Tough-as-steel-rivets Susan Sadlowski Garza will be sworn in next month as the new alderman of the 10th Ward in possibly the most significant victory for progressives in this year’s election.
Final vote tallies on Tuesday showed Garza with a razor-thin 20-vote win over 16-year incumbent John Pope, who lost despite the backing of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Pope may press ahead with a recount after results become official Thursday, but he will be facing an uphill climb with no obvious path to victory. He also will have the disadvantage of being on the outside looking in after Garza takes office May 18.
With all due respect to the other new aldermen who slipped past the mayor’s “Keep Out” signs and to his incumbent critics who survived his big-money attacks, I’m most hopeful for the possibilities presented by Garza.
She could fill a role I don’t think the City Council has ever seen previously — a progressive-minded woman with blue-collar instincts who is unafraid to speak out on issues that may put her at odds with the Fifth Floor.
Although a political novice who may be a little unpolished at the moment for prime time, what Garza lacks in experience she seems to make up for in brass.
“They’re going to know I’m there,” Garza promised me Tuesday after learning the final vote tallies.
I took that as a reference to the mayor and her soon-to-be colleagues on the City Council, but before long I expect the rest of you will know she’s there as well.
Garza, 55, is a Chicago Public Schools counselor and a leader in the Chicago Teachers Union.
She’s also the daughter of iconic Steelworkers union leader Ed Sadlowski, which gave her important name recognition in this Southeast Side ward that once was home to the steel mills. Her husband, Raul Garza, is a city ironworker.
I’m sure not looking to put any extra pressure on a freshman alderman who is going to have to figure out how the place works before she can play a larger role. Happily, she seems to recognize that.
“I’m not that egotistical to think that one person can make a difference overnight,” she said.
Plus, her first priority must be to look out for the 10th Ward, which she says has “been forgotten for too long.”
It takes a thick skin just to throw one’s hat into the political ring in the 10th Ward, where they have a long history of playing for keeps.
The 10th Ward is different.
For starters, it’s geographically the largest ward in the city, stretching from Rainbow Beach on the north to 136th Street on the south. It’s the only Chicago ward that shares a boundary with another state and the only ward that claims an East Side. In many ways, the 10th Ward is physically isolated from the rest of the city, which adds to the unique character of its residents.
This is the home turf of one of Chicago’s most intriguing and enduring political characters, former alderman and Cook County Democratic chairman Edward R. Vrdolyak.
It’s also the political base for former Streets and Sanitation boss Al Sanchez, leader of the Hispanic Democratic Organization that helped elect Pope in the first place.
Both Vrdolyak and Sanchez did stints in prison while Pope was alderman, and to the extent they have any continued interest in politics, it sure wasn’t on behalf of Garza.
Although I don’t have any personal beef with Pope, a loyal supporter of Emanuel and Mayor Richard M. Daley before him, Garza shapes up as a significant upgrade if you like your politicians independent.
“I’m looking forward to the future, and I’m ready to get started,” Garza said.
Less certain is whether the City Council is ready for a future with Susan Sadlowski Garza.