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Old & new politics clash in 47th Ward

Updated: December 3, 2011 8:13AM

Ameya Pawar has been wrestling with a decision.

The brand new alderman of the 47th Ward has been debating whether to run for Democratic ward committeeman in the upcoming March 2012 primary.

Old-time pols must roll their eyes at such indecision, believing it’s nuts to pass up the possibility of grabbing more power, even if being a committeeman isn’t as big a deal as it once was.

The alderman handles the service end of a ward, but the committeeman is the political boss. Most members of the City Council want to be both. And a majority are both. Thirty-one of 50 aldermen are committeemen too.

Now comes Pawar, a 31-year-old Northwestern University urban policy wonk, who has already upset the natural order of ward politics in a big way by beating the handpicked candidate of the outgoing alderman and committeeman, Eugene Schulter.

Schulter’s candidate, Tom O’Donnell, lost to Pawar despite having the endorsements of Rahm Emanuel, Forrest Claypool, U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley and county commissioners Bridget Gainer and John Fritchey.

Pawar, the first Indian-American elected to the City Council, may turn out to be more progressive than the list of progressives who weren’t with him.

Or, as his critics believe, more naive.

His biggest foe at the moment is Schulter, who reportedly remains a bit cranky about this young upstart’s ascendance. Though Pawar says he has made overtures to the former alderman, including introducing a City Council resolution honoring him for 36 years of service, there has been no thaw, though Schulter has denied it.

Instead, there have been the little sabotages that Schulter left behind. Like not leaving Pawar the $7,000 parking permit machine by which residents can buy stickers to park.

“Poof, it disappeared,” he said.

And Schulter, as ward committeeman, has sent residents emails offering the kind of assistance ordinarily offered by the alderman.

Losers in politics sometimes can’t let go.

The former alderman’s interference presented Pawar with a dilemma. Should he run for Schulter’s committeeman job as well?

On Monday, Pawar decided.

“I absolutely love my job. What I don’t like is the politics. I’m not going to run,” he told me. “I’ve given it a lot of thought. One thing is clear, Gene is going to be Gene and do the same things he’s doing whether or not he’s in the committeeman seat.”

Schulter, who didn’t return calls to his office, home or cellphone Tuesday, has not said if in fact he is actually running.

But Pawar is endorsing Paul Rosenfeld, 44, a lobbyist and neighborhood activist, for the job.

Rosenfeld, whose own internal poll gives Pawar a 29-point advantage over Schulter in a race, said, “I give Ameya so much credit. If he wanted to be committeeman, he could walk into it.”

Instead, Rosenfeld and Pawar will join forces. They are united in an effort to combine TIF funds with corporate dollars to improve their neighborhood schools to attract new families to the 47th Ward and keep them there.

And committed to opening up the ward’s political organization to more resident involvement in candidate selection. “The current 47th Ward organization is a closed shop and you have to be invited in,” said Pawar.

In the hard-bitten world of politics, this might be more idealism than Chicago can handle.

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