Cable TV news is already full with coverage of the upcoming presidential race, which happens to be more than a year away still. But for thousands of Chicagoans, one important election season ends this very weekend. Polish people living in the U.S. are voting in their general election Saturday. Among their choices is a prominent suburban radio host.
Sylwester Skora sits comfortably behind the microphone at WPNA in Oak Park, radio dials at the ready. Skora’s a household name in many Polish circles – he’s hosted a news and information show on the Polish language station for 21 years. He hopes that familiarity will help him win a seat in Poland’s lower house of Parliament.
SKORA: If you work with five people for 25 years and have a family and a couple of friends, it is not a good beginning for a political career. But if you are a person associated in a different way with many, many people, businesses, organizations, and whatsoever, you are almost in.
Skora hopes to follow in the footsteps of other Chicagoans who won office in their native lands. A Hinsdale man who’d fled Lithuania during the Soviet invasion became president of his home country. Another Chicago Polish radio personality, Andrzej Czuma, won a seat in Poland's Parliament and briefly served as Minister of Justice.
Skora is targeting voters who live outside of Poland, especially here in Chicago.
SKORA: Polonia does not get enough deserved attention from Poland. We are just mainly the source of economic support. They as our motherland and authorities are not aware of our needs, of our potential, of our expectation, of our pride to be here, a lot of different issues.
Skora says Poles who’ve worked in both the U.S. and Poland are finding their Social Security benefits cut because of their Polish pensions. He says there are too many restrictions on people who want to invest or do business in Poland.
SKORA: The solutions which are good for Poles living in Poland are not exactly good for those who live in the United States.
Skora’s been campaigning all over the region. He rates his chances as good if enough people here register to vote.
By Thursday morning, about 12,000 people had done so. Polish Consul General Zygmunt Matynia predicts the numbers will be lower this year. The reason? He says the U.S. economy is weak, and Poles are going back to Poland.
Matynia says even though Skora lives in the U.S., he can run for office in Warsaw. The Polish Peasants’ Party, which is strong in rural areas, recruited famous Poles living abroad to try to pick up seats in Warsaw.
MATYNIA: This is some kind of experiment, I would say.
Skora has to draw strong support in Chicago to have any kind of chance. Yet Matynia says Polish people in Chicago tend to be conservative, and vote the Law and Justice party, not the minority Peasant Party.
MATYNIA: We will see. They think that Polonia, which is a big Polish Diaspora living abroad, should have representatives in the Parliament. Polonia likes this idea because it means that for Poland living in Poland, (the) Polish Diaspora is important.
DOBRZYCKI: It seems no matter where you live in the world, you still have that pull to be back in Poland.
Mark Dobrzycki directs the Polish National Alliance’s Polish Information Center. He says people in Chicago join regional clubs to provide funding to parish churches and build monuments in their hometowns.
Voting, he says:
DOBRZYCKI: It’s an avenue for the individuals who have made America either their homes or the place where they reside to connect with Poland, with their homeland, and this way they’re able to influence what occurs in their country of birth.
Poles will head to voting booths at the Polish Consulate and in Polish churches and agencies on Saturday.