21st District race pits name candidate versus newcomer

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By Bob Skolnik

Two young Hispanic politicians are fighting it out in the Democratic primary trying to become a state legislator in the new 21st District. The district stretches from the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago southwest to Summit and Lyons, and includes Riverside south of the railroad tracks. The 21st District was drawn to be a Hispanic district; legislative districts are redrawn every 10 years after each census.

The winner of the March 20 Democratic primary will no doubt go to serve in Springfield since no Republican has filed to run for the seat. About 65 percent of the district is in Chicago and 35 percent is suburban. There is no incumbent, since the current representative of the 21st District, Mike Zalewski (D-Riverside), is running in the new 23rd District.

The two candidates fighting it out for the Democratic nomination are Rudy Lozano Jr. and Silvana Tabares. A third candidate, Al Cacciottollo, withdrew from the race last month.

Lozano Jr., 36, is the son of Rudy Lozano Sr., a revered progressive activist and labor organizer in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago. Lozano Sr. was an early supporter of Harold Washington and ran for alderman of Chicago's 22nd ward in 1983.

Lozano, says he is running to pursue the ideals his father fought for.

"We carry on the work and the life of my father through improving the lives of working people and fighting for community empowerment and political representation," Lozano said. "I truly believe in community empowerment and civic engagement."

This is Lozano's second run for state representative. In 2010 he challenged Rep. Dan Burke (D-Chicago) in the old 23rd District and received 44.7 percent of the vote against the brother of powerful Chicago Ald. Ed Burke in a district that was almost entirely in Chicago.

Lozano has the backing of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, whose campaign fund recently donated $5,000 to Lozano's campaign, and of Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-Chicago), whose campaign fund recently donated $3,000 to Lozano's campaign.

Lozano also has the endorsement of many unions and union groups including the Chicago Federation of Labor, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, the Chicago Teachers Union, the Illinois AFL-CIO, and Teamsters Joint Council 25, two locals of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 881. The Chicago Teachers Union's political action committee has contributed $6,000 to Lozano's campaign.

Lozano said that he wants to change Springfield.

"Springfield is kind of a good old boys network and I come out of a more independent and progressive background," Lozano said, "so I'm hoping to bring some of those values to Springfield and shake things up a little."

Tabares, 33, is making her first run for office. She grew up in the Brighton Park neighborhood of Chicago and now lives in Garfield Ridge on Chicago's Southwest Side. Tabares is a former journalist. She started as an intern and rose to be the managing editor of the bilingual newspaper, Extra, before she resigned last summer to run for the state legislature. Tabares graduated from Columbia College in 2007 with a degree in broadcast journalism.

"I do not come from a political family," Tabares said. "I do not have a famous last name. I come from a working class family, raised by a single mother. She worked very hard in a factory and worked seven days a week, often overtime, to make the mortgage payment and pay for Catholic school, so I can identify with these residents."

Tabares has some powerful backers of her own. She claims to have the endorsement of Congressman Dan Lipinski (D-Western Springs) and is being supported by state senator Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago), whose political committee has contributed $6,500 to her campaign.

Chicago alderman George Cardenas of the 12th Ward is also backing Tabares, as is Ald. Michael Zalewski (23rd). State Representative Mike Zalewski, the son of the alderman, said that he is staying neutral in the race and has not endorsed anyone. Tabares also said that she has the support of former state Sen. Lou Viverito.

Tabares also said that she has the support of Riverside President Michael Gorman. She said that she met with Gorman a few weeks ago. She said that if elected she will try to bring some state money to Riverside.

Gorman said Tabares reached out to him and he came away impressed.

"The number one thing that is important to me with respect to any of our legislators is will they effectively represent the interests of Riverside," Gorman said. "That's my bellwether, and I think Ms. Tabares will do that."

Tabares said she would work with Sandoval to bring state money to Riverside for infrastructure projects.

"I plan to work with Senator Sandoval to bring resources to renovate the Metra station as well as bring resources to create bike trails in Riverside," Tabares said.

Tabares is a graduate of a leadership academy run by the United Neighborhood Organization, a powerful mostly Hispanic community group that has close ties to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel has not made an endorsement in the race.

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