Landek stumbles in attempt to reach out to Latinos in new Senate district

Like several state and federal pols mounting re-election bids this year, 11th District state Sen. Steve Landek will run in a new district, which means new constituents.

Landek, who is also the mayor of Bridgeview, has been in the Illinois Senate for less than two years--In 2010, he was appointed to replace the retiring 11th District state Sen. Lou Viverito. Now, he’s up for re-election and, because of last year’s redistricting, he’ll vie for the 12th District seat.

This might explain why Landek’s reportedly insecure about his chances against his scrappy opponent, Raul Montes Jr., a Little Village political activist who tried, unsuccessfully, for 22nd Ward aldermanic seat last year.

That is, the racial demographics of the new 12th District do not exactly jibe with Landek’s old 11th District. And one of Landek’s concerns is reportedly a new Latino population that he’ll have to appeal to if he’s going to win another term.

In 2010, when Landek arrived in the Senate, the voting-age Latino population in the 11th District was about 33 percent, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. Now that he’s been forced into the 12th District, Landek will be courting a constituency that is 57 percent Latino--a big difference.

This is apparently why Landek wants Montes--who is active in the Latino community on the Southwest Side--off the ballot. And, according to his high-profile attorney Burt Odelson, it’s why Landek offered Montes a campaign job, even though the two of them had never previously met.

Montes “lives in an area that's new to Steve's district. He's Hispanic. It makes all the sense in the world to get young blood involved in the organization,” Odelson told the Riverside-Brookfield Landmark. “Additionally, if you can get your opponent off the ballot, you get him off the ballot."

But Landek’s media consultant, Ray Hanania, said that his client offered Montes the job because Landek thought Montes was leaving the race, and because it would be good to have a Latino in the organization. What's more, he said that Landek does not consider Montes a serious threat.

“There’s no misleading the idea that it wouldn’t help to have a Hispanic activist working with you,” Hanania said. “It goes without saying that he would want someone from the Hispanic community.”

That’s not exactly how Montes remembers his encounter with Landek, though.

"He wanted an easy ticket. He was trying to deny me ballot access," Montes said.

He claims that Landek invited him to a suite at Toyota Park, in December, and offered him $3,000 and a $30,000 campaign job, if he agreed to drop out of the race.

Montes declined the offer. He also claims he was wearing an FBI wire during the conversation, an allegation that the FBI has not confirmed.

Hanania said that Landek offered him a job but said that it wasn’t meant to be a bribe. “I don’t believe he ever bribed this guy. This is a great way to get headlines,” Hanania said. "There was no quid pro quo."

Montes also said that Landek threatened to have Montes' ballot petitions challenged if Montes didn’t take the bait. Montes’ petitions were challenged, but he ended up surviving the objections. Odelson, Landek's friend and lawyer, represented the objector in that case.

What’s even more brazen and bizarre is Landek’s alleged tactic for capturing the Latino vote in the 12th District.

Montes explained: Landek “told me, if he needed to, he would have to bring in one of the guys from the Chicago Fire to get the Hispanic vote.”

Landek allegedly told Montes that, if necessary, he would recruit Cuauhtémoc Blanco, a Mexican soccer forward who used to play for the Chicago Fire, to “endorse” him, in an attempt to reach out to Latino voters.

Hanania said he didn’t know anything about this but added that he can see why Landek might want to have “people in soccer” work for his political organization.

“They could have had anything there [Toyota Park]: football, figure skating, but they chose soccer … because it appeals to Hispanics, and to the large Arab population and the Polish community,” said Hanania, in reference to the Village of Bridgeview’s choice to house the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park.

As mayor of Bridgeview, Landek played a key role in opening the stadium, which the town owns.

Montes has also publicly criticized Landek for holding both the state Senate seat and serving as mayor of Bridgeview.

"It's a conflict of interest," he said.

Landek was not available to discuss the issues surrounding the race or his legislative goals for the 12th District.

"Little Village has been starved of all levels of government from the city, state and federal levels, that’s one of the reasons that I’ve paid attention to it," Montes said.

He said that, if elected, he will work to create jobs, examine ways to combat “regressive tax hikes” and prevent double- and triple-dipping into the state’s underfunded pension system.

When Landek retires, he could be eligible for pensions from the state and from Bridgeview.

© Community Renewal Society 2012

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