Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New Playing Field in Chicago Politics ; City Redistricting Hastens a Decline of Polish Clout, Prompting a Reverse- Discrimination Suit

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New Playing Field in Chicago Politics ; City Redistricting Hastens a Decline of Polish Clout, Prompting a Reverse- Discrimination Suit

Article excerpt

Typewriter correction fluid in hand and map on table, Les Kuczynski illustrates the challenge facing Polish-Americans in Chicago.

"St. Hyacinth is here," he says, fixing the Polish Catholic church with a white droplet. "St. Wenceslaus is here." Another droplet. Four droplets later - spread across different political wards - he's made his point. Chicago's new districting has decimated Polish-American political clout on the city's northwest side.

That's why Mr. Kuczynski's organization - the Polish American Congress - is suing the city. Although accommodating blacks and Hispanics, the City Council hurt Polish-Americans, the congress contends.

The reverse-discrimination lawsuit - which one expert says is probably the first of its kind in the nation this decade - may help define one of the most amorphous terms in politics today: community of interest. The first status hearing for the case is to be held today.

If successful, the case could return to Chicago's Polish- Americans a measure of their political clout. But if it fails, it could be harder for them not only to elect one of their own, but also to get the city services they need.

Already, the lawsuit signals the declining importance of white- ethnic politics in the city. "Ethnic politics doesn't have the same pull it once did," says John Jackson, a political-science professor at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. "As ethnic groups mature in their participation in the political process, they tend to lose cohesion."

While Chicago was once said to contain more Poles than any city outside Warsaw, it's Latinos who today represent the fast-growing group. Affluent Polish-Americans are moving to the suburbs. Hispanics are moving in.

Still, here around St. Hyacinth's, the area's largest and most prominent Polish Catholic parish, residents are just as likely to break into Polish as English. And every month, St. Hyacinth's congregation of 10,000 welcomes new immigrants.

But change is coming. The local postman now delivers roughly a quarter of the mail to homes with Hispanic surnames. At the Tarnow Food Market, just down the street from the high red-brick church, cans of La Preferida refried beans compete for shelf space with Maka Luksusowa (wheat flour imported from Poland).

Yet even at the height of Chicago's Polish community, the group's political power wasn't all it could be. "They never have had the political muscle to reflect their numbers," says Paul Green, director of the policy studies school at Roosevelt University in Chicago. He adds that unlike, say, Chicago's Irish- and Italian- Americans, few Polish-American leaders have built coalitions with other groups.

These deficiencies at the local level were covered up for decades by successes at the federal level. …

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