Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Friday March 16th, 2012, 1:41pm

Election 2012: A Look At The 22nd District IL House Race

The Latino vote in the 22nd District may make or break whether State Rep. Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) continues his legacy as one of most powerful men in Illinois, some Latino advocates say.

Madigan, who also serves as Speaker of the House and the Illinois Democrat Party Chairman, represents neighborhoods surrounding Midway Airport on the Southwest Side of Chicago along with the outlying suburbs. The district is about 72 percent Latino.

Come Tuesday’s election, the pressing issues that will drive Latinos to the ballot box are education, jobs, housing and immigration reform, said Sylvia Puente, executive director of the non-partisan Latino Policy Forum.

“So many people are immigrants or a generation or two removed from that,” she said.

Latinos make up the second largest ethnic group in Illinois. The Southwest Side of Chicago has seen substantial Latino population growth over the last decade, and the community continues to grow and become more sophisticated, she said.

Sophisticated to the point where Latinos are running against each other in the 22nd District, she added.

Normally, 69-year-old Madigan doesn’t have much competition during election years. He’s served as state representative since 1970.

But this year, he has three Democratic candidates running against him. All three — Michele Piszczor, Olivia Trejo and Mike Rodriguez — are Latino.

Neither Trejo nor Rodriguez have campaign websites and could not be located for comment by deadline.

Madigan’s main rival is newbie politician Piszczor, who is Polish and Hispanic.

Twenty-five-year-old Piszczor is doggedly fighting to get her name out to voters before they head to the polls Tuesday. During recent weeks, she's canvassed the neighborhoods, talking with voters.

In a phone interview with Progress Illinois, Piszczor said she’s been stalked, threatened by the mob, had her car beat in and the tires slashed along with some of her campaign signs stolen. She thinks it’s Madigan’s work.

“If I was caught stealing signs, you better believe they’d throw the book at me,” she said. “It’s a double standard, and I’m sick and tired of it.”

Steve Brown, spokesman for Madigan, told Progress Illinois he wanted to talk about the voter issues in the district and not what other candidates are saying.

Brown said Madigan works closely with the Latino population along with Ald. Marty Quinn (13th) in his district “on a whole range of programs and community services” that make sure schools and parks, among others, get the funding they need.

Madigan also worked with the Hispanic Caucus in the state legislature to pass the Illinois’ DREAM act, which Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law in August 2011. The law makes it easier for immigrant students and their parents to pay for college.

Campaign lawn signs for Madigan peppered throughout the Southwest Side along with a recent controversial mailer from his team hint that Madigan could be a little nervous about Tuesday’s election.

Madigan’s mailer featured ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich with the accompanied text, “When lawbreaking politicians make a mess of things, we need strong leaders to clean things up.”

The Chicago Tribune, which has not endorsed a candidate in the 22nd District race, blasted Madigan for the mailer saying, “There are other messes to clean up, and they happened on Madigan's long watch.”

Ghian Foreman, executive director of the Greater Southwest Development Corporation, said the candidates need to focus on the “crucial” Latino vote.

Although Foreman isn’t endorsing a candidate, he said Madigan was instrumental in protecting the Southwest Side from predatory lenders during the housing collapse.

“Madigan was very helping in making sure our area didn’t get ravaged,” he said, adding that the Southwest Side still has an alarming number of foreclosed properties, and much more work is needed.

“It’s a continuous effort to work with the Hispanics in the community,” said Brown.

“The district (Madigan) represents has been majority Hispanic for at least 10 years, so that’s ongoing. It’s not a special thing we do when it’s election time,” he added

Tuesday's winner will face Republican candidate Robert Handzik in November’s general election.

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