Michael J. Zalewski and Abdelnasser Rashid

Abdelnasser Rashid has come out swinging in his bid to unseat State Rep. Mike Zalewski (D-Riverside).

Just a month after announcing that he was challenging Zalewski in the June 28 Democratic primary, Rashid has raised more than $125,000 and put out two digital ads attacking Zalewski. One ad criticizes Zalewski for sponsoring legislation that would lead to higher gas taxes and the other accuses him of voting to allow utilities to raise their rates.

One ad shows a not particularly flattering photograph of Zalewski juxta positioned against a photo of a gas station price sign showing gas at $4.75 a gallon for regular. The ad says that Zalewski introduced two bills that would allow higher gas taxes.

“When gas prices are going up, to ask families to pay more for gas isn’t leadership, it’s punishment,” Rashid told the Landmark in a telephone interview.

On Jan. 10 Zalewski introduced a bill that would allow all municipalities in Illinois to levy a motor fuel tax. Currently only municipalities in Cook County can levy a municipal motor fuel tax of up to three cents a gallon. Zalewski’s bill was referred to the House Rules Committee and no further action was taken on the bill. In fact, earlier this month Zalewski supported, and the General Assembly approved as part of its budget package, a six-month suspension of a scheduled 2.2 cents per gallon increase in the state gas tax that had been scheduled to take effect on July 1.

Zalewski noted that gas tax funds pay for needed repairs to roads and bridges.

“I stand by the work we did to invest $2.5 billion in the Illinois economy by repairing its broken infrastructure,” Zalewski said. “I would also stand by the bill I sponsored and passed to cut the gas tax. I’m proud of my record on these issues.” 

Zalewski also said that just because he introduces a bill doesn’t mean he necessarily supports it.

“In my capacity as revenue and finance chairman I often file bills to make sure that I can control the legislation,” Zalewski said. “I’m often willing to not pass my own bills just because it’s in the best interest of the state not to do so. It goes with the territory.”

Rashid didn’t buy that explanation.

“Other members can introduce their own bills,” Rashid said. “Mike Zalewski can’t run from his record, he tried not once but twice to increase the gas tax on families in Illinois.” 

In 2019 Zalewski sponsored an amendment to a bill originally introduced by former House Speaker Michael Madigan that would have permitted municipalities that adopted a responsible bid ordinance approved by the state Department of Transportation to impose a local gas tax of up to three cents a gallon. Although that specific bill died without a vote other legislation passed in 2019 that allowed non home rule communities in Cook County to levy a municipal gas tax of up to three cents a gallon without a referendum.

“Working families are struggling to pay their rent and pay their mortgage but Mike Zalewski decided it was more important to do Mike Madigan’s bidding,” Rashid said.

Despite Rashid’s attacks on him Zalewski told the Landmark that he plans to run a positive campaign based on the record he has compiled in his 14 years in the legislature.

“I’m going to run explaining my record and we’re going to do our best taking our message directly to the voters and we’ll see where the chips may fall,” Zalewski said. 

Zalewski said he didn’t think voters were in the mood for negative attacks.

“I don’t think people are interested at this moment in a campaign that devolves into negative attacks,” Zalewski said. “I think with the rising costs based on inflation, the concern about Ukraine and Russia, and rising gas prices and the uncertainty about just general stuff, the real apprehension people feel right now, the last thing they want is for candidates for state representative going into the mud, at least for me. I can only speak for myself.”

Rashid has raised $127,927 for his campaign since announcing his run on March 14. His father, a retired home furnishings store owner, is his campaign’s largest donor contributing $10,000 and loaning the campaign another $25,000. His mother donated $2,000 to his campaign and Rashid himself personally donated $5,000 to his campaign committee.

Zalewski still has a significant financial advantage as his campaign committee started the year with just over $338,000 in the bank.

“We’ll do what we need to do to defend my record,” Zalewski said.