Mayoral candidates Vallas, Johnson tout support of Polish community at two different press events and some people on social media are ‘not having it’
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
Paul Vallas received support of the Polish community this week in his run for mayor.
And so did Brandon Johnson.
That’s according to two different press events held recently on the Northwest Side.
The Polish National Alliance, the Illinois Division of the Polish American Congress and representatives of several Polish groups and organizations met with Vallas at PNA headquarters, 6100 N. Cicero Ave. on Wednesday, March 22, to throw their support behind him.
Representatives from the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America, Alliance of Polish Clubs, the Polish American Chamber of Commerce, the Legion of Young Polish Women, the Copernicus Foundation, Polish Teachers Association in America, and more were also in attendance.
At the meeting, PNA president Frank Spula announced the Polish community’s endorsement of Vallas for mayor, according to a press release.
“The leaders of the Polish-American community are in this room,” Spula said in the press release. “Our community leaders gathered here today, and we strongly endorse you.”
Vallas discussed public safety, expanding the police force, improving public education, not raising and introducing new taxes, and making the city more business-friendly, the press release said.
“We need to restore Polish history in our curriculum and honor our Polish heroes. We need to make people truly understand what the Polish community has brought to the city,” Vallas said.
He said he would also try to restore Pulaski Day in Chicago Public Schools, which stopped observing it in 2012 as a way to increase the number of days in the school year, although some schools still observe the holiday.
“I grew up with Pulaski Day. We need to have a calendar that recognizes Pulaski Day,” Vallas said.
Meanwhile, earlier this week, a press event with Brandon Johnson and several elected officials and leaders of Service Employees International Union Local 1 on March 20 at Kosciuszko Park, 2732 N. Avers Ave., caused a bit of a storm on social media.
Johnson said on his Twitter page that “Chicago is home to the largest Polish community outside of Poland.”
“I am truly humbled to have the support of this community that has been an integral part of our city’s culture for generations,” he Tweeted.
This set off a barrage of comments suggesting the event was staged for obvious political reasons by people beholden to the union, that the “support” was not real, and that the majority of people in the Polish community were actually going to vote for Vallas. The Tweet was viewed more than 190,000 times, with the majority of comments being critical of Johnson and the event.
“What is this, a couple of Polish people who said they’d vote for you? No official group name or affiliation? These few people are not representative of the entire Polish community,” one person wrote.
“You do not have all of our endorsements. This has made many of us upset and embarrassed. You can certainly count on NOT getting the entire Polish community’s votes, Mr. Johnson,” another wrote.
“Polish people don’t vote for socialists,” another added.
Former U.S. House Illinois 3rd Congressional District representative Daniel Lipinski said on Johnson’s Twitter:
“Please let us know how the ‘Polish community’ is backing you. Strange not one group or even person is mentioned and only a few people are shown. Perhaps you should tell the Polish highlanders on Archer your plans for the city and find out what they think,” Lipinski wrote.
What was likely missing from many of the reactions on the social media platform was context. To be clear, the event was described in a press release as a way of “amplifying support” for Johnson in the Polish community and celebrating the legacy of Tadeusz Kosciuszko.
Aside from his fame as a war hero, Kosciuszko left several wills, including one from 1798 saying that proceeds from his American estate should be spent on freeing African-American slaves, including those of Thomas Jefferson, whom he named as the will’s executor, published reports said. Jefferson refused to obey his friend’s wishes, according to the reports. Kosciuszko died in 1817.
Those in attendance at the park event included state Senator Robert Martwick (D-10), Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago Commissioner Dan Pogorzelski, Alderman Carlos Ramirez Rosa (35th), Cook County Commissioner Kevin Morrison, SEIU Local 1 vice presidents Robert Pawlaszek and Izabela Miltko Ivkovich, 38th Ward Democrats member Susan Zimny and other union members.
Pogorzelski said that the event was never meant to indicate that the entire Polish community was behind Johnson and he thinks that some of the outrage on social media is due to the message being “lost in translation.”
“Our press advisory which was sent out the night before the event to the media clearly states that this rally is by members of the Polish-American community supporting Brandon Johnson for mayor,” Pogorzelski said.
“No one involved has made any claims to speak for the entire Polish community. We were heartened to hear stories of Polish-Americans who personally know Brandon Johnson. Many in attendance were touched as they listened to him speak about Kosciuszko as a hero to Fredrick Douglass and the abolition movement,” Pogorzelski said.
He said the event was held to show that there are some Poles in Chicago who support Johnson and “not just Vallas.”
“Many laborers in the SEIU are Polish and they support him (Johnson),” Pogorzelski said. “And they just wanted to hold an event showing support.”