If you watch TV over the next week, you just might see among the flood of political commercials ads for both State Rep. Mike Zalewski (D-Riverside) and Abdelnasser Rashid, Zalewski’s opponent in the June 28 Democratic Primary race for state representative in the 21st District.
Television ads are rare in a state rep primary race, but both candidates are pulling out all the stops in what has turned into a heated race.
Zalewski started running broadcast TV ads last week and Rashid, who up until this week only had ads on less expensive cable stations, will start airing ads on broadcast stations on June 22.
Both sides are also using direct mail, sometimes leveling harsh attacks against each other.
“It’s been a mud fight,” Zalewski said.
Zalewski told the Landmark on June 19 that he was disappointed with the negative nature of the campaign. He said that that it didn’t have to be that way.
“I know Naz,” Zalewski said. “It struck me that it didn’t have to be about things that are process-orientated and how I got appointed and things that are peripheral to the substantive issues facing families. I can tell you, at the doors, people care about inflation, they care about the cost of living, they care about protecting our schools and they care about protecting a woman’s choice.”
Zalewski said that he and Rashid agree on most issues.
“It’s been a hard race,” Zalewski said. “It’s certainly been an expensive one where the candidates agree on 98 percent of the issues, even I would argue 99 percent. We’re both good Democrats who, I think, are interested in what’s best for working families in this state.”
Bur Rashid, a progressive who has worked for Bernie Sanders, former Cook County Clerk David Orr, and on the 2015 Chicago mayoral campaign of Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, has a different view of the race.
He frames it as choice between two different brands of politics, constantly tying Zalewski to Mike Madigan, the former longtime Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, who has been indicted on federal corruption charges.
One element of the federal charges against Madigan include what prosecutors allege was a successful effort by Madigan to get a $5,000 a month ComEd consulting contract for Zalewski’s father, who had recently retired from his post as alderman of the 23rd Ward of Chicago.
The younger Zalewski, in what was seen as classic insider politics, first got on the ballot in 2008 after former state Rep. Robert Molaro retired after that year’s Democratic primary.
“I believe you have to fight the machine, not be a part of it,” Rashid said.
Zalewski counters that Rashid accepted a $50,000 campaign contribution from the then Madigan-controlled Democratic Party of Illinois in 2018 when he was the Democratic candidate for a county board seat and lost a close race to Republican Sean Morrison.
Rashid was also endorsed by the Cook County Democratic Party when he ran for a seat on the Cook County Board of Review in 2020 but was defeated in the Democratic primary Tammy Wendt. This is the 32-year-old Harvard graduate’s third run for public office in the past four years.
Riverside resident Terry Mullen likes Rashid’s message. While riding his bike on June 18, he saw Rashid and a campaign supporter going door to door in Riverside. Mullen stopped and asked for one of the Rashid yard signs.
“I think he would bring new and different energy to the role,” Mullen told the Landmark when asked why he was voting for Rashid.
Despite the television ads and the direct mail, the main method of campaigning for both candidates has been ringing doorbells and knocking on the doors of likely Democratic primary voters in the new 21st District. Both candidates say that they have been pounding the pavement pretty much every day for the last 10 weeks. It’s been tiring work, especially in the recent heat.
Zalewski says that he has lost 20 pounds while walking four to six miles a day in the district that ranges from Cicero to Justice and includes most of Riverside north of the railroad tracks, and parts of North Riverside and southern Brookfield.
Zalewski has been talking to voters so much that he briefly came down with laryngitis last week. But he was back out going to door to door in Brookfield on June 19 despite feeling exhausted.
When Zalewski was able to talk to people face to face he emphasized that he is pro-choice on abortion and an advocate of gun control.
That seemed to enough for voters like Brian Kenny of Brookfield and Debbie Blangin of Berwyn.
Rashid has hammered Zalewski throughout the campaign for Zalewski’s vote last year against repealing the parental notice act which required minors in most circumstances to give parents notice before seeking an abortion.
That strong pro-choice stance was a main reason why Judith Literskis, of Riverside, is supporting Rashid.
“A big thing for me is that he is pro-choice,” Literskis said.
Zalewski has the support of his Democratic legislative colleagues, a number of whom have come by for a day to go door to door with him in the district. He has the backing of the Lyons Township Democratic Organization, headed by state Sen. Steve Landek, and has also landed endorsements from Sen. Dick Durbin and Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
On June 18, Pritzker’s political committee JB for Governor contributed $50,000 to Zalewski’s political committee, Zalewski for State Representative.
Rashid has been endorsed by the Chicago Tribune, former Congressman Luis Gutierrez, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and former Cook County Clerk David Orr.
One quirk in the race is that Rashid will not be able to vote for himself, because he does not live in the district he is seeking to represent. Rashid did live in the old 23rd District that Zalewski has represented.
In a redistricting year such as this, candidates for the state legislature need only to live in a district adjacent to the district they are running in. If elected Rashid would have to move into the district by the 2024 primary election.
Rashid, a Justice resident, lives just a couple blocks outside the district on 83rd Street. The southern border of the district is 83rd Street but as the district boundary line moves west on 83rd Street it juts north just a couple of blocks before reaching Rashid’s home to place him in the 82nd District represented by House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs).
“It’s not unusual for the machine to strategically move potential competitors out [of a district],” Rashid said. “I won’t say one way or another that that’s what happened here but I think there’s a good chance.”