Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Times are changing ethnically, and one alderman seems unwilling to resist

Mike Zalewski, an alderman in the Southwest Side 23rd Ward, let it be known this week he will step down from his government post next month – just under one full year before his term comes to an end.

ZALEWSKI: Wants to go out on top!
Zalewski is in his fifth term as a member of the City Council. But like many of the so-called “white ethnic” officials, he’s finding the “ethnic” part of his home district changing.

ZALEWSKI IS NOW an official of Polish ethnic origins representing an area that is 67 percent Latino (mostly Mexican-American) composition. It seems he saw the result of the last month’s primary elections in a neighboring ward where the state representative who is brother to almighty Alderman Ed Burke managed to lose – to a Latino official who will now begin his political career representing an area of which he fits in with the majority.

It would seem Zalewski didn’t want to have a similar fate to Burke. So, he announced his intention to resign come May 31 – even though his term runs through early May of 2019.

He wants to depart on his own terms, and NOT as someone who got taken down by a growing ethnic population that no longer views him as “one of our own.”

Such circumstances mean that Mayor Rahm Emanuel will get to pick a replacement for Zalewski to serve through the next 11 or so months. Whoever that person winds up being will have the option of seeking a full four-year term in the 2019 municipal election cycle – and will be able to do so as an incumbent alderman.

BERRIOS: Ethnic loss can go opposite
NOT SOME OUTSIDER challenger seeking an open seat.

So in that regard, Zalewski is playing the political game according to the rules – in that he’s making it possible for the establishment to decide for themselves who will be admitted to the ranks of that political species considered by some to be among the most insipid creatures of all.

A real, live Chicago alderman!

But on the other hand, Zalewski is making a bold move that political people would not have even contemplated in the past.

BURKE: Sees own possible fate in Dan
CHICAGO’S ETHNIC AND racial composition is constantly evolving. There are many neighborhoods that once were something completely different than they are now.

Yet that doesn’t mean their political representation is always willing to follow along. In fact, replacing the old with the new often means the “old” goes kicking and screaming – with some insisting that some sort of foul conspiracy has occurred to remove them from office.

Seeing someone willingly acknowledge the change that has occurred in his neighborhood – one that he often clings to because it gave him a chance to run for a political office – seems to me to be a step in the positive direction.

Of course, these ethnic changes move in all directions.

CONSIDER THE FATE of one-time state Rep. Toni Berrios, whose Northwest Side legislative district by 2014 had developed from a Puerto Rican enclave to one that had some segments of upper-scale whites – many of whom that election cycle decided they’d like to no longer be thought of as an ethnic district.

State Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, wound up winning the support of people in the Logan Square neighborhood, and the woman who had been the first Puerto Rican female to serve in the Illinois House of Representatives went down to defeat.

A fate that Zalewski definitely wants to avoid.

He’d probably like to have an end similar to the one-time Alderman Vito Marzullo, who served more than three decades representing what once was an Italian ethnic community in Chicago that, by 1986, had become Latino.

COURT-ORDERED REAPPORTIONMENT brought about boundary changes that made it highly unlikely Marzullo could continue to be elected – so he retired amidst great fanfare in the City Council. Which also brought about a rookie politico in the form of Luis Gutierrez.
Who is only now stepping down from the seat in Congress he eventually rose up to. Which gave us the primary victory showing Gutierrez likely will be replaced by Jesus Garcia – who was amongst the backers of Dan Burke’s Illinois Legislative victor and himself becoming a Latino power broker who likely would have found someone to play political hardball against Zalewski; if he hadn’t had the sense to step down now.

These kinds of changes are going to continue in the near future. Because our city is not the same composition as it was some 50 or 60 years ago.

Even though the kind of people who’d be inclined to complain about Zalewski’s departure are likely of the sort who wish things had never changed, and that we still had the original “Mayor Daley” in charge – rather than trying to figure out which third-generation Daley will someday try to run for mayor.


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