Polish American Democratic Club of Southern California

Activities of Polish Americans in the Democratic Party

by Danuta Zawadzki

At the end of World War II, notwithstanding the Yalta Agreement, most Polish - Americans were Democrats, including the first President of the Polish American Congress, Karol Rozmarek.

Under President Truman the Democratic Party created a special Nationalities' Division and Michael Cieplinski, the executive Vice-Chairman organized it on a state-by-state basis. In 1956 he nominated Karol Blaze, the President of PAC, California - Arizona Division as President of the Polish section in California.

In 1960 the National Democratic Convention was held in Los Angeles. Mr. Blaze organized a banquet at Dom Polski in Los Angeles for visiting Polish American Congressmen and delegates, including Edmund Muskie, T. Majchrowicz and Clement Zablocki. He also covered the Democratic Convention as press and photo reporter for the Polish language publications in the U.S.A. and Canada, (the United Polish Press of America).

Activities of Polish - Americans in the Democratic Party have fluctuated depending on who was running for the presidency and for state offices. Lyndon B. Johnson did not arouse as much enthusiasm as John F. Kennedy, and the Polish Section of the Party's Nationalities' Division became less active. The Humphrey - Muskie ticket was not successful, but Senator Ed Muskie (of Polish descent) had clearly stimulated the interest of many Polish - Americans.

A Polish American Democratic Club of Southern California was organized at that time to educate Polish - Americans politically and make them more visible in the political arena.

After Senator Muskie's Labor Day weekend speech in Los Angeles (1971) he was recognized as a front runner for the Presidency. Dr. Michael Zawadzki became very active in the Muskie campaign and was elected a delegate to the National Democratic Convention. Unfortunately Muskie withdrew his candidacy shortly after the New Hampshire primary.

Dr. Zawadzki developed friendly relations with Congressman Thomas H. Rees who had expressed firm recognition of Poland's western borders. Dr. Zawadzki also exchanged correspondence concerning Polish matters with such Democratic notables as Senators Frank Harris, Alan Cranston, Lawrence F. 0'Brien (Chairman for the National Committee), W. Averill Harriman, and others.

In 1973 Dr. Zawadzki invited Jessie Unruh, then running for L. A. Mayor, to speak to the Polish community. Mr. Unruh's speech at Polonia Hall on March 25 made a very good impression. Although he was not elected Mayor, a few years later he became California State Treasurer.

In May 1975, Dr. Zawadzki was elected Club President and has remained in that office to date. Regular meetings were held 3-4 times a year and additional meetings before primaries, local and general elections. The Club obtained a charter from the Democratic Party and joined the Westwood Democratic Club. Dr. Zawadzki attended monthly meetings of the Los Angeles County Democratic Central Committee. He established personal contact with the new Congressman of the 23rd district, Mr. Anthony C. Beilenson and with Governor Jerry Brown.

In 1976 the Polish American Democratic Club decided to back Jimmy Carter after Zbigniew Brzezinski expressed his support for Carter. Zawadzki very early became a member of the Carter for President Committee in Los Angeles and was elected a delegate to the National Convention from his district in May 1976.

The Club was quite active during the four years of Carter's presidency. His foreign and domestic policies were discussed, particularly his visit to Poland. The club again supported Carter in 1980. It was less active in 1980's, and did not endorse any democratic candidate in the 1988 primaries. Instead it offered its full support to Leo McCarthy who was running for Governor of California.

In August 1989 President Zawadzki encouraged members to write letters to congressmen and senators asking for support of political and economic aid to Poland, the first country in the communist block which, because of the victory of Solidarity in the semi-democratic election was ready to form a non-communist government headed by Tadeusz Mazowiecki.

In 1990 the Club again became less active. Members became primarily interested in Polish affairs and there have not been any Democratic Party candidates for high offices who could arouse the enthusiasm of Polish Americans. The membership was aging, several had died, some had moved out of Los Angeles and it was difficult for them to attend Club meetings.

The most recent activity of the Club was a letter writing campaign to President Clinton, the Secretary of State, Senators and Congressmen urging them to support Poland in joining NATO. Dr. Zawadzki received replies from President Clinton, Senator Boxer and Congressman H. Berman, Member of the Committee for Foreign Affairs. They showed understanding of Poland's position but maintained that for the time being Poland should be satisfied with joining the Partnership for Peace, as proposed by the United States. Efforts have been made to find younger leaders for the Club, so far without success.

Among well known Polish Americans who held office in the Club were Izydor Bruszynski, R. Terpilowski, Wanda Jazwinska, A. Vernon, W. Pawlowski, Jerzy Modlinski and Roman Margis.

From: Polish Americans in California, vol. II. National Center for Urban Ethnic Affairs & Polish American Historical Association. California 1995.