Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania

Impossible to replace the irrepressible Pat Michalski

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By Ray Hanania

I don’t remember the first time I met Pat Ryan Michalski, but I am sure it was sometime while Harold Washington was mayor.

Michalski was a dynamo when it came to connecting officials with ethnic and religious groups that were often excluded by government officials, like racist former Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his failed successor, Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Lightfoot includes only certain minorities and ethnic groups in her circle and discriminates against many others, including Arab Americans, Muslims and small grocery and gasoline station owners.

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Ray Hanania

Michalski was working with former Gov. Jim Edgar and later with former Gov. George Ryan. Edgar was brilliant while Ryan was driven by cronyism and power, which fueled his eventual fall from grace.

But Michalski ended up with another political dynamo, Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas, who supervised her ethnic and diversity outreach. Pappas is one of, if not the most popular official in Illinois; not just because she is brilliant and honest, but also because she built her administration as a former Cook County commissioner and later as county treasurer by being inclusive of everyone.

Pappas is one of the only officials in Illinois whose government website is translated and accessible in more than 108 languages reflecting all of the ethnic, national, religious and minority groups in Cook County, not just the one or two who have strong voter base turnouts.

Pappas should run for governor or even U.S. Senator as rumors have Senator Dick Durbin, a good elected official, considering retiring.

Sharing Michalski’s achievements is not easy because she spent almost all of her time telling you about everyone else.

Pappas wrote this about Michalski, which I want to share:

“Pat Michalski moved among many people who thought they were one of kind. And some of them were. But even among these, it was Pat who was truly one of a kind. I have never met anyone like her.

“Her work ethic was off the charts. Her knowledge seemed infinite. There are 24 hours in a day, but Pat seemed to be on duty for 25 hours. There wasn’t enough time in the day for Pat.

“Pat seemed to know everyone in our ethnic communities. But more important, they knew her. Her beloved husband, Harry, often went with Pat, a willing participant in his irrepressible wife’s labor of love. When Pat walked in, the event suddenly got better.

“Pat visited every ethnic and racial group and knew what was important to that group — knowledge that came to her with her keen observant intelligence and kind heart. If you were a person of any sort, Pat loved you. People sensed it, and returned the love.

“The work she did for my office can scarcely be described. There was before Pat and there was after Pat. Before Pat, we struggled to find our way across Chicago and Cook County, one of this country’s most diverse communities. After Pat, no problem. Pat knew who was who, what was what and why it was so.

“We are still working along the lines that Pat drew for us. I will be forever grateful to have known this woman of boundless energy, who ran ahead and yelled for you to catch up with her. We’re still running.

“To her loved ones, I want you to know how much Pat meant to us. I know that you meant everything to her.

“God bless Pat Michalski, who is in Heaven, arranging the tables. I will always remember this great woman, who was, indeed, one of a kind.” — Maria Pappas

She graduated from Taft High School and they wrote this about her a number of years back:

“Patricia and husband, Harry Michalski, had three children, but also her talent? She was the ambassador of inclusion and diversity and chose to adopt three biracial babies. Active in the Christian Family Movement, they participated in Mission Vacations with Native American communities, and over the years hosted several hundred international students.

“She believed it important that her extended family have connections with their cultural heritages so she developed a list of ethnic organizational contacts in the Chicago area, which led to a job in Mayor Harold Washington’s press office. She became ethnic liaison for three mayors, Secretary of State and Gov. Jim Edgar, Gov. George Ryan, and Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas.

“Patricia has been recognized with more than 65 awards and honors.”

I was honored more than a decade ago to have performed standup comedy for her and her late husband’s wedding anniversary.

How can Chicagoland survive without her? Her absence is a tragedy for diversity, inclusion and ethnic activism.

Check out Ray Hanania’s columns and political podcasts at hanania.com.

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