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Northwest Side Republicans See Hope For Expansion After Trump Victory

By Alex Nitkin | November 14, 2016 5:49am
 39th Ward Republican Committeeman Matt Podgorski wants to build a deep Republican coalition on the Far Northwest Side.
39th Ward Republican Committeeman Matt Podgorski wants to build a deep Republican coalition on the Far Northwest Side.
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CHICAGO — The national Republican party scored resounding victories in Tuesday's election despite heavy opposition from Chicago, where nearly 84 percent of residents cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton.

Still, some local Republicans are seizing the results as a springboard to expand their influence in a conservative corner of one of the country's most liberal cities.

"Chicago has historically always been a really Democratic city, but we're starting to see more of an opportunity to level the playing field," said Matt Podgorski, the Republican committeeman for the 39th Ward. "Obviously Democrats still have the advantage, but we've been making some huge strides. And if we organize, we can really get our brand out there."

Podgorski and other party officials are looking to use the city's Far Northwest Side, long an enclave for red-leaning constituents in deep-blue Chicago, as a starting point for their effort.

In August, Podgorski founded the Far Northwest Side GOP club, a political coalition of Republicans in the 39th, 45th, 38th and 41st Wards.

The group strung together some late campaigning for local candidates including state Rep. Michael McAuliffe (R-Norwood Park), who last week fended off a fierce challenge and kept his seat as the city's only Republican representative to Springfield.

But now that the election has passed, organizers will shift their sights to longer-term goals, like re-electing Gov. Bruce Rauner in 2018 and nominating a Republican to succeed Democrat Jesse White as Secretary of State, Podgorski said. Last year, White announced he would not seek a sixth term in office.

While Republicans are more common on the Far Northwest Side than in other parts of the city, they're still far from being a majority. After all, in Podgorski's own 39th Ward —  which includes parts of Edgebrook, Irving Park and Albany Park — President Elect Donald Trump received fewer than 25 percent of votes.

But the 41st Ward, encompassing O'Hare, Edison Park and parts of Norwood Park, cast nearly 43 percent of its votes for Trump, more than any of the city's other 49 wards. In particular, Edison Park saw four of its 10 precincts go red, a higher proportion than any other neighborhood beside Mount Greenwood on the Far Southwest Side.

The ward's young alderman, Anthony Napolitano, has bucked the city's Democratic mainstream since he was elected in 2015, repeatedly voting against tax increases proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

But he's also branded himself an independent and steered clear of the partisan political fray. Napolitano declined to endorse either candidate in McAuliffe's heated re-election race, opting instead to "focus on the needs of the 41st Ward," according to chief of staff Chris Vittorio.

With or without the alderman's support, Podgorski said he hopes to lead a groundswell of conservative messaging at a grassroots level, first by recruiting "precinct captains" in every neighborhood across all four wards.

"We're going to have a representative in every single precinct, and we're going to start building out," Podgorski said. "There are a lot of folks out there who want less government control, lower taxes and less wasteful spending. If we can take baby steps and win over even 4 or 5 percent of people out there, we can get a lot more people engaged."

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