The ethnic jostling for representation on the City Council has mostly been between African-Americans, who want 19 wards, even though their population has decreased by nearly 200,000, and Latinos, who want 14 wards.
But now the Poles are making a bid to reclaim the ward the lost in their last re-map. In 2001, the Northwest Side’s 30th Ward went from Polish to Latino. The old alderman, Michael Wojcik, was given a job at the CTA after stepping aside to allow the election of Ald. Ariel Reboyras.
According to the Welles Park Bulldog, a Polish delegation showed up at a community meeting chaired by Ald. Richard Mell, who is in charge of the re-mapping committee, and who is not Polish.
At the meeting, a number of individuals that represent the Polish American community implored the politicians to make sure that their community is represented.
“We want to go to one Aldermanic office to take care of the needs of our community,” said Robert Groszek, an attorney. The Polish American community has its zenith on Belmont between Pulaski and Milwaukee, parts of Jefferson Park, and on Archer in the South Side. Groszek said after that the community on Belmont is covered by three different Wards (31, 35, and 30). Groszek also said he was worried that the 45th Ward might be split and splitting up that Polish American community in the process.
The Poles used to be Chicago’s second most powerful ethnic group, after the Irish. Congressmen Dan Rostenkowski and Roman Pucinski were the city’s voices in Washington. The city clerk was, traditionally, a Pole. The City Council roll call included such challenging names as Zydlo, Madrzyk, Laskowski and Gabinski. Now, there is only one Pole left in City Hall -- 23rd Ward Ald. Michael Zalewski.
Here’s the Polish community’s difficulty: they’re a white ethnic group looking for recognition in a post-ethnic political world. Polish wards made sense in the days of Anton Cermak’s “House Of All Peoples,” but since the passage of the Voting Rights Act, in the 1960s, political redistricting has been dictated by race. The Act has provisions for African-American and Latino representation, but not Polish, Jewish, Irish or Italian representation.
But Chicago’s Poles are different from those other ethnic groups. Even today, they’re a largely immigrant group, maintaining their language and their native foods and music in restaurants and grocery stores on the Northwest and Southwest Sides. Polish tuckpointers who drink in taverns with Old Style “Zimny Piwo” signs hanging out front want an alderman who speaks their language. Their concerns are actually similar to the Latino community's.
The best Mell could tell the delegation was “the Polish community has moved (over time). Maybe (creating a Polish ward) is a possibility. We’ll try.”
They may try, but there’s too much competition from rival ethnic groups that are legally entitled to their own wards. So the Poles will be out of luck again.
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