Five years after Michael Rodriguez inherited the reins of Enlace Chicago, one of the most active and locally respected non-profits, he announced his departure from the Little Village organization. In November, the news went public that Rodriguez filed a petition to run for Democratic Committeeman of the 22nd Ward and that he was running unopposed.
While this reporter grappled with the questions of what is the role of a committeeman and why the position is unfamiliar to many voters in the Southwest Side, the alderman of the ward, Ricardo Muñoz (22nd), said over the phone, “It’s a little-known party post that basically does a couple of things. One is that it works with the Cook County Democratic Party on candidates slating for countywide offices. But the most important thing that it does is that the Committeeman appoints the Democratic Judges of Election.”
The unpaid position ensures smooth elections on Election Day and helps to endorse and fundraise for Democratic candidates. 22nd ward residents may not be well-versed in the role of committeeman because Ald. Muñoz has held the elected position for 17 years, overlapping with his aldermanic work.
It’s not uncommon for aldermen to take up the post themselves, though in past elections opponents have ran against Muñoz unsuccessfully. He succeeded Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who was committeeman until 1998.
The 22nd ward covers parts of Little Village, North Lawndale, Vittum Park, Sleepy Hollow, and LeClaire-Hearst. Rodriguez and a team of 41 volunteers knocked on doors throughout the ward and gathered 1,028 signatures, well above the couple hundred signatures required to run.
“What a committeeman should do is get as many people out to vote as possible in our communities. And that’s really what I want to do here,” said Rodriguez. “It’s an important position politically and I certainly want to do my best to represent the needs and interests of the voters.”
Rodriguez was born and raised in Little Village to Mexican and Puerto Rican parents. He currently owns a home on 31st and Lawndale with his wife Jacqueline Arreola and their 3-year-old daughter, Sophia. After graduating from DePaul University he completed a Masters in Community Development at the University of Chicago. In 2008, he joined Enlace's violence prevention department and became the Executive Director two years later.
“I think every organization has a life cycle,” Rodriguez said about his transition from Enlace. “I think I was able to come in, increase resources to the organization over five years, bring in new talent, and we were able to graduate 120 leaders from our leadership academy. So I was like, you know what, we’ve done our job here. Now is the time for the next step and the next leadership role in my life.”
For his community-based work, Rodriguez has received several recognitions. Governor Quinn appointed him to the Illinois Racial and Ethnic Impact Study Commission, as well as the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission. In 2012, Rodriguez was named a Champion of Change in violence prevention by President Obama.
He thinks he collected many signatures because, “People believed that since I was the son of immigrants myself, and I’m a child of the neighborhood in the 22nd ward, that I was in a great position to advocate for them and to be there in the ‘aulas’ of City Hall, in the ‘aulas’ of state government, of federal government, of whatever level, fighting for our neighborhood,” he said.
A committeeman can have as much or as little influence in the ward as the alderman allows him. Ald. Muñoz threw his support behind Rodriguez from the start.
“He’s smart, he’s aggressive, community oriented, he has a great work ethic, so I think he’ll make a great committeeman,” he said.
Cook County Commissioner Chuy Garcia is endorsing Rodriguez’ candidacy. After all, he was a significant volunteer in Garcia’s campaign for mayor. Rodriguez kept him on time and trailed behind him like a bodyguard.
“Towards the end of the runoff election, I ended up being with him from the moment he left his house in the morning to when he got back.” Rodriguez said. “I travelled the city with him. I was there behind the scenes with him prior to the debates. It was an amazing experience that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.”
Interestingly enough, Garcia begun his own political career by running for committeeman in 1984 and, later, for alderman. Whether Rodriguez will seek other political positions in the future remains to be seen.
For his part, Ald. Muñoz said, “I just got re-elected for a 4-year term this past February, but I’m not going to be here forever. I’m looking to strengthen the bench, in this case by giving Mike the opportunity to take a leadership role.”
Despite facing no opposition, Rodriguez’ name will be on the ballot and he urged residents to exercise their right to vote in the presidential primaries.
He’s hopeful about the constituent services he can bring to the 22nd ward, like better streets and better lighting, and discarded the idea that he would be a yes man to the alderman.
“I’ve been a leader on my own two shoes. But I’m very proud of the network of support I have, from the folks who have endorsed me to Mr. and Mrs. Patrón who signed my petition. I’m both an individual leader with my own mindset but I’m certainly someone who also is part of a network of progressive-minded individuals.”
The election is March 15.
More information about Mike Rodriguez can be found at mikerodriguez.org.
Tags: 2016, 22nd ward, alderman, Champion of Change, committeeman, elections, Enlace Chicago, file, Jesus Chuy Garcia, La Villita, LeClaire-Hearst, Little Village, March 15, Mexican, Michael D. Rodriguez, Mike Rodriguez, non-profit, North Lawndale, petition, primaries, Ricardo Muñoz, Sleepy Hollow, Vittum Park, voting