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Gerard Staniszewski: Working for Portage Park

Gerard Staniszewski doesn’t like rice in his burritos, a fact that comes back to haunt him from time to time. That’s because he is blamed for Chipotle not being allowed to set up shop in Portage Park‘s Klee Plaza.

“I wish I had that much power in the community, where my not liking rice on my burrito makes or breaks a major decision,” responded Staniszewski, president of the Portage Park Neighborhood Association.

Staniszewski has lived in the community for more than 18 years and said he has seen the place change, for better and for worse. Being involved in the neighborhood is something Staniszewski spends all of his time on. From Andersonville to Lakeview, Staniszewski has lived in all parts of Chicago, but recognizes Portage Park his home.

“At our very first meeting with Six Corners LLC (a business district in Portage Park), it was brought up that they were courting Chipotle to move into the Klee,” said Staniszewski. “I made a comment that I did not like Chipotle because they put rice on their burritos. Well, subsequently, Chipotle did not come in and I have been blamed for that ever since.”

In truth, the Portage Park Neighborhood Association is against chains, Staniszewski; they prefer local, home-grown businesses. When Klee Plaza started construction under the direction of Marc Sussman, Gerard said they clashed because the association was hassling them about their building project, which was supposed to bring more stores into the neighborhood.

Sussman declined to comment.

Staniszewski admits that the community needs Klee Plaza, a 64-unit condominium, 20,000-square-foot commercial development located in Portage Park’s ‘historic-style’ six-corners shopping district. But, he said, the community doesn’t need to “bend over backwards to do anything the developer wants.”

“Maybe we do not have the cool shops or restaurants, but we have the better neighborhood,” said Staniszweski.

The lack of “cool shops” is what scares Staniszewski, though. When he moved into the neighborhood 18 years ago, the neighborhood was booming, but since then local shops and businesses have left Portage Park.

A few years ago, the local business community hit a low point. There are still pockets where business is strong, said Staniszewski, but more shops and investment into the business side of the community is what will slowly bring it up.

Currently unemployed after six years as a digital print project manager, the 51-year-old spends most of his time making the community a better and safer place. “In reality, it is just what is in me. I love being part of a community …  and it beats watching TV,” Staniszewski said.

One would think that all of the time spent away from the home would negatively affect his relationship with his wife, but it has only made it stronger. As Staniszewski said, they have been married for almost 20 years “with no murders yet.”

Jill Staniszewski was a reluctant first lady when her husband filled the vacant presidency seat in 2004; now she sits on the board and accompanies him as he passes out monthly newsletters and organizes meetings.

According to Jill Staniszewski, their relationship has remained consistent; they talk about issues and weigh in on matters while offering opinions and suggestions.

“I could see that he was a good president, someone fair, who didn’t use the organization to further his own personal agenda,” she said about her husband’s position.

For the last three years, Gerard Staniszewski didn’t have an opponent for the presidency; he says it’s because it takes a lot to become involved in a community, and some people aren’t up for it. For the last two years, he didn’t even want to be president anymore, but nobody was there to take his place.

The alderman’s office has not approved any issues that the PPNA has fought against, demonstrating the power the association holds in the community. Even people who don’t directly work with Staniszewski say he is a great man with great character.

The neighborhood association holds its meetings thanks in part to Lydia Homes, who offers up the use of her building for their meetings. Travis Satterlee, who works for Homes, has met Staniszewski a few times and thinks he is a stand-up guy.

“I believe him to be reliable and conscientious about his work. He was deemed trustworthy to take on the responsibility of president of the PPNA,” said Satterlee. “He has received many votes of confidence from his community members.”

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