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Pope, Martinez battle for 10th Ward

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On Chicago's southeast side, you'll find the 10th ward - a gritty neighborhood with working class homes and tracts of empty industrial space.

It hasn't made big political news for a while, but there's an interesting development this election season.

The ward's aldermen have always been Caucasian, despite the fact that the diverse neighborhood was home to Chicago's first Mexican immigrants.

For a long time, if you saw the face of an alderman from the 10th ward, you'd see the face of a white man. One of the highest profile was Eddie Vrdolyak.

In the eighties, he had public spats with alderman from minority neighborhoods … and he sparred with the city's first black mayor, Harold Washington.  

WASHINGTON: Anyone who has a grain of sense in his head would say there is something amiss here.

VRDOLYAK:: Well, the mayor says a lot of things and unfortunately right now what he sounds like right now is a loser.

WASHINGTON: Ed Vrdolyak systematically has discriminated against Hispanics in this city. He is responsible for Hispanics being denied the opportunity to vote for people of their own choice over the past three years.

The city, and the 10th ward, have changed a lot since the eighties, but there's a sense that ethnicity is still on the radar.

At least it is at Richard Martinez Jr's campaign. Martinez has numbers pinned on his wall.

They read:120.170.55. And so on.

These are the number of Hispanic voters he's counted in each 10th ward precinct.

Martinez sees each one as a potential asset for his attempt to become the ward's first Latino alderman. 

MARTINEZ: We've been a part of the culture. We've been a part of this community. The one part that we have been a part but we haven't really had any leadership in is in the political side.

The racial mix in the 10th ward is complex. African Americans and Hispanics make up the majority but there's still a sizeable Anglo population.

Martinez happens to be half Polish, but he feels his Latino heritage will resonate.

MARTINEZ: There is a historical component to this race. I think there are a lot of people that have a lot of pride in that and obviously I think that creates a lot of excitement.

POPE: This is the year 2011. I think people generally are smarter than that. They want someone who is going to lead them, someone who is going to work closely with them.

That's John Pope, the incumbent in this aldermanic race. He doesn't think ethnicity will be much of a factor.

POPE: I'm not female but hopefully I represent females just as well as I represent males. I've been around a long time. I've been working closely with people. I reach out to every end of the community.

Pope's represented the ward since 1999, and he's usually hit economic issues pretty hard: things like jobs, new housing and, just spiffing up acres of old industrial sites.

He thinks ethnicity should be a sideshow; the economy will take center stage.   

POPE: We've had new success with everything from a new Aldi's, to Walgreens to Bubbleland. Green buildings in terms of retail shopping stores. And I guess we're really focusing on the industrial jobs because that's what this area is really known for.

On the other side, Martinez's campaign is not solely based on race. He talks about the economy, too, but he has a different vision.

Pope hopes to lure heavy industrial factories back. Martinez isn't so sure that will work.

MARTINEZ: If you take a ride through the ward you'll see coal piles and smoke stacks. All kinds of dirty industry that's still very prominent in this community. It's my job to bring in investment that will contribute to the health, the welfare, the safety and the environment of our ward.

I catch up with potential voters at C&G restaurant on Torrance Avenue during the breakfast rush.

I'm there for breakfast … and to ask some open questions about the aldermanic race.

A lot of people were like Lucy Alvarez. They just didn't bring up ethnicity.

ALVAREZ: The neighborhood has come down ever since the mills have left. We need to sort of pick this up in order for anything more to happen to the people on this side of town.

Of course, no one can really say how much ethnicity will count in the 10th Ward's aldermanic contest, at least not until the returns come in Tuesday.

Two other candidates are also on the ballot: Jose Leon and Joseph Nasella.

However, neither of those men could be reached for comment.

(Audio clip of Washington-Vrdolyak from WBBM Channel 2 Chicago.)


John Pope (extended interview).mp3   

Extended interview with 10th Ward Alderman John Pope. Our conversation includes talk about economic development, improving schools and working with Chicago's new mayor.

Richard Martinez (extended interview).mp3

Extended interview with Richard Martinez Jr., who is running for alderman of the 10th Ward. Our conversation includes talk about improving schools, economic development and fighting crime.



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