Walter W. Dudycz

Walter W. Dudycz

Walter W. Dudycz


Walter Dudycz is either the most sincere, earnest, and dedicated man in Chicago politics or the most outstanding actor on this fall's ballot. Best known for his fulsome ardor--one might say grandstanding--on behalf of the American flag in the celebrated "Dread Scott" Tyler case at the School of the Art Institute, Dudycz talks a lot about "public service." The people who have known him for a long time seem to reach invariably for the same adjectives: "honest," "hardworking," "sincere," "ethical." The people who oppose him always use the same phrase, too. They call him "the flag nut."

Blue-eyed and boyish, Dudycz, the 40-year-old son of Ukrainian immigrants, looks like an older version of boy defector Walter Polovchak, right down to the aviator glasses. His speech, with its hint of a Slats Grobnik accent, reflects his west-side upbringing. He earned his college degree part-time, while working as a police officer, after his hitch in Vietnam. He's given to short-sleeved shirts worn with ties, and lives with his wife and two teenage daughters in a "handyman special" he fixed up himself. He's been cited twice for saving lives (of nonconstituents, yet) with CPR. He is probably not the most silver-tongued member of the Illinois Senate, but when he speaks, it is with real passion and--yes--sincerity.

Walter Dudycz (pronounced "DOO-ditch") is an anomaly in Chicago politics, a successful Republican; when elected from the northwest side in 1984, he was the first member of that party to go to the state senate from the city in more than a decade. Now he's trying an even tougher gig, to unseat an incumbent member of the U.S. House of Representatives; as the Wall Street Journal has observed, Congress these days has considerably less turnover than the Politburo. The elderly Democratic incumbent, Frank Annunzio (who was devastatingly illuminated by David Jackson in the August issue of Chicago magazine) is 75 years old, badly tainted by the S&L scandal, seldom ventures out of Washington, and is virtually unknown to most of his constituents, but he's armed with heaps of PAC money, the considerable might of the Democratic Party, and the congressional franking privilege: the Dudycz campaign has collected 11 pieces of mail sent out by Annunzio in the last six months; the last of them, a less-than-crucial memo on Lyme disease, was dated September 28, in violation of the House rule against sending franked bulk mail within 60 days of an election.

Dudycz's Milwaukee Avenue campaign office sits kitty-corner to the considerably more prosperous-looking 41st Ward headquarters of Roman Pucinski. It's a neighborhood where Chicago's famous Bungalow Belt melds imperceptibly with the northwest suburbs, where the houses are small and neat and tend to be built of pale brick with decorative stone inserts. Dudycz's office occupies a small storefront next to an animal clinic, and conveniently close to a McDonald's, which must make for interesting mealtime encounters with Pucinski's troops. The window is almost completely obscured by signs and notices, the biggest a red and white on blue banner declaring "DUDYCZ for Congress"; also designed to be read from a considerable distance are "No More Taxes" and a black and white POW/MIA flag. Other signs tout Lynn Martin, Aldo DeAngelis, James O'Grady, Jack O'Malley, and state rep candidate Josef Matuschka--these are the appellations of the new Chicago Republicanism. Also in the window are blowups of newspaper and magazine articles--favorable notices of Dudycz, a variety of hostile pieces on the eminently savageable Annunzio--and assorted bumper stickers to fill the interstices. I first met Dudycz here on a Friday morning early in September. He struck me as kind, considerate, and polite, albeit concerned about just what this reporter was planning to do to him. He also was punctual, a quality I have learned not to expect of politicians. He started out soft-spoken, to the point of being hard to understand, but when he got onto one of the topics about which he's passionate, the volume rose and his hands moved in strong gestures. He became most passionate when he talked about the people he represents.

His parents were both born in the Ukraine; Walter is the third and youngest son of six children. His father fought in World War II and was taken to Germany as a POW. His mother was a forced laborer in Germany. Recounts Dudycz, "They took her to Germany, and she was a farmhand, a slave. Then my mother and father met in a DP camp; they fell in love; they had three children there--as a matter of fact, I was conceived in Germany, in the displaced persons camp--and I was born in Cook County Hospital, in Chicago. This may be unique in Chicago politics, but neither my mother nor father were politicians. My mother was a janitor, my father was a factory worker. They are both retired now; they both live on the west side of the city, where they've lived for the last 40 years, and where I grew up."

All three Dudycz boys were in the armed forces during the 60s; two were in Vietnam. Walter went into the Army a week after getting out of high school, and on his discharge he went into the Chicago Police Department. He was a police officer for 13 years, and he spent all of it, he says, on the street. His first assignment had him working in Cabrini-Green with a black partner. He then went to the 13th district on the west side, where he remained a patrolman until 1978; cloutless, he waited five years on the list to make detective. He left the department after being elected in '84.

"Actually, in 1982 my political career began, but at that time I didn't know the difference between a precinct and a ward. I was apolitical. I did not like politicians then, and I do not associate with politicians today. My friends--as you can see, they're our volunteers--are plumbers, janitors, housewives, just average people. I'm not a wealthy guy. I come from extremely modest means. My wife buys my suits from Spiegel's. I have a scar on my face, a rat-bite scar, from where I was bitten as an infant in the tenement we were living in. I know what it's like to be in need. I'm a family man. I'm a common man, and I represent the common people. I am living the American dream. Where else but in America could a fellow with a name like mine be a state senator, let alone even dream of becoming a congressman?"

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