38th Ward could feature Cullerton-Sposato race
by RUSS STEWART
A Chicago City Council without a Cullerton or a Cullerton kin is like a Hollywood awards ceremony without celebrities. It’s obligatory, traditional and predictable — and to some, completely superfluous if not insulting.
There is a Cullerton Street, named after Eddie Cullerton, who was elected alderman from Chicago’s West Side in 1871, before the Chicago Fire, and who served 48 years, until 1919. His “Cullerton Clan” descendants moved northwest, and when the 38th Ward was created in 1931, in roughly its present locale, his nephew P.J. (Parky) Cullerton was elected the Democratic committeeman in 1932 and the alderman in 1935, and he kept the latter job for the next 23 years. The “Cullerton Dynasty” persevered.
In 1955 P.J. Cullerton made an astute decision: He backed South Sider Richard J. Daley over Ben Adamowski and Mayor Martin Kennelly in the Democratic mayoral primary. Daley won the nomination and the election, and Parky got his reward in 1958, when Daley dumped Assessor Frank Keenan, who had backed Kennelly, and slated Cullerton for the powerful post.
Back in the 38th Ward, it was “all in the family,” as P.J.’s brother Willie got the aldermanic seat, which he held from 1959 to 1973, followed by nephew Tom from 1973 to 1993, great nephew Tim’s wife’s sister’s husband Tom Allen from 1993 to 2010 and now great nephew Tim. The ward has had only three Democratic committeemen in the past 81 years: P.J. from 1932 to 1981, Tom from 1981 to 1993, and now Tom’s daughter Patti Jo, who had a job in the assessor’s office for most of her adult life, recently retiring.
For the 140 years from 1873 to 2013, a member of the “Cullerton Clan” has been the alderman for 127. That’s a dynasty.
Tom Cullerton was the chief electrical inspector in the city Department of Buildings from 1952 to 1973, and he passed along that job to his son Tim, who kept it until 2005, when he retired.
As an aside, in his twilight years P.J. Cullerton recognized that neither he nor Daley would be around forever. He chose to “go for the gold” and make the 38th Ward “Bridgeport North” — the new cradle of mayors. His deputy assessor was Tom Tully, a 38th Ward product and a protege. Cullerton retired in 1974, got Tully slated as his successor, and fully expected that Tully would be mayor in 1979 or later, but Daley died in 1976 and was succeeded by Mike Bilandic of Bridgeport, and Tully inexplicably retired in 1978, handing the assessor’s post to South Sider Tom Hynes. “Bridgeport North” died aborning.
In researching this article, I retrieved a column I wrote that was published on Feb. 2, 1983, when police officer Walter Dudycz was running a quixotic campaign for alderman. His quote: “Being an alderman is not a birthright. One’s ancestry has nothing to do with performance. He (Tom Cullerton) is running on his family’s reputation.”
Dudycz, who was elected state senator as a Republican in 1984, added, “Everywhere there are signs which proclaim that we ‘must preserve the Cullerton tradition.’ It’s as though it’s more important to keep a Cullerton in the City Council than it is to have an alderman who is effective and energetic . . . and if there’s one thing that Cullerton isn’t, it’s effective and energetic.” Cullerton sniffed that “nobody’s paying any attention” to Dudycz, and the alderman was re-elected with 50.9 percent of the vote in a three-way race, with Dudycz getting 41.2 percent.
As Yogi Berra one said, “It’s deja vu all over.” To be sure, Tim is Tom, and 2015 is another 1983.
The City Council’s ward remap did Cullerton no favors. A new 38th Ward was created, extending from the alderman’s political base in Portage Park, west of Laramie Avenue, to the city’s western limits and north along Cumberland Avenue to Lawrence Avenue. About 45 percent of the ward’s precincts are from the old 38th Ward, 45 percent are from the old 36th Ward, and 10 percent are from the 29th Ward. Cullerton’s base was cleaved in half, meaning he will have to introduce himself to 35,000 new constituents.
Most ominously, Cullerton, age 64, likely will face opposition in 2015 from Alderman Nick Sposato (36th), who had 45 percent of his current constituents put into the new ward. Unlike 2011, when Cullerton raised $332,749 and spent $329,974, thumping the unknown and woefully underfunded Tom Caravette in the runoff 4,761-3,119 (with 60.4 percent of the vote), Sposato will be no patsy.
If Cullerton’s ward was cleaved, Sposato’s was disemboweled. All of Galewood and a quarter of Montclare (north of North Avenue around Harlem Avenue) were placed in the black-majority 29th Ward (based in Austin), whose alderman, Deborah Graham, is black. The rest of Montclare, plus Sposato’s residence, was put into the new Hispanic-majority 36th Ward, which took all of Cullerton’s predominantly Hispanic precincts south of Addison Street and all of the 36th Ward from Belmont Avenue to Roscoe Street east of Sayre Avenue. Willy Oquino, an ally of county Democratic chairman and Assessor Joe Berrios, is expected to get the seat. “They did their best to cripple me,” Sposato said.
In 2011, against great odds, Sposato, a firefighter, scored a huge upset over John Rice, the anointed successor to Bill Banks, who served as the ward’s alderman from 1983 to 2009. Rice was Banks’ chief of staff, but in reality was his driver and factotum. Instead of integrating his 2011 campaign with Rahm Emanuel’s, as Cullerton did, the organization of Banks and Jim DeLeo decided to go it alone. Rice had five opponents, and he got 48 percent of the vote to 24 percent for Sposato in the general election. In 2007 Sposato opposed Banks and got 2,595 votes (24 percent of the total cast). The warning signs were there: A solid 52 percent of the 13,953 2011 voters backed somebody other than Rice in the general election and wouldn’t back him in the April runoff.
Sposato spent $48,809 but won 40 of 55 precincts, topping Rice 5,651-4,423 and getting 56.1 percent of the vote — a clear repudiation of Banks and Rice. Rice’s vote collapsed from 6,709 to 4,423, while the anti-Rice vote of 7,244 waned only to 5,651. Sposato was elected the ward Democratic committeeman in 2012, and the Banks-DeLeo machine is history.
“I will be running in 2015,” said Sposato, who has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis but who is on medication and vigorous. Under city ordinance, an alderman must live in his or her ward for one year prior to taking office, which next will be in May of 2015. Sposato, age 54, said that he has five options. He said that he can run for alderman in the 29th, 30th, 36th or 38th wards, all of which include parts of his current ward, or he can run for mayor.
Sposato concedes that Emanuel “is the king of the photo ops” but said, “He does what he wants and he listens to nobody.”
“I’m an alderman,” Sposato said. “I’ve been asking (Emanuel’s staff) for a meeting for 6 months. He ignores me, and many other aldermen.”
Sposato said that there are many issues, such as school closings, charter schools, privatization, police hiring and pensions, on which there has been no debate in the City Council. “Too many aldermen are afraid to stand up to the mayor,” he said.
Sposato said there must be an “independent” candidate to oppose Emanuel in 2015, mentioning Aldermen Scott Waguespack (32nd), Bob Fioretti (2nd) and Joe Moore (49th). “If none of them runs, I might,” Sposato said. “I bet Cullerton hopes I run for mayor.”
Sposato named five of his accomplishments. (1) He and Alderman John Arena (45th) opposed Emanuel’s library hour and staffing cuts. “Two freshman alderman stood up to the mayor, and we won.” (2) A new playground at Shabbona Park. (3) Procurement of federal and state flooding aid in 2012. (4) Formation and participation in the council’s “Progressive Caucus,” an anti-Emanuel contingent of nine aldermen. (5) An “open and accessible” ward office, with mailings, e-mails, newsletters and “service without asking for reciprocity,” as he says was the case under Banks-Rice. Sposato said that as a firefighter he worked 85 days a year. “Now I work 85 hours a week,” he said.
I asked the same questions of Cullerton. Are you running for re-election? What are your accomplishments? I phoned a request to Cullerton’s office for an interview on the possibility of a 2015 “Cullerton-Sposato” race. Cullerton phoned Sposato, who reiterated his “five options,” and I received a fax message from the alderman which said: “I spoke with your client, Ald. Nick Sposato . . . to ask if he was aware if there was, indeed, a ‘Cullerton-Sposato contest’ — he was not.” Cullerton’s chief of staff, Rita Sattler, then said that the alderman has “answered my question” and to submit all other questions in writing, which I did — getting no response.
Sposato has raised $107,353 since April 1, 2011, to $127,219 for Cullerton. Sposato had $18,003 on hand as of April 1, 2013, to $29,322 for Tim Cullerton and $15,329 for Patti Jo Cullerton. In 2011 Cullerton got $163,250 from 81 political action committees, unions and Democratic politicians and $160,600 from 227 individuals and businesses. Can he replicate that in 2015? Sposato will outwork but not outraise Cullerton.
My predictions: Sposato will move into the 38th Ward. The 2015 winner will be “No Cullerton.”
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.
(Editor’s Note: Stewart, an attorney, consulted with Sposato in preparing his petition filing before the last aldermanic election.)