Election Passions Burn In Chicago’s Little Poland With AM-Poland-Election, Bjt
CHICAGO (AP) _ A poster of Lech Walesa peers out the front window of Ted Kowalczyk’s Orbit restaurant, a reminder to many of the Polish immigrants along Milwaukee Avenue of their chance to help make history.
They may be more than 4,600 miles from their homeland but the distance hasn’t dulled the excitement among Chicago’s Polish population of the opportunity to vote in this weekend’s Polish presidential election.
″Most of the customers are talking about it,″ Kowalczyk said earlier this week as he watched the sidewalk parade of passers-by, many of whom speak little or no English.
″Poland has discovered freedom,″ he said. ″This is their first free election so they are very happy to vote.″
An estimated 400,000 Polish citizens in the United States are eligible to vote Saturday, the day before voters within Poland go to the polls. The political passions are running especially high in Chicago, home of the largest urban Polish population outside of Warsaw.
Andrzej Jaroszynski, the Polish consul in Chicago, said the city is home to between 68,000 and 100,000 Polish citizens, some of whom have dual U.S.-Polish citizenship. Most of them live on the Northwest Side near the 16-block stretch of Milwaukee Avenue that is the commercial backbone of the Polish community.
Jaroszynski said about 40,000 Polish citizens are expected to vote Saturday at polls in Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee and Los Angeles. At least half of those votes likely will be cast in Chicago, said Vice Consul Robert Michniewicz.
Kowalczyk, who emigrated to Chicago 25 years ago, said he is a U.S. citizen only and therefore not eligible to vote. Still, he was a strong advocate of Walesa, the Solidarity labor union leader who led in Polish public opinion polls at midweek.
″According to my observations, Mr. Lech Walesa will be the president of Poland,″ he said.
But even at the Orbit, there was dissent. Hostess Anna Asinsky said she will vote for Stanislaw Tyminski, a millionaire businessman who moved ahead of Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki into second place in the polls just a few days before the election.
″I think Poland needs people with energy, somebody with business knowledge,″ she said. ″He is the person who should be elected.″
In Warsaw, a new poll Wednesday put Tyminski, a previously unknown emigre, in second place in the country’s election, behind Walesa but ahead of Mazowiecki.
But the same survey indicated Mazowiecki could pick up enough votes to beat Walesa if he made it into a runoff, which would be held between the top two finishers Dec. 9 if no one gets 50 percent of the vote Sunday.
The dark-horse candidacy of Tyminski, who returned to Poland after 21 years of making his fortune in Canada and Peru, created a sensation in Polish news media. One commentator said Tyminski risks making Poland ″the laughingstock of the world″ if he wins.
But in Chicago, amid the tantalizing scents of fresh-baked five-layer cake and smoked sausage at Stanley Bacik’s delicatessen, customers savored their political debates.
″I favor Mazowiecki because he is an able man and a good politician,″ said Edward Pikula, who arrived in Chicago 15 months ago. ″Walesa is only an electrician.″
Mazowiecki is a former Walesa ally who some have criticized for moving too slowly on reform issues since becoming the East bloc’s first non-Communist prime minister in August 1989. His economic austerity plan also has been criticized.
Deli owner Bacik said he supports Walesa.
″Mazowiecki is a very nice man but he is not so strong,″ Bacik said.
Krzyzanowski’s wife, actress Barbara Denys, said Walesa deserves to be president of a free Poland because he started the anti-Communist push as a trade-union activist in the 1970s.
″He came from the bottom; he was the leader of Solidarity. Now let him drink to the end of the whole thing,″ she said.