WOJCIK, DESPITE DEFEAT,
ANALYSIS & OPINION BY RUSS STEWART
30th Ward Alderman Mike Wojcik, despite 11 years of incumbency and three aldermanic victories, has never been renowned as a particularly astute or resourceful politician. By losing his bid for a Democratic state senate nomination on March 19, Wojcik lived up to his reputation.
In the near Northwest Side 20th District, which has a Hispanic population majority, but a white voting majority, Wojcik managed to lose to the relatively unknown Iris Martinez by a whopping 62-38 percent margin. That certainly debunks the myth that Chicago aldermen are kings of their realm.
To be sure, Mayor Rich Daley’s backing of Martinez was of great import, and the mayor’s army of Hispanic operatives were five-deep in most precincts. Also, Wojcik was double-crossed by Alderman Dick Mell (33rd), the guy who promises everything to everybody, and who was managing the gubernatorial campaign of his son-in-law, Rod Blagojevich; as can be seen in the adjoining vote chart, Mell delivered a majority of almost 2-1 for Martinez in his 33rd Ward, sealing Wojcik’s doom. Overall, Wojcik barely carried the white vote, failed to run up a large margin in his 30th Ward base, and got demolished in the Hispanic precincts.
Note the vote chart results in the 4th and 5th congressional districts. The 4th District is Hispanic-majority, and incumbent U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-4) was embroiled in a tough re-election contest. Gutierrez is Puerto Rican, as is Martinez. Gutierrez and Daley’s Hispanic Democratic Organization weighed in heavily for Martinez, and she carried the precincts in Gutierrez’s district by better than 2-1. Also, in Gutierrez’s home 26th Ward, where he is Democratic Committeeman, Martinez won by almost 4-1. Martinez also took the Hispanic-majority 35th Ward by almost 3-1, and the 31st Ward by better than 2-1.
Conversely, in the mostly white precincts in the 5th congressional district, which Blagojevich vacated, and which was the scene of a heated primary between Rahm Emanuel and Nancy Kaszak, Wojcik triumphed with just 55 percent. That meant a lot of white voters opted for Martinez. Wojcik lost the 33rd Ward by more than 2,000 votes, and won his home 30th Ward by only 1,727 votes. Clearly, Wojcik’s base didn’t turn out in sufficient numbers, and didn’t support him by a sufficiently lopsided vote, while the usually anemic Hispanic vote did turn out in record numbers, and gave lopsided numbers to Martinez.
Wojcik’s defeat is a huge victory for Gutierrez, Daley, and the Hispanic Democratic Organization. It shows that Hispanics can beat whites in districts and wards with Hispanic-majority populations, but with a majority of white voters.
But, unbowed and undaunted, Wojcik is already off and running again, this time for alderman in 2003 – but in the 38th Ward, not his home 30th ward. The Chicago city council’s 2001 remap of the 50 wards completely cannibalized the current 30th Ward, drastically redrawing the boundaries and making it into a Hispanic-majority ward. The white precincts in the current 30th Ward were appended onto the south part of the 39th Ward and onto the east end of the 38th Ward. Wojcik ran for state senator because he needed a job. But, with that option foreclosed, Wojcik now has three choices: Retire; run for city clerk; or run against either Margie Laurino, the incumbent in the 39th Ward, or against Tom Allen, the incumbent in the 38th Ward. Wojcik lives in the Addison-Pulaski area, and his residence is now in the new 38th Ward.
According to sources close to Wojcik, Allen is the lucky man. Wojcik will run in the 38th Ward next year.
Wojcik tried mightily to portray himself as an ethnic victim of the Daley-orchestrated remap. If Wojcik is ousted from the city council, the Northwest Side will have no alderman of Polish ancestry. Wojcik tied himself closely to Kaszak’s congressional campaign, and the local Polish establishment, led by the Polish National Alliance, tried to raise an ethnic stink. But the “victimization” angle never jelled, and Wojcik’s long rivalry with County Commissioner Ted Lechowicz -- he beat Lechowicz for ward committeeman in 1996, and beat Lechowicz’s hand-picked alderman in 1995 when their wards were combined – meant that Lechowicz did nothing to aid Wojcik this year, even though Lechowicz was running for renomination as commissioner (and, like Wojcik, lost).
One early advantage for Wojcik in a prospective Allen-Wojcik matchup is the large Polish-American population in the 38th Ward, which runs northwest and northeast of Belmont-Central, once a hub of Polish immigrants; that area is now increasingly Hispanic. The 38th is bell-shaped, stretching from Harlem-Irving (at the Six Corners Shopping Center) in the west to Belmont-Cicero in the east, going north to Lawrence-Narragansett. But then, at Addison and Cicero, it jumps northeastward to take in the top fifth of the old 30th Ward (including The Villa and Old Irving neighborhoods) – areas where Wojcik is quite popular.
Allen led the city council’s crackdown on “rooming house” zoning abuses, and was instrumental in requiring a zoning certification prior to the sale of any Chicago residence. The principal “rooming house” offenders were immigrant Poles, who bought houses and two-flats, and rented out beds to other Poles, causing enormous parking congestion in residential areas. While Allen did what was right to preserve neighborhood quality of life, he didn’t score any points among the Polish immigrant community. And those people, presuming they are citizens (and, even if they’re not, who’s going to stop them from voting?), would most certainly vote for Wojcik over Allen.
In fact, rumors abound that Allen, age 50, an attorney with a growing family, may not seek another term in 2003. He was appointed to the job in 1993, and won easy re-election in 1995 and 1999. Possible candidates to succeed Allen would be Patty Jo Cullerton, the ward’s Democratic Committeeman, and Ralph Annunzio, a nephew of the late congressman, who works in Allen’s office.
But 2003 could be a replication of 2002 for Wojcik. He presumed that he would win his white voter base overwhelmingly, and that enraged Polish-Americans would flock to him. That didn’t happen. To beat Allen, Wojcik would have to win 80-20 in his old 30th Ward precincts, and then energize the 38th Ward’s large Polish-American vote. But Allen will have the mayor strongly behind him, and has the manpower to cover the ward’s precincts for the Daley-Allen team.
Wojcik lost to Martinez largely because she had plenty of money and an army of primary day precinct workers to bring out her vote, while Wojcik had minimal money and but a handful of captains on the street. Now that he’s viewed as a loser, he will have no money and no workers in 2003.
My early prediction: Wojcik’s term doesn’t expire until next April, so he can run as an incumbent. But, against Allen or Cullerton, he would have no chance. Daley’s people would flood the ward to beat him. However, against Annunzio or some other new candidate, he could have a shot. But the odds are that Wojcik’s big loss in 2002 will beget an equally big loss in 2003.
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