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Lozano Jr. vs. Tabares campaign one to watch on Southwest Side

Rudy Lozano Jr.

Rudy Lozano Jr.

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Updated: April 19, 2012 8:35AM

Two years ago, community activist Rudy Lozano Jr. gave Rep. Dan Burke, brother of Ald. Ed Burke, enough of a scare in his re-election bid that it appeared to be only a matter of time and changing demographics before the results were reversed.

Party leaders responded to this threat in the time-honored manner that has helped them retain power through waves of racial and ethnic change.

They used the ward redistricting process to map Burke into a new safe seat while sticking Lozano in a separate district composed mostly of unfamiliar territory, much of it in the suburbs.

Then they went one better and found a young Latino candidate of their own to support, former journalist Silvana Tabares, recruited from the ranks of their Hispanic allies, to further block Lozano’s path.

It was smart politics and has made for a darn interesting contest for the 21st District seat in the Illinois House, with the outcome still very much in doubt.

While the pie-in-the-sky attempt to unseat House Speaker Michael Madigan has attracted more attention, this may be the only Southwest Side race where there’s any realistic chance of an independent winning a ticket to Springfield.

The new Latino-majority 21st District straddles the Stevenson Expy., roughly from Western Avenue on the east to Lyons and McCook on the west.

Most critically, it excludes a major chunk of Little Village, the heart of the 22nd Ward, which has been a bastion of Hispanic independent politics since 1984 — originally under Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and later the current alderman, Ricardo Munoz.

Garcia, now a Cook County commissioner, is Lozano’s field director, while Munoz is also involved but concentrating on his own bid to unseat Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown.

Lozano, 36, is a product of their organization, although in a sense all three are heirs to the political movement started by Lozano’s father, Rudy Sr., a charismatic labor organizer who was murdered in 1983 shortly after his own losing campaign for alderman.

Tabares, 33, a former editor of the bilingual newspaper Extra, is a newcomer to politics. But she has a powerful sponsor in Juan Rangel, CEO of United Neighborhood Organization, the politically astute community group — better known as UNO — that increased its influence exponentially during Mayor Richard M. Daley’s reign.

UNO operates under Rangel with a philosophy that it’s better to work within the established power structure to win benefits for Latinos than to fight from the outside. In this case, the established power structure includes such Machine stalwarts as the Burkes and Ald. Michael Zalewski (23rd).

UNO has used that approach to become a major operator of charter schools, which helps explain why the contest has become a proxy fight in the battle over the future of public education in Illinois.

Lozano has received tens of thousands of dollars in contributions from labor unions — in particular, teachers and other public employee unions eager to shore up support in the Legislature.

In turn, Tabares’ biggest funder is Stand for Children, a group with an anti-union slant on school reform, which has plowed nearly $50,000 into her campaign. The political arm of the Republican-leaning Illinois Chamber of Commerce has added $20,000.

Tabares also has received a lot of money from contractors who have done construction work for UNO under a $100 million state appropriation to build new schools.

When I placed a call to Misty Gillian of Auburn, Ind., confused as to why she donated $1,500 to Tabares, I got a call back from her husband, Kevin, who explained that his company, TFC Canopy, made all those shiny aluminum wall panels cladding UNO’s new Soccer Academy. That explained it.

In recent weeks, the Tabares campaign has resorted to the same scare tactics often used against Munoz over the years with campaign mailers suggesting street-gang influence, accusations that have so frightened 22nd Ward residents through the years that they’ve elected him five times.

Most of these mailers include a doctored photo of Lozano taken at his brother’s wedding — used to suggest he’s throwing up a gang sign — which when you see the real photo looks about as much like a gang sign as that thing Sammy Sosa used to do. Even the Chicago Tribune has endorsed him.

I was hoping to get Tabares to explain this tactic but never was able to connect. Maybe in her next campaign.

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