Illinois state Rep. Michael Zalewski (D-Riverside) and his primary opponent, Abdelnasser Rashid, squared off face to face for the first time in their primary race last week at a candidates’ forum in Berwyn. The candidates made brief opening statements and then answered questions for about 30 minutes.
The forum, which featured opening statements followed by a roughly 30-minute Q&A, was held just three days after a draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion was leaked indicating that a majority of justices were ready to overturn the Roe vs. Wade decision that established a constitutional right to an abortion.
Rashid, who is making his third run for public office, attacked Zalewski for voting last year against repealing the Parental Notification of Abortion Act, which required that girls under 18 to notify their parents in most cases before getting an abortion.
“You have a choice between someone who voted to take away the right of a young women who was raped from getting an abortion without first notifying her parent or someone who will always protect a woman’s right to choose,” Rashid said.
Zalewski did not defend his vote last year on Parental Notification Act, but he responded by pointing to his strong pro-choice voting record.
“My record on choice is clear and it’s unequivocable, I’m pro-choice,” Zalewski said. “I supported the Reproductive Health Act, which says that when and if Roe is overturned, we will immediately have a modern medical act in place so that they will be able to access reproductive health.”
Rashid also attacked Zalewski for being a product of what he called a corrupt political machine and tried to tie Zalewski to former Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, who is now facing federal corruption charges.
Rashid noted Zalewski got his start in politics by being appointed by ward committeeman, including his father Michael Zalewski, the former alderman from the 23rd Ward in Chicago, and Madigan, to be the Democratic candidate for state rep in 2008 after then-state Rep. Robert Molaro pulled out the race after the primary.
“You were appointed by your father and Speaker Madigan, you were appointed to the Revenue Committee by Speaker Madigan, you got tons of money from Speaker Madigan directly,” Rashid said. “At the very end when many of your colleagues were deserting Speaker Madigan, when it was clear the direction things were going, you stood by him.”
Rashid said that it is time for new leadership. He also tied Zalewski to former Congressman Dan Lipinski, who like Zalewski, grew up in the 23rd Ward.
“There couldn’t be a starker contrast in this election,” Rashid said. “You have a choice, voters have a choice between someone who is a protégé of the Mike Madigan, Dan Lipinski and the corrupt Madigan machine and someone who’s fought the Madigan machine.”
Zalewski pointed out that when Rashid ran for county board in 2018, ultimately losing to Republican Sean Morrison, Rashid accepted a contribution from the Illinois Democratic Party, which was then controlled by Madigan.
Rashid mentioned that Zalewski’s father, who he didn’t name, is one of those mentioned in the charges against Madigan as getting a contract with ComEd for little or no work. Rashid described Zalewski’s father as a ghost payroller for ComEd.
Zalewski responded by saying that he will not criticize his father.
“You’re never going to get me to say a cross word about my dad,” Zalewski said. “I love him dearly. I’ve known the man my entire life.”
Zalewski described how his father rose from humble beginnings.
“I’m the son of a garbageman,” Zalewski said. “My dad was on the back of a garbage truck. He worked his way up.”
Zalewski said that his own personal integrity has not been questioned.
“I’m an honest person,” Zalewski said. “I’m a trustworthy person. I’ve conducted myself admirably.”
Rashid charged that early in his career Zalewski lobbied on behalf of utility companies and said that, as a state representative, Zalewski has voted in favor of legislation allowing utilities to raise their rates.
Zalewski defended his voting record, saying the recently passed Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA) will reduce electric bills by approximately $19 a month this summer.
“CEJA is a revolutionary climate bill and it was not written by the utility companies,” Zalewski said. “It was written by my colleagues and it was written by the Citizens Utility Board and it was written by the attorney general’s office and the green community and is the most progressive climate legislation in a generation.”
Zalewski, who is chairman of the Illinois House Revenue and Finance Committee, touted his role in passing a budget this year that has led to credit rating upgrades for Illinois.
“The choice here is, quite frankly, between a record and a promise,” Zalewski said. “I’m a solid record in times of high instability.”
Both campaigns have begun rolling out endorsements. Rashid was endorsed last week by Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-9th District) and former Congressman Luis Gutierrez.
Zalewski is not endorsed by Planned Parenthood or Personal PAC, which advocate for abortion rights. But last week he announced that he has been endorsed by 31 female Democratic state representatives, including some notable progressives. He also has been endorsed by three political action committees affiliated with gun control groups. Last weekend members of the fire fighters union knocked on doors for Zalewski.
Unions are also providing Zalewski with money. On April 20 the political action committee of the Laborers Union donated $59,900 to the Riverside Township Democrats, who are led by Zalewski. On May 2 the political fund of Plumbers Union Local 130 donated $2,500 to Zalewski’s campaign. On the same day, the Realtor Political Action Committee contributed $35,000 to Zalewski’s campaign.