Richard L. Grabowski wants to be your next congressman representing Illinois's 3rd Congressional District.
Known as Rich to his family, friends and supporters, Grabowski has been crisscrossing Illinois’s 3rd District that spans Chicago’s Southwest Side neighborhoods in the heart of Mike Madigan-country, west to Lemont, LaGrange and Western Springs, to the southern stretches of New Lenox, Homer Glen and Romeoville.
Handily winning a three-person Republican primary—one of the candidates was a neo-Nazi who didn’t believe the Holocaust happened—Grabowski is confident he will beat the Democrat heir-apparent Dan Lipinski.
Grabowski calls himself and Lipinski, both Polish Americans, “two skis in a downhill ski race” against powerful Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, who controls Chicago’s Southwest Side and southwest suburbs, if not the whole state.
“There are a great many reasons why I should be optimistic this year,” Grabowski said. “There is much dissent within the Chicago machine. The anti-Madigan movement is really reaching down to police, firemen, city workers and teachers. The information I’m getting from the underground is that nobody wants to do what Madigan wants to do this year, like voting for Lipinski.”
A materials supervisor for a west suburban manufacturing company that makes pneumatic valves for industrial equipment and hospital beds, Grabowski lives in a duplex with his wife and four teenage sons in Hometown, a 1950s planned community that offered affordable housing for veterans returning home from the Korean War.
Grabowski is representative of everyday Americans, frustrated and bewildered by the government, angry about the economy and wondering when the hell all the middle class jobs are going to come back.
“People are looking for someone who isn’t connected,” he says. “Someone who is honest, someone who is just like them, and someone ‘who is one of us.’”
Grabowski describes himself as a Constitutional Conservative, who aligns himself with the Republican Party and is a favorite among Tea Party groups. Originally, he supported conservative Republican Rick Santorum, but is now backing Mitt Romney for president.
"I hold on to and respect the Constitution as our form of law,” Grabowski said, "I don’t trample on our Constitution. I wish our other leaders would do that.”
He opens or closes his campaign speeches with his favorite line – "I’m David running against Goliath. I need to borrow your slingshot on Election Day. Do you have the stones to help make it happen?”
“I got tired of the way the Democrats are running our state and our federal government,” Grabowski said. “They have chosen to run us into the ground. I’m running for the future of my children’s country to help fix the problems in the country that this generation has created.”
Read Patch's local election guide for the Palos area.
Dan Lipinski, who was elected to his father Bill’s seat after he retired in 2004, ignored Grabowski’s invitation for a forum where both candidates could debate the issues, the GOP challenger claims.
In his eight years of public service, Congressman Lipinski has been one of the most accessible members of Congress. Whether it has been at Town Hall Meetings, Senior Fairs, Veterans Fairs, or Job Fairs, Lipinski has continuously made himself available to his constituents.
Lipinski's office issued a statement that no organization asked the congressman to take part in a debate.
"During every primary and general election campaign, Congressman Lipinski has appeared at numerous candidate forums and debates. He has also made appearances at various service organizations, churches, community events and other venues. In this election cycle, he has appeared at candidate forums ... If an invitation had been put forward, Congressman Lipinski would have made every effort to participate and talk about his strong record of accomplishments as an independent leader for the Third District."
The moderate Democrat is favored to easily win the 3rd District congressional race, but Grabowski isn’t about to give up now. No one expected him to win the Republican primary either against the other serious, well-funded contender, neo-Nazi aside.
He’s managed to raise about $12,000 from meet-the-candidate coffees and Monday Night Football fundraisers at local bars watching his beloved Chicago Bears.
“I’ve raised $12,000 versus [Lipinski’s] $7 million, which includes over $700,000 in union pac money and lobbyist money. “I’m scraping by but God is leading the way on this one. He changed Harod’s heart and he’ll change hearts of the voters in this election if that’s his will.”
( OpenSecrets.org reports Lipinski's campaign 2011-2012 war chest more in the $1.6 million range, with approximately $440,000 spent.)
Grabowski has received no help in his race from the Republican National Committee. Part of the reason why is that the RNC wants candidates to step up to the plate and so some heavy fundraising full time, he said.
Most of the campaign money he's raised has gone to his eye-catching blue and orange signs in the Chicago Bears’ colors. They’re the same style of sign he used in 2010 when he was running for the Illinois State House. Grabowski is a two-time loser, collateral damage in a contentious school board race.
“I ran as an independent [in the school board race] who didn’t run with any slate and kept my nose clean,” Grabowski explained.
In the days winding down to Tuesday’s election, Grabowski is racing around the district replacing or repairing the signs that got stolen or damaged by “Lipinski’s sign crew’s political yard sign jihad.”
Earlier last week, he found 50 of his yard signs laying flat on the ground with Lipinski signs speared into them.
“Dan apparently doesn't like my signs by his dad's Metra stations either,” Grabowski wrote on his Facebook page Saturday night. “Lots of my signs are gone entirely with his left in their place on many corners. Other Republican candidates signs in Will County have been trashed by the same crews. Don't tolerate it!!!”
There have been nights during his campaign when Grabowski has only managed 15 minutes of sleep before rising at 4:45 a.m. to make his 6:30 a.m. work start. Operating on a barely functional amount of sleep at work, he’s managed not to cut his hand off at the manufacturing plant. He's in it to win.
“It’s a part time race,” Grabowski said. “I work a day job. I’m a deacon at church and I have a family. Still I get my campaign done, which so far I’ve been pretty successful.”
This story has been updated.
By Lorraine Swanson