BERWYN, Ill. — Many jokingly refer to politics in the Chicago area as a contact sport, but in Berwyn, a verbal altercation turned physical at Thursday night’s raucous ward committee meeting.
According to witnesses, the meeting called by Ald. Richard Leja (3rd Ward) devolved into a harsh exchange between constituents
“People are frustrated because we don’t get concrete answers,” said Berwyn resident Letty García. “When we try, [Leja] is dismissive, he is disrespectful and unfortunately, it led to the fight yesterday.”
David Schaefer told WGN that the back-and-forth began when Leja accused García of not being from Berwyn but “being from Cicero and bringing Cicero values into Berwyn.”
At the hotly-contested meeting, community members were demanding answers about what they say have been questionable real estate transactions and tax breaks, allegedly approved by Leja with little transparency or input from Berwyn residents.
Witnesses say that’s when a man identified by Schaefer and others as a Leja supporter knocked Schaefer’s phone and wallet to the ground.
“I was shocked and then he lunged at me and grappled at me,” Schaefer said. “My first fight since fourth grade and all my instincts kicked in. I did grab him and I know I punched him because my knuckle hurts.”
The City of Berwyn responded to a request seeking comment, saying, “Alderman Leja immediately made a report of the incident to Berwyn Police and it is now the subject of an ongoing law enforcement inquiry.”
Due to the matter being under police investigation, the city will not comment further.
Leja did not immediately respond to WGN’s messages seeking comment.
Schaefer said that while he is a victim and defended himself, he has opted not to press assault charges.