I get done I want people to come out and say, ‘That looks great.’”
His arsenal includes a 2006 F-350 Ford pickup, obtained through a drug seizure by the police department. In the bed is a monster power washer setup that can hold 110 gallons of water, hot or cold, that’s pushed out of a hose at 3,000 psi.
There also is an array of chemicals specific to the job. Lighter jobs first are sprayed with a light soy oil to loosen paint before its washed. On brick, stucco or other masonry surfaces, Antosiak sprays with Taginator, a professional grade solvent that penetrates the porous surface to lift paint out before it’s washed off.
For playground equipment and street signs, commercially-available Goof Off Graffiti Remover does the trick.
It starts with residents and police officers who call in to report graffiti. Dispatchers complete a complaint form, which is forwarded to Antosiak. When he gets to the site, he reports in. He photographs the graffiti and fills in a form describing it in detail. The information is put on file for use by investigators.
His first stop Friday was a brick apartment building in the 6300 block of 31st Street. Someone had sprayed “Smoke Blunts” and a marijuana leaf in white paint. Antosiak first reported in, then took photos. Armed with a spray bottle of Taginator, he thoroughly soaked the graffiti. He then cranked up the power washer and carefully blasted evidence of paint of the brick.
An average job takes 10 minutes, he said. But in the case of lavish, multilayered murals, it can take longer and require more than the 110 gallons the washer can hold.
Once finished, he’s off to the next the job. When he’s completed all his orders, he prowls the city to find more. Garages are the most frequent target, he said.
Police Chief James Ritz said removing graffiti is taken seriously by the department.
“You don’t want these kids who want to get involved in gangs, or kids who are in gangs, to establish their turf. You eliminate that right away,” Ritz said.
And the program is effective, he added.
“Mark does a great job and when the gangs leaves a message we send a message right back that we don’t tolerate that kind of activity,” Ritz said.
Cicero spokesman Ray Hanania said Cicero takes an equally dim view of graffiti. About three years ago it established the SOS Task Force, where residents can report non-emergency issues such as building code violations, squatters living in abandoned housing or graffiti.
“We try to react and respond to graffiti within a couple hours, because we think that’s a key component to fighting street gangs,” he said. “If you see graffiti, call us. We’ll get right out there with the blaster and clean it up.”