On the surface, next Tuesday’s Democratic primary in the 39th Illinois House District is a choice between representatives of two big Northwest Side communities: Hispanics and hipsters.

State Rep. Maria Antonia “Toni” Berrios, 36, is a daughter of one of the most powerful Hispanic politicians in the state, Cook County Democratic Party Chairman and Assessor Joe Berrios.

Challenger Will Guzzardi, 26, is a New York-born, North Carolina-bred Brown University graduate who landed in the hipster haven of Logan Square five years ago and is waging his second campaign against Toni Berrios.

 

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In English — and better-than-passable Spanish, too — Guzzardi argues that the real importance of the race greatly transcends the Hispanics-versus-hipsters paradigm.

“This is an election to decide what kind of Democrats we want to have in Illinois,” says Guzzardi, who’s a mix of Italian and other European ancestries. “When we have a speaker who wants to cut corporate taxes in half, it makes you wonder what kinds of Democrats we’re talking about.”

He also blasts Michael Madigan, the state House speaker and Democratic Party leader from the Southwest Side, for cuts to public-worker pensions. And he criticizes Toni Berrios for helping create a state charter-school agency.

Two years ago, Guzzardi almost defeated Toni Berrios, without the endorsement of a single elected official in the district. That near-miss and his left-leaning positions have won Guzzardi the backing of the Chicago Teachers Union, state Sen. Willie Delgado and City Council members Joe Moreno (1st), Scott Waguespack (32nd) and John Arena (45th).

A spokesman for Toni Berrios said last week she won’t give any more interviews before the election because she was “pretty shaken” when a man allegedly harassed her as she campaigned on March 1.

While the incumbent took a vow of silence, other powerful figures made themselves heard for her.

This week, voters in the district received the latest in a series of ads alleging that Guzzardi favors going easy on sex offenders. 

The new mailer adds an odd racial twist to this line of attack. It features a photo of a young white woman with manly hands clasping her bare shoulders. You can’t see the face of the person whose hands they are, but they’re obviously not the hands of a white person.

“Will Guzzardi can’t think of a reason to monitor sexual predators … but she can,” the ad reads.

The mail piece was paid for by Democratic Majority, a Madigan-led political fund. Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said Tuesday he had not seen the ad and declined my offer to e-mail a copy to him, saying only that Guzzardi has “a big problem explaining his position” on whether sex offenders should be required to register.

The attacks are based on an article that Guzzardi wrote for his college newspaper in 2006. He says the comment was taken out of context, doesn’t reflect his campaign’s stance and is an attempt by the incumbent to play off voter fears.

The same political fund paid a Madigan aide, Mark Bretz, for helping Toni Berrios’ campaign in 2012. Cook County records show Joe Berrios hired Bretz in September in the county assessor’s office. 

Besides Madigan, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle endorses Toni Berrios for another term.

Gov. Pat Quinn professes neutrality, but a high-ranking Quinn appointee, former 1st Ward Ald. Manny Flores, appears in Toni Berrios campaign literature, urging people to “join me in voting” for her.

It would be interesting to ask Flores how he plans to vote for Toni Berrios since he moved from the Northwest Side, to the northwest suburbs, after quitting the City Council and joining the Quinn administration. Flores has been registered to vote in Park Ridge, miles from the 39th Illinois House District, since 2012.

Flores did not return calls seeking comment.

Guzzardi says the powers that be are doing all this and more for Toni Berrios because they want “entrenched politicians who sit in their seats” in Springfield and blindly follow orders.

Guzzardi says his message is appealing to long-time voters of all races who are weary of corruption and economic stagnation.

Asked about the political interests of hipsters from the Northwest Side and beyond, he says, “Young people of this generation tend to be way more involved in the community in other ways, but they’re deeply cynical of politics. Even something as messy as Chicago politics can be affected to the better. We can take on the whole messy establishment.”