PORTAGE PARK — The already heated race for 36th Ward alderman is boiling over as both runoff candidates cry foul following a tense faceoff between canvassers Saturday.
After a series of confrontations between two canvassing groups in the 36th Ward that included a shouting match captured on cell phone video, assault charges have been filed by both sides.
On Saturday, candidate Omar Aquino posted several snippits of video footage on social media that show a tall man in a black hat knocking a clipboard from one of his campaign staffer's hands. Jacob Kaplan, campaign manager for Aquino, said the man was wearing items expressing support for Gilbert Villegas, Aquino's opponent in the April 7 runoff race, while shouting expletives at the Aquino canvasser before walking away.
In a post on his Facebook page Saturday, Aquino called Pogorzelski "one of my loyal volunteers" and detailed his version of events.
According to Kaplan, who witnessed the conflict, twenty minutes earlier an Aquino volunteer, Dan Pogorzelski, approached a canvasser from Villegas' camp and requested a piece of Villegas' campaign literature. Kaplan said the Villegas volunteer obliged without incident, and the man re-joined other Aquino canvassers nearby.
"Five minutes later I’m across the street and I see like five people in front of the house where [Pogorzelski] is at talking to a voter, including State Rep. Louis Arroyo" (D-Chicago), Kaplan told DNAinfo Chicago. "They’re waiting for [Pogorzelski] to get done with the house and all of a sudden they’re like 'Why are you guys taking our literature?' and [Pogorzelski] is like ‘I didn’t take your literature.'"
Kaplan said Arroyo intervened, saying "You guys do what you do, and we do what we do." Arroyo could not be reached for comment.
Immediately afterward, Kaplan says the man with the hat who appears in the video "came running up the sidewalk" and confronted Pogorzelski with threats of physical violence in "a very assaulting tone" before knocking the clipboard from Pogorzelski's hands and leaving.
Kaplan said Pogorzelski called police and filed a report for simple assault, then called Villegas' campaign headquarters requesting they volunteer the canvasser's identity so he could be charged. That report is currently under investigation.
But Villegas' supporters tell a very different story.
Reached by phone Sunday, Villegas referred to Pogorzelski as a “known agitator that works for the Joe Berrios-Aquino machine” and said he was neither surprised by the allegations, nor the "shenangigans" that he said were incited by volunteers for Aquino.
In Villegas' version of events, Aquino's volunteer approached a member of the Villegas volunteer group from behind, took the literature from the canvasser's hand and demanded to know what they were doing in the neighborhood.
“It’s something that we did expect, to have these shenanigans occurring, so we’re not surprised that the incidents are already starting to happen," Villegas said. "We’re not surprised that [Aquino supporters are] trying to intimidate the voters and even went so far as to assault one of my volunteers yesterday."
Villegas said he did not know the identity of the man in the videos, but said his team was conducting an "internal review" to determine who it was.
Villegas issued a statement Monday confirming that one of his volunteers filed a police report on battery charges, calling his volunteer's behavior "nothing more than an angry verbal outburst" in reaction to "the continued harassment we have received from Joe Berrios' organization."
This is not the first time Villegas said he has come into hostile contact with Aquino supporters. Earlier in the campaign, Villegas said Aquino volunteers tried to intimidate him while he was speaking with a Polish voter.
“We’re not gonna stand for that," Villegas said Sunday. "I’m not gonna back down from the Berrios-Aquino machine. They try to intimidate me, but as a Marine Corps veteran, I’m not intimidated.”
Kaplan, who said Pogorzelski has been "shaken up" since the incident, responded by saying Villegas' accusations were "patently false."
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