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Ald. Arena Accused of Pushing, Poking Woman Wearing Rival's Campaign Button

By Heather Cherone | September 2, 2014 2:49pm | Updated on September 2, 2014 4:10pm
  Police are investigating the report against Ald. John Arena, who denied the accusation.
Alderman Accused of Pushing, Poking Woman Wearing Rival's Campaign Button
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JEFFERSON PARK — Police are investigating a report that Ald. John Arena (45th) pushed and poked a Jefferson Park woman Monday after she refused to remove a button promoting a rival campaign at an unveiling of several honorary street signs, police said Tuesday.

Regina Przyby, 55, told police that Arena, who is running for re-election, pushed, poked and verbally assaulted her after telling her to remove a button supporting Chicago Police Lt. John Garrido, who is challenging Arena for the 45th Ward seat on the Chicago City Council.

Arena said the accusation was completely false and manufactured by Przyby's "imagination."

Heather Cherone says Arena admits he asked the woman to remove the button, but the stories differ from there:

Przyby did not immediately return a phone message Tuesday afternoon.

Garrido, who lost to Arena in 2011 by 30 votes, declined to comment.

Police interviewed witnesses Tuesday and detectives were expected to decide by the end of the day whether to pursue charges against the alderman, said Police Officer George Hemesath.

Arena said he was consulting an attorney "about the consequences of filing a false police report."

Arena acknowledged that he asked Przyby to remove the button supporting Garrido, telling her that the ceremony renaming several streets near Lawrence and Milwaukee avenue in honor of the area's Polish community was not an appropriate place for politics. The renaming was part of the Taste of Polonia festival at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave.

In the report she made to police, Przyby said she refused to remove the button, citing her First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

"I told her that was disappointing because this was not a political event and there was no one there supporting my candidacy," Arena said, adding that he said a few words during the ceremony before lining up for the unveiling of a sign with his wife, Jill.

Przyby said Arena poked her on the left side of her chest with his finger, told her to go away and called her an "evil b----," according to the police report. Arena then pushed her with his shoulder, Przyby told police.

As she turned to walk away, Przyby told police Arena "shoved her back with his hands pushing her" and called her an an "evil b----" again, according to the report, which Przyby filed in person at the Jefferson Park Police District station less than an hour after the incident.

Arena said Przby's claims were not true.

Arena said that while about a dozen people were lined up for photographs for local newspapers, Przyby pushed her way to the front of the line and made "incidental contact" with both him and his wife.

"When she pushed her way between me and my wife, I turned to her and said 'classy' and turned away," Arena said.

Since the ceremony was documented by Polish media organizations as well as a local newspaper, the incident would have been captured on tape had it actually occurred, Arena said.

"If any of this happened the way she said it did, it would have been on the 5 o'clock news," Arena said. "This was manufactured by her imagination." 

The ceremony renamed Lawrence Avenue between Milwaukee Avenue and Avondale Avenue Warsaw Chicago Sister Cities Way and Milwaukee Avenue between Giddings Street and Lawrence Avenue Chicago’s Little Warsaw Way.

In addition, Lawrence Avenue between Long and Milwaukee avenues was named Irena Sendler Way and Milwaukee Avenue between Lawrence and Higgins avenues was named Jan Karski Way. Sendler was a Polish social worker who saved 2,500 Jewish children during World War II, and Karski was among the first to provide information about the Holocaust to Allied leaders.

For more Northwest Side news from Heather Cherone, listen here: