In his nearly 14 years as a state legislator State Rep Mike Zalewski (D-Riverside) built an excellent reputation in Springfield. He was liked and respected by his colleagues regardless of party and ideological disposition. He was an active legislator who studied issues and liked to talk about policy. 

He was more accessible to the news media than most state legislators and he chaired the House Revenue and Finance Committee and was close to Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

But all of that didn’t translate into enough votes for Zalewski in last month’s primary election as the seven-term incumbent was defeated in the Democratic primary in the 21st District by challenger Abdelnasser Rashid, who won just over 52 percent of the vote in an extremely low-turnout election.

Zalewski was beaten badly on his home turf in Riverside, where he has lived for the past 12 years. He only received 40.2 percent of the vote in the Riverside portion of his district, which includes all of Riverside north of the BNSF railroad tracks. Zalewski didn’t even win the Riverside Township’s 10th Precinct, where he lives, getting only 42 percent of the vote.

The 43-year-old Zalewski, who declined to comment on the results, will remain in office until the end of the year.

“I’m still not really ready to talk about the race,” Zalewski told the Landmark in a text message on July 11. 

In addition to taking Riverside, Rashid also won the Brookfield and North Riverside portions of the 21st District, with 52 percent of the vote in the Brookfield portion and 55 percent in the North Riverside portion. Rashid also did very well in the Berwyn part of the district, racking up 61 percent of the vote there.

Zalewski did best in the Chicago part of the district, winning 68.6 percent of the vote in the Southwest Side area where he grew up and where his father had served as alderman. Zalewski also did well in the Cicero portion of the district, winning 62 percent of the vote there.

In the Lyons Township part of the district, Zalewski won 53 percent of the vote but that wasn’t enough to overcome Rashid’s margins in Riverside and Berwyn. Zalewski did best in the southern part of the district, which includes Countryside and Bridgeview.

Turnout was extremely low, 13.79 percent in the suburban portion of the district, but slightly higher at 16.7 percent in the Riverside Township portion of the district. The low turnout may have hurt the moderate Zalewski, with motivated progressive voters turning out in greater numbers for Rashid. Two other incumbent Democratic state representatives also lost their primary races last month, both losing to candidates who ran to their left. 

Last year Zalewski angered some progressives last year voting against the successful repeal of the parental notification requirement for minors seeking abortions. Rashid ran an aggressive campaign, attacking that Zalewski vote at every turn and tying him to former Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan who was indicted on federal racketeering charges in March. 

It didn’t help that Zalewski’s father, also named Michael, was named, but not charged, in the indictment against Madigan. One of the charges against Madigan is that he arranged for the elder Zalewski to get a $5,000 a month consulting contract from ComEd for which he would be expected to do little or no work. In addition, Zalewski’s wife, Carrie, serves as the chairwoman of the Illinois Commerce Commission, which is charged with regulating ComEd’s electric rates in Illinois.

Rashid also pointed out how the elder Zalewski and Madigan were largely responsible for starting the younger Zalewski’s political career in 2008 by putting him on the general election ballot after then-incumbent Robert Molaro abruptly resigned after the primary to insulate Zalewski from primary competition in his first run for office. 

Another factor in Zalewski’s defeat may have been that despite being the Riverside Township Democratic committeeman, Zalewski never built a strong local political organization, which left him without many volunteers when he faced the only tough challenge of his career.

In the other primary race featuring a local candidate, Riverside resident Chloe Pedersen did carry her hometown despite losing to ShawnTe Raines-Welch in a four-way race for judge in the 4th Judicial Subcircuit. Pedersen received 53 percent of the vote in Riverside.

But Raines Welch, the wife of Illinois House Speaker Chris Welch, won overall with 34.35 percent of the vote compared to 27.51 percent for Pedersen, 23.98 percent of the vote for former Brookfield resident Jerry Barrido and 14.17 percent of the vote for Patrick Campanelli.

Raines-Welch, whose campaign received large contributions from colleagues of her husband and from unions and interest groups, vastly outspent her opponents.

Despite losing, Pedersen was happy about carrying Riverside and said that the campaign was a good experience.

“I put in a lot of hard work and, while obviously the result isn’t exactly what we wanted, I could not be prouder given how much work we did and the massive support we garnered given how things were really stacked against us,” Pedersen said.

Pedersen said she still would like to become a judge someday.

Barrido carried Brookfield with 38 percent of the vote in his former hometown and finished second in the Riverside portion of the district. 

Raines-Welch carried the North Riverside portion of the district with 34 percent of the vote there, but she finished third in both Riverside and Brookfield.