Pin It

Invasion of the Ballot Snatchers 

Payrollers descend on the southeast side to win one for the mayor.

By Ted Kleine

Nick Valadez, a Latino attorney running for alderman in the Tenth Ward, did something very strange in a debate last month: he said nice things about his opponents. As Valadez was finishing his remarks to the audience in the basement bingo hall of Saint Kevin Church, he gestured to each of his rivals and pointed out how qualified they were to serve on the City Council.

"Andrew Gomez Meyer has been very active in providing social services and serving as a representative on local school issues," Valadez said dramatically, as though presenting a closing argument to a jury. "And he did that without the help of Mayor Daley's political machine."

Valadez swept his open palm toward the next man at the table, Charles Popielarz, a Chicago police sergeant. "He puts his life on the line every day for the people of the Tenth Ward, and he does that without the protection of Mayor Daley's machine."

As he continued down the line, Valadez praised Richard Martinez, a former aide to retiring alderman John Buchanan; Kenneth Ladien, a Chicago public-school teacher; Neil Bosanko, the executive director of the South Chicago Chamber of Commerce; Yolanda DeAnda, a guidance counselor; and Bob Wisz, a restaurateur and landlord, for all they'd done for the southeast side "without the assistance of Mayor Daley's machine."

Valadez was so cordial to his opponents because they all share a common enemy: rival candidate John Pope, who was at that moment glad-handing supporters a few miles away. Pope missed Valadez's honor roll not because he was absent but because he's running his campaign with the assistance of Mayor Daley's machine.

Pope, a $75,000-a-year Daley aide, has the mayor's endorsement in this race, as well as the support of one of his most powerful political arms, the Hispanic Democratic Organization, an army of Latino city employees that works to put other Daley candidates into office.

John Buchanan calls Pope "nothing but a puppet" of Daley's, and says Pope supporters, who include a deputy commissioner of the Department of Streets and Sanitation, are pressuring city employees to work on the candidate's campaign. "People who work for the city better be on board, or if you're a truck driver you'll be driving on the north side," Buchanan said.

Pope's supporters are using "heavy-handed gestapo tactics" to get him elected, Richard Martinez says. One Saturday afternoon in mid-January, Martinez was walking back to his campaign office from a coffee at a supporter's home. At the corner of 91st and Houston he stopped to talk to an acquaintance pulled up at the intersection.

"I heard you were at one of Pope's meetings," Martinez said, leaning into the window of the man's rusty car.

"I don't have a choice," the driver shrugged.

"He feels threatened," Martinez said as the man drove away. "He's a seasonal employee. He can be laid off at the end of the snow season. They're holding his job over his head. He's got a family to worry about."

That same afternoon, a Pope campaign worker knocked on the front door of a Nick Valadez supporter in the southern part of the ward.

"We had a Valadez sign right in our front yard, and the guy came up to us and tried to give us Pope literature," said the man, who was afraid he might lose city services or receive a visit from a building inspector if he gave a reporter his name. "We says we didn't want any. He says, 'You're not interested?' He says, 'OK, fine, doesn't look like you'll be getting any services,' and he wrote something down on a clipboard. I hear [Pope] likes to strong-arm people. He's had people come to our house a couple times. Three guys wanted to put a Pope sign in front of our house. I says, 'We don't want any.' He says, 'Why not?' They're pushy."

To many on the southeast side, Daley's campaign to anoint Pope alderman is an attempt to tame one of the city's last independent wards, a ward whose aldermen have been defying mayors at least since the reign of Richard the Elder. The mayor, who's been heard to boast "What's an independent alderman?" after another 49-1 or 47-3 victory, is trying to extend his empire into one of the few corners of the city he can't boss. The ward is also considered a plum because whoever controls it will control the redevelopment of thousands of acres of vacant land, and the contracts that go with it.

"I don't think that the Tenth Ward has been Daley territory," said Rod Sellers, a teacher at Washington High School and coauthor of the recent book Chicago's Southeast Side. "It would involve an expansion of Daley's power base."

Putting it more harshly was Lee Anglin, the publisher of the Calumet Journal, a local weekly. Anglin wound up an anti-Pope column with these fighting words: "You will not bully the people of this ward, we'll simply throw your ass out of town 10th Ward Style!! P.S. Tell Little Richie Daley we said hi as he helps you remove the boot from your butt!!"

The Tenth Ward is the city's biggest ward, its several communities separated by the Calumet River, the Bishop Ford Freeway, Wolf Lake, and Lake Calumet. East Side was once the home of Croatian and Polish steelworkers, but the whites there are moving to the suburbs and the cemeteries, and now taquerias and discotecas are clustering around 106th and Ewing, the center of East Side's business district.

To the south, three miles down Avenue O, is Hegewisch. With storefronts built in the age of Grover Cleveland and William McKinley, Hegewisch looks like a little railroad town on the prairie. People here address their letters "Hegewisch, Ill." and talk about seeing their neighbors "around town." Like other corners of Chicago, Hegewisch is populated with cops and firefighters looking for a suburban life within city limits.

"We like being in the city," says a bartender at the South Shore Inn, on Brainard. "It keeps the neighborhood racially stable"--i.e., white.

Hegewisch has the only state park in Chicago, Wolf Lake, but it also has the only trailer park, Harbour Point Estates, and the biggest landfill, on 130th Street. The mound of dirt there is the highest point in the city.

South Deering is a place to work. Here is Calumet Harbor, with the slips welcoming oceangoing ships that carry salt and steel from all over the world. But here also is the Wisconsin Steel plant, which closed in 1980 but still broods over 106th Street, a hollow behemoth with the letters of its sign crumbling off the rusty facade. There are so many drawbridges, railroad bridges, cranes, and Skyway pillars in South Deering that it looks as though someone dumped an erector set here.

The oldest Mexican settlement in the city is in South Chicago. Our Lady of Guadalupe--"OLG"--Chicago's first Spanish-speaking parish, was founded by immigrant steelworkers and is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. Commercial Avenue, the main drag, is a hectic strip of dollar stores and clothing boutiques selling chuco fashions. It's not quite Pilsen though. You can see a car with a CROAT license plate parked in front of Phil's Kastle, a hamburger joint.

There's also Jeffery Manor, home to most of the ward's blacks, and the Bush--site of the old U.S. Steel South Works, now 576 acres of lakefront scrub whose redevelopment is one of the major issues in the campaign. While the rest of Chicago prospers, the southeast side has never recovered from the steel mill closings of the 1980s. You can buy a six-bedroom house at 117th and Mackinaw for $72,000. Like its neighbors Gary and Hammond, this is part of the rust belt.

The Tenth Ward is 15 miles from the Loop, far past the point where South Lake Shore Drive peters out. The ward's aldermen have rarely been in sync with City Hall. The Tenth sends an alderman downtown in the same way Alaska sends a representative to Washington--as an emissary from a distant, misunderstood territory. John Buchanan, the current alderman, got elected to the City Council in 1963 by beating a machine incumbent, Emil Pacini. In 1971 Buchanan lost his seat to Edward "Fast Eddie" Vrdolyak, who in true Tenth Ward fashion immediately began a long career of making trouble downtown. Vrdolyak was the leader of the "coffee club rebels," a group of young aldermen who met at the old Sherman House to plot against Mayor Richard J. Daley's autocratic floor leader, Thomas Keane, who refused even to caucus with the rest of the council before handing out orders. The rebels failed to overthrow Keane, but Vrdolyak did win himself a seat on the powerful Finance Committee.

Hugely popular among the white ethnics on the southeast side, Vrdolyak brought attention to a part of town that long felt it had been slighted, especially by Daley.

"Vrdolyak put us on the map many years ago and set a presedence for us as a tough no BS ward," Anglin wrote in his Calumet Journal column.

(Vrdolyak's house, at 115th Street and Avenue J, is one of the southeast side's must-see landmarks. It has a satellite dish and a tennis court, and its backyard has swallowed up an alley and reaches to the next street--a nice aldermanic perk. By suburban standards it's not big, but here it's looked on as a ducal manor.)

Vrdolyak became chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party in 1982. The next year, Democrats nominated Harold Washington for the mayor's office after Vrdolyak destroyed his own candidate, incumbent mayor Jane Byrne, by declaring that getting her elected was "a racial thing." With Washington on the Democratic line, Fast Eddie had to choose between betraying his party and betraying his race. He chose the former, working secretly for Republican candidate Bernard Epton. Washington won, so Vrdolyak formed a bloc of 28 white aldermen and one Latino to stifle the mayor's legislation, thus touching off Council Wars.

Washington got his revenge by appointing Clem Balanoff to the position of Tenth Ward Streets and Sanitation superintendent. Balanoff was the son of Miriam Balanoff, who opposed Vrdolyak for alderman in 1983 and for committeeman in 1984.

In 1987 Vrdolyak ran a losing campaign for mayor on the Solidarity Party ticket and ran his brother Victor as alderman against Clem Balanoff. Victor won, and when Eddie jumped to the Republican Party later that year his brother went with him, making him the council's first GOP alderman in 12 years. State representative Sam Panayotovich also switched parties; the next year he lost his seat to Balanoff, who held it until 1994.

Victor quit after one term, and Buchanan was able to take back the seat, since the Vrdolyaks were done with it. Now 75, Buchanan is the oldest member of the City Council, and he has feuded with Mayor Daley over Daley's plans to put a third airport in Hegewisch and to build a NASCAR track at the Wisconsin Steel site.

Buchanan admits that he and Daley don't get along. He says that when a Daley lieutenant visited the Tenth Ward last year and told him he had a choice between stepping aside or facing a Daley-backed candidate in 1999, he agreed to retire.

"My decision to retire was something that was made for me," Buchanan said. "I had the mayor tell me to go take my pension."

When Buchanan found out the Daley candidate was John Pope, he almost jumped back into the race. At the last minute he decided that 75 was indeed too old for another fight, and he backed Neil Bosanko.

"Thirty years old, no community experience whatsoever," Buchanan groused about Pope. "I find that to be not only embarrassing that the mayor would think so little of the neighborhood, but also a slap in the face."

The gigantic Daley-Pope signs dominating lawns throughout the neighborhood show that "what the mayor wants out here is nothing but a puppet," Buchanan said. "He will have a puppet in Pope. He will sit there and do everything the mayor wants him to do."

Mention John Pope's name to southeast-siders, and you get responses like "Who is he?" and "What's he done for the neighborhood?" and "I've never heard of him."

"I know the community pretty well, and I don't know this guy," said Rod Sellers, the teacher and historian. "He's just come out of the wall."

Actually, Pope was born and raised in Hegewisch, the son of an ironworker who worked at U.S. Steel and Republic Steel. In a ward where some candidates brag that they're descended from two or three generations of steelworkers, that's an outstanding pedigree for an alderman. As a boy Pope played for the Hegewisch Bulldogs, a peewee football team, then went to Mount Carmel High School, where he was varsity football captain, made the honor roll, and worked after hours as a janitor to help pay his tuition.

Except for four years at Wabash College, where he earned a degree in political science and, yes, captained the football team, "I've been here my entire life," Pope said. "I'm 30 years old. I've lived in Hegewisch all my life. I met my sweetheart, my childhood sweetheart, here. She's from East Side. We got married three and half years ago."

Right after graduating from college, Pope went to work for the city as an analyst in the Office of Budget and Management, a job that required him to examine the funding of 15 city departments, including personnel, purchasing, and police. He also worked in the Building Department, where he oversaw the demolition of abandoned buildings that were havens for drug dealers and prostitutes, reporting directly to Daley. Pope admits he hasn't done any volunteer work in the neighborhood--"For the most part, I've been very active with work"--but says the connections he's made at City Hall will be just as important to the ward. Working with the Neighborhoods Alive! program introduced him to developers who--he says--can bring the southeast side the businesses it needs: hardware stores, supermarkets, movie theaters, bowling alleys.

"I'm familiar with the city and its operations," he said. "There's not that learning curve. I already know who to contact. One of the basic things an alderman provides is city services. I already know who to call to get those services."

Pope said he started thinking about a run for alderman in early 1998 and asked for the mayor's blessing last fall.

"He thought it was a great idea," Pope said. "He was very excited. He said, 'You've been down there your whole life. You know the people. You care about the people.' I've always had a good working relationship with the mayor, and I think the ward can benefit from an elected official who has a good working relationship with other elected officials."

Pope's working relationship with Daley is so good that the mayor has assigned a staff member to work full-time on his campaign. Last week Daley appeared at a $250-a-head fund-raiser for him at Lino's, a River North bistro. But would Pope be Charlie McCarthy to Daley's Edgar Bergen? All his opponents say so. Pope doesn't go so far as to use the word independent, but he promises to take a mind of his own to City Hall.

"Will I disagree with the mayor? Have we talked in meetings and shared our differences? Will we continue to do that? I represent the people of the Tenth Ward."

It's true that city employees are working on Pope's campaign, but it's not true, as some of his opponents charge, that all his volunteers were sent down by City Hall. Some of the people with giant Daley-Pope signs in their yards have sons who played football with Pope on the Hegewisch Bulldogs, or are friends of his parents, Bill and Delores.

"I've known him for a lot of years," said retiree Leonard Marino of Hegewisch. "He's a very likable fellow, does what he wants to do, and I'm sure he'd be good for the community. He's familiar with all the people down [at City Hall]. You've got to know people."

Ruth Vrdolyak, Victor's widow and a friend of the Pope family, called John Pope "a great athlete, a fine young man who was always helpful." She admires the candidate's "star quality," and figures that was one reason his opponents have been trashing him.

"They always knock stars, don't they?" she said.

In his otherwise rabid Calumet Journal column, Lee Anglin wrote, "I hear Pope is a really nice guy." Even Pope's opponents agree that's true. Pope makes a great impression. He's tall and square jawed, dresses in neat three-button suits. At City Hall, Pope blended in well with Daley's crew of aggressive young aides, says Greg Goldner, an assistant commissioner in the Department of General Services who is now Pope's campaign manager.

"Until John started talking about it this summer, I didn't even know he was from the Tenth Ward," Goldner said. "I thought he was from the lakefront, a yuppie. Or maybe the southwest side."

Pope has all the hallmarks of the golden boy: he's polite, hearty, articulate, self-confident, and he's risen to the top of nearly every group he's ever belonged to. Now, after just nine years of work for the city, his boss is putting him up for promotion to alderman.

But even those who say Pope is a nice guy say the opposite about his backers Al Sanchez and Gilbert Delgado, the bosses of the Tenth Ward Hispanic Democratic Organization. Sanchez has held several City Hall jobs and is now deputy commissioner of the Department of Streets and Sanitation. Delgado, who works in the buildings and grounds department of Cook County Hospital, was appointed by the mayor to sit on the board that oversees the Illinois International Port. On Pope's behalf, he filed challenges to the petitions of six Tenth Ward candidates.

"They're supporters," Pope said of the two men. "Al Sanchez is one of my coordinators. Al is a Tenth Ward resident. They're both Hispanic. They're both involved with the Hispanic Democratic Organization. They've managed to do a great job getting the Hispanic vote out."

Sanchez, who some believe is the most powerful man in the Tenth Ward, got his start in ward politics as a precinct captain for Ed Vrdolyak. A former Sanchez ally says South Chicago's Latinos loathed Vrdolyak, but that Sanchez won them over with minor political favors, such as getting teenagers out of police jams and persuading the alderman to donate to neighborhood food banks. In return, Sanchez was allowed to distribute a few city jobs to local Latinos. His alliance with Vrdolyak was so strong that in 1987 he ran for city treasurer on the Solidarity ticket. But when Vrdolyak jumped to the Republican Party, Sanchez realized his patron was finished in city politics and switched his allegiance to Daley.

The Hispanic Democratic Organization promotes Daley's candidates in Latino neighborhoods. The HDO's leadership, which is composed of high-profile patronage appointees, takes its orders directly from the mayor, Sanchez's old political ally says, and passes them on to the rank and file, mainly city employees.

"Sanchez has 250 Latino city workers living in the Tenth Ward," says the onetime ally. "Because this area is devastated economically, this is bread and butter."

What of Streets and San employees who don't work for candidates Sanchez supports? "They're blackballed," the ex-ally said. "If they can't get them fired, they'll get them transferred."

Sanchez wanted to run for alderman himself, but Daley wouldn't give him permission. Instead, the mayor asked Sanchez to propose another Latino candidate. But Sanchez realized a Latino alderman would threaten his position as Big Daddy of the Tenth Ward's Latino community, so he never gave Daley a name. Now Sanchez is throwing his organization behind Pope, hoping to become the power behind the young alderman.

"He'll be the kingmaker," the former ally said. "He'll pull Pope's strings. Pope will vote for whoever the mayor wants. He'll do whatever Al wants."

Sanchez and his Streets and San workers were accused of outright political intimidation in late January, when a South Chicago lock shop received a $200 ticket for an overflowing garbage bin--only a day after the owner posted a Bosanko sign.

"I don't know if I've ever been given a violation," said Arturo Valles, owner of Harold's Lock & Key. "Why all of a sudden I put up a Neil Bosanko sign I get a ticket?"

The ticket was written by a woman who works under George Esquivel, a division superintendent at Streets and San and a prominent HDO member. Two days after being ticketed, Valles held a press conference that was attended by four candidates as well as by Alderman Buchanan.

"We've called upon the commissioner to investigate it totally and completely, and if it's true that they're doing it I've asked for the firing of everyone involved, up to and including Mr. Sanchez," Buchanan said.

The alderman also said he planned to introduce a resolution in the City Council calling for an investigation of election activities in the ward.

"There is this alleged organization called HDO," Buchanan said. "We're asking for an investigation of them, how they raise their money. I don't know where else they come from. George Esquivel is a name that's been given to me, along with Al Sanchez."

Buchanan's ignorance may be feigned; the HDO worked for his election over Balanoff in 1991 and 1995.

Streets and San spokesman Terry Levin denied that the ticket was politically motivated, saying it was one of six issued in the ward that week for overflowing garbage. He said that once the snow melted businesses had no excuse for not emptying bins, so the department stepped up inspections.

"The lid was raised and there was garbage sticking out," Levin said of Valles's bin. "It absolutely was a justified ticket."

But Valles is appealing, with Nick Valadez as his attorney. A hearing is scheduled for February 26--after the primary-- in the Department of Revenue office in Jeffery Manor. Valadez says he'll fight the ticket in circuit court if it's not dismissed.

"The city of Chicago under color of law is infringing on [Valles's] First Amendment rights," Valadez said. "I'm going to defend his right to have a Bosanko sign."

Sanchez and HDO haven't limited their political activities to the Tenth Ward. Two Streets and San employees say that last year Sanchez ordered a halt to writing tickets for overflowing garbage in three wards whose aldermen were close to Daley. The 13th, 14th, and 23rd wards were all declared off-limits, claim Robert Zebrauskas and Segundino Acosta, both former inspectors.

"[Alderman Edward] Burke made the call and said, 'Why are these guys writing tickets to businesses that contribute to me?'" Zebrauskas said. "Al Sanchez put the order to stop."

Sanchez was eager to cultivate Burke's friendship because Burke's 14th Ward is part of the First Illinois Senate District, where HDO was helping Daley-backed Tony Mu–oz defeat incumbent Jesus Garcia. Mu–oz won the 14th Ward by 494 votes.

Both men say Sanchez demoted them because they kept ticketing businesses in the protected wards. Zebrauskas, who now answers the telephone in Streets and San's Loop office, says Sanchez is filling the department's top positions with HDO loyalists so he can use the department as a political tool.

Acosta says he quit HDO after Sanchez ordered him to circulate petitions for state representative Edward Acevedo. Since resigning from HDO, Acosta has filed several grievances charging Sanchez with demoting and harassing him for political reasons. The Chicago inspector general's office is investigating. Meanwhile, Acosta supervises garbage trucks.

Levin dismissed the claims of politicized ticket writing as "nonsense." He said Zebrauskas and Acosta were transferred because they were writing tickets mainly in their own southwest-side neighborhoods when they should have been covering the whole city.

"We also got complaints from some business owners that they were very abusive," Levin said.

Pope also defended Sanchez. "I'm certain that didn't take place," he said. "That's old-school politics. Al's not involved in any activities like that. I'm sure any action Streets and Sanitation took was justified."

Pope, who has raised more money than any of his rivals, will at least make the runoff. That's the prediction of Tom Malesh, an official with the neighborhood group East Side Pride. Four other candidates have a shot at joining him there, Malesh says: Bosanko, Martinez, Valadez, and Wisz. They and Pope were the only ones who received more than 9 percent support in a January 12 Calumet Journal poll. (If no candidate wins more than half the votes in the February 23 primary, the top two vote getters go to a runoff on April 13.)

Bosanko, 45, the choice of Alderman Buchanan, has been a figure in southeast-side politics since 1972, when he ran for committeeman as a write-in. Ed Vrdolyak crushed him, of course, but he managed to collect 1,500 votes. The year before, Bosanko got arrested for painting the Illinois Central station at 91st and Baltimore red, white, and blue "because it looked so slummy."

"I received citywide notoriety, front page of every newspaper," he said. "It said, 'Bosanko Paints Himself Into Jail.'"

Soon after, the IC remodeled all its southeast-side stations. "I got the result I wanted," Bosanko says.

Recently Bosanko has been working with ex-convicts, helping them find jobs and encouraging them to counsel young people who are sliding into gang life. Twelve years ago, Bosanko's adopted son Paul was convicted of a gang murder. Paul, an 18-year-old Latin King at the time of the killing, is serving a 60-year sentence in Stateville.

"That made me more angry and more motivated to keep from losing more people that couldn't be lost," Bosanko said. "That has got to be a focus of mine every day I live. I don't want to see more people end up being like Paul."

As executive director of the South Chicago Chamber of Commerce, Bosanko has been pushing the city to acquire the South Works site, which is "nowhere near worth the $85 million" its owners are asking. The city should either buy it for less or use eminent domain, he said. Bosanko would like to see manufacturing and middle-income homes there, as well as an extension of the lakefront park belt--perhaps a miniature version of Navy Pier that would attract joggers, anglers, and shoppers.

"We don't want a gated community," he said. "We want a mixed-income, ethnically mixed neighborhood. We want housing, retail, commercial. We also want manufacturing, clean manufacturing--we don't need dirty steel mills anymore."

Bosanko wants the city and state to lower sales taxes on the southeast side to the same level as Indiana's. There are only two service stations in the ward because it's cheaper to buy gas and cigarettes across the state line.

"You see grocery stores [in Indiana] filled with people from the southeast side. You see them in restaurants, because they're already over there to shop."

The Tenth Ward produced the alderman who will forever represent white backlash in Chicago, but today, the area is 42 percent Latino and 16 percent black, and it's ready for a minority alderman, says Richard Martinez.

"We needed to put an end to the Buchanan-Vrdolyak administration," said Martinez, 26, who quit his job as an aide to Buchanan last year because he was frustrated with what he considered the alderman's lack of attention to minority neighborhoods. "It's an era that proved that they wanted to cater to certain groups, such as certain neighborhood or ethnic groups. The East Side neighborhood and African-Americans and Latinos have been neglected for many years."

Martinez said Buchanan picked too many fights with Daley and that's one reason why the Tenth never gets any new development, even though it has far more vacant land than any other ward in the city. Martinez would like to bring in affordable senior housing, a trade school, and a satellite campus of Notre Dame, Loyola, or DePaul. He envisions a Kmart for the empty lot at 91st and Commercial that once held a Goldblatt's.

"We need something here," Martinez said. "We have to shop elsewhere, work elsewhere. We have to drive 20 miles to buy a spool of thread or nails."

Although his signs say Martinez-Daley, there is no harsher critic of Daley's Hispanic Democratic Organization. Martinez describes them as "gestapo" and "thugs" and says they're trying to intimidate Latinos into voting for Pope.

"Those people who are Latinos and are city employees, they're saying, you're going to support us or else," he said. "It's a corporate takeover of the Tenth Ward. They want to control all the contracts that go to any new development. This is all about money."

HDO has been especially harsh on Martinez and Nick Valadez, the two strongest Latino candidates. The group is claiming they're not real Latinos because they don't speak fluent Spanish and have white grandmothers. And at the January 22 candidates' debate at Saint Kevin, Martinez was singled out for criticism by Fred Carrizales, an HDO member who works for the Department on Aging. Carrizales asked what Martinez would do to restore bus service lost in the recent CTA cuts, then attacked him for not being "courteous" to Pope.

"The crowd was in an uproar," Martinez said. "They were telling him to shut up and sit down. He didn't stay for the answers."

Nick Valadez loves to fight City Hall. In the early 1990s he was the lawyer for a group of Hegewisch residents who battled Mayor Daley's plan to level the neighborhood for a third airport. The plan died when state senate president James "Pate" Philip came out against it.

"That's where I started off being on the wrong side of the Daley fence," said Valadez, 38.

Two years ago, he again clashed with the administration by going to bat for the eloteros, Latino street vendors who sell corn and fruit. First he got the police to release four pushcarts confiscated under a pending ordinance that would have cracked down on the vendors, who were technically violating the city's health code. Then he attempted to negotiate a compromise that would have allowed the eloteros to do business legally. No deal was struck but the City Council never passed the ordinance either, so the eloteros are still working in many parts of town.

Continuing his little-guy crusade, Valadez last year sued the hip nightclub Crobar for stealing the name of the Crow Bar, an ironworkers' tavern on 106th Street. Crobar wouldn't list its address or number on its advertising, because if you had to ask you weren't cool enough to go. So the Crow Bar was getting dozens of calls a day about free-body-piercing and bondage nights. Men and women in gothic outfits were arriving in East Side in limousines dispatched by confused hotel concierges. Valadez won a $310,000 court judgment, then negotiated a settlement that allowed Crobar to pay "substantially less" but forced it to add "nightclub" to its name and list its address and phone number in ads.

This is Valadez's second run for the council. Four years ago he had the endorsement of the Tribune and the Daily Southtown, which praised him for fighting to get a foot-patrol officer assigned to Hegewisch and going to court to clear gangbangers out of an East Side house. But he didn't have the endorsement of Mayor Daley.

"When I met with the Daley people the first time, they said, 'Will you be a Daley man?'" said Valadez, who says he admires the independence of north-side aldermen Helen Shiller and Joe Moore. "I said, 'I would have no problem working with the administration.' That wasn't enough. They wanted me to be a Daley boy, not a Daley man."

Valadez wants to see the Tenth Ward's vacant land put to more "ecological uses." The ward has enough landfills, he thinks, enough factories drawing trucks that tear up the streets. It's ironic that while the rest of the city thinks of the southeast side as an "industrial wasteland," bald eagles and black-crowned night herons touch down in a marsh at 122nd and Torrence and there's goose hunting at Wolf Lake. The South Works site by itself could move the area upscale, he argues, if the city put in an ecological park, a hotel, and a tourist area, and built middle-to-high-income housing there.

As village attorney for Posen, a blue-collar south suburb, Valadez worked successfully to attract a Walgreens. He thinks he can use his negotiating skills to bring the southeast side a shopping center with clothing stores and furniture stores.

"What has really been lacking is an articulate, knowledgeable approach to bringing those businesses," he said.

Nobody has been running for alderman longer than Bob Wisz, who started knocking on doors last June. Walking the neighborhoods almost every day in his campaign outfit of faded jeans, work boots, white T-shirt, and V-neck sweater, he estimates he's met 10,000 people. It seems to be paying off. A poll in the Calumet Journal showed him leading the field with 36 percent of the vote, though some people were cynical about the survey, since a flattering article about Wisz appeared on the next page.

"It's definitely a change of an era" in the Tenth Ward, said Wisz, 38, the former owner of Doreen's Pizzeria. "For the first time in 35 years there's three names that are missing--Buchanan, Balanoff, Vrdolyak. There's an opportunity for new ideas to come in."

Wisz's relations with Buchanan have been rancorous. He's clashed with the alderman twice. First he beat Buchanan's candidate for the presidency of the Hegewisch Chamber of Commerce. Then he had to take the piqued alderman to court to obtain permits for Hegewisch Fest, an annual street fair.

"Buchanan hurt everybody," Wisz said. "He couldn't play with the others."

Since Buchanan announced his retirement, City Hall has announced a plan to build a 20-acre park, the biggest new city park in 20 years, in South Chicago. The announcement might have been timed to help Pope--even so, Wisz is eager for more city projects.

He'd like the city to lay out ball fields on the old Republic Steel site, work with the state to build a lodge on Wolf Lake to attract conferences and seminars, and extend Lake Shore Drive to new housing developments on the South Works site.

"The one thing that the Tenth Ward has that nobody else in the city of Chicago has is land," Wisz said. "I would expect this to be the next boomtown."

Wisz led a campaign that persuaded the city's Capital Improvement Program to spend $1.5 million on the renovation of Brandon Avenue, one of the main commercial streets in Hegewisch. The street will get new sidewalks, curbs, light poles, trees, and flower boxes. While Wisz's group was lobbying, the city finally got around to taking down streetcar poles that were still standing 52 years after the last trolley ran down Brandon. As alderman, Wisz would like to do the same for Torrence Avenue between 105th and 109th streets, a shabby stretch of taverns and empty storefronts.

Before he started running full-time for alderman, Wisz rehabilitated 38 houses and apartments. Why not have the city do the same, he asks--buy abandoned buildings, hire students to rehab them, then let them out on a rent-to-own basis to young people trying to buy their first homes.

"I feel we've probably got 100 abandoned buildings in the Tenth Ward. We could work with trade unions, city colleges, to rehab them. Get 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds, the ones trapped by the gangs, give them a chance to learn a skill."

The night of the debate at Saint Kevin, Pope ducked out early to attend a $50-a-head fund-raiser at Mr. D's Villa. The crowd was about half Latino, so the steam tables held tamales and Mexican rice and the dance music was mainly Tex-Mex. Al Sanchez was there, along with two friends: state representative Eddie Acevedo and state senator Tony Mu–oz, Daley-backed southwest-side politicians who won their offices with significant help from Sanchez.

Holding an unlit cigar in his hand, the short, hefty Streets and San boss stepped to the microphone and introduced the distinguished guests.

"We just wanted to stop by and show our support, and anything we can do for our future alderman of the Tenth Ward, we'll do," Mu–oz said.

When Mu–oz ran for the state senate last year against incumbent Jesus Garcia, his election-day volunteers in Pilsen wore yellow city-issued raincoats and warmed themselves beside portable Streets and San heaters, while Streets and San trucks distributed garbage cans.

Acevedo followed Mu–oz at the microphone.

"Me and Tony will never forget what the guys from the southeast side of Chicago did for us in our campaign," he said.

After the speeches, Sanchez talked about what he's doing to get John Pope elected.

Why is HDO supporting Pope when there are four Hispanic candidates in the race?

"They're not all Hispanic candidates," he said. "They have Hispanic surnames. John Pope is probably more Hispanic than they are."

The fact is, Sanchez said, the Tenth Ward is not yet ready to elect a Latino alderman. Though Latinos and whites each make up 42 percent of the population, the whites in East Side and in Hegewisch won't vote against their race. And with so many candidates already splitting the Latino vote, it would have been suicidal for HDO to throw in another.

"The most Hispanic person that should have run should have been me," Sanchez said. "The reason I didn't run was the numbers weren't there. We'd elect a Hispanic out here if he could win."

Ultimately, Sanchez said, it doesn't matter whether HDO's candidate is white or Latino. All that matters is that the guy wins.

"What difference does it make who we elect?" he asked. "We elect them, they owe us."

Sanchez denied allegations that he is offering jobs for votes--"I've never promised nobody anything"--and mocked Tenth Ward candidates who are running on an antimachine platform.

"'I'm not your puppet. I don't want streets. I don't want sidewalks,'" he said derisively. "If the mayor wants anything, we want it."

Despite the offers of help from Mu–oz and Acevedo, the Pope campaign won't be bringing in HDO members from other wards, Sanchez said.

"We've got enough people in this ward," he asserted. "Ninety-five percent of our volunteers are from this ward."

HDO's Tenth Ward hangout is Loncar's, a gritty South Chicago bar that serves hamburgers and fried chicken along with bottles of beer, and shows football games on the TVs in the back room. The day after the party at Mr. D's, four HDO members were sitting at a back table, drinking Buds and Heinekens after an afternoon of campaigning for John Pope. Two worked at South Chicago Bank, one worked for the city, and one wouldn't say where he worked. When asked for an interview, the city worker said, "Let me call the office first." He opened a cell phone and went into the bathroom. Just before the door shut, three words drifted out: "Is Al there?"

When the HDO member returned, he said he didn't want to give an interview. He'd been drinking and he wanted to relax. But he did make one statement: city workers are not being pressured into working on John Pope's campaign.

"Nobody's being forced to do anything," he said. "You go with who you want."

Last Saturday Daley came to the Tenth Ward to campaign for Pope. By then the hostility between HDO and its enemies in the Latino community was at a boil. Outside Steve's Lounge, Daley's first stop, a Martinez supporter held up a placard reading, "No More Sanchez, No More Pope, We Don't Want No Thug and Dope." A man with a megaphone hollered "Hey hey, ho ho, HDO has got to go." Minutes before Daley's car arrived, there was a tense shouting match on the street between Pope volunteers and supporters of rival candidates who had gathered for a unity demonstration.

Inside Steve's Lounge, Daley told the crowd that the $1 billion the city proposes to spend on O'Hare expansion means "there will not be an airport built in Hegewisch." He was interrupted by hecklers who shouted "Daley, yes! Pope, no!" and "Pope hasn't voted in three years!"

"Oh, come on, we're adults," Daley shot back, flashing his dark-browed scowl at the demonstrators. "Your children are holding your arms."

"You tell your goon squad not to bust me," retorted Sara Rodriguez, a Bosanko supporter.

At Daley's next stop, Cocula Restaurant in South Chicago, a paddy wagon was on the scene, and HDO members stood in the doorway to block anti-Pope demonstrators trying to get inside. (Rodriguez would file a complaint accusing Gilbert Delgado of shoving her into a door, causing injury to her left arm and shoulder.) Daley circulated through the restaurant shaking hands, then mounted the podium to again tell the protesters to go get their own rally.

"All the candidates of other candidates, get back with your candidate," the mayor said. "Get another thing and work together."

Pope stayed at Cocula's to lunch with campaign workers, including Sanchez, but Daley continued on to a library dedication in Jeffery Manor. After the ribbon cutting, the press surrounded Daley for a lightning round of questions. A few were about the Tenth Ward race.

The mayor said he supports Pope because "he's a good administrator. He understands the housing and economic issues." No, he hadn't asked HDO to work for his candidate. And as for charges that the group is using Streets and San to intimidate Pope's rivals?

"All opponents have to say that," Daley said. "They're supposed to do that."

Richard Martinez scoffed when he was told that the HDO didn't think a Latino could win in the Tenth Ward.

"That's just a cop-out," he said angrily. "That's an excuse for them to support John Pope. We have a lot of white supporters, including old East Siders."

If Martinez becomes alderman, he promises to bury HDO as a political force in the Tenth Ward. "We win this race here, that'll be the end of HDO, and I think you'll see a much more inclusive Latino organization," he said during a walk down Ewing Avenue. "They're putting themselves on the line for a no-name candidate, and they've got a lot at stake."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photographs by Nathan Mandell: Richard M. Daley with John Pope, left; misc. photo; John Buchanan; Gilbert Delgado; John Pope, Al Sanchez; 3 misc. photos; Candidate Neil Bosanko; Candidate Richard Martinez; candidate Nick Valadez; candidate Bob Wisz;.

Pin It

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Ted Kleine

Agenda Teaser

Galleries & Museums
April 21
Performing Arts
Sense and Sensibility Chicago Shakespeare Theater
May 01

Tabbed Event Search

Popular Stories

Right Now On

Follow Us

Sign up for newsletters »

 Early Warnings
 Food & Drink
 Reader Recommends
 Reader Real Deal
 Reader Events and Offers