Two opponents seek to force 41st Ward runoff
by RUSS STEWART
This is the second in a series of "scouting reports" on Northwest Side aldermanic races. Last week focused on the 45th Ward; this week it’s the 41st Ward.
"Memorandum. From: Scout Stewart. To: General Manager Emanuel. Re: Mary O’Connor. Observed alderman in action (or inaction) over 4 years. Weak hit. No field. Great team spirit. Great on the bench. Never a contrary word. In fact, never any word. Known as ‘Mary No Peep.’ Needs the job. Likable. Good back-up as utility player. Low maintenance. Is a keeper, but needs lots of coaching if she is to stay in the league."
In short, if the "Rahmster" wants to keep "No Peep" in the City Council, where she has a 98 percent pro-Emanuel voting history, he better get cracking and send that money, guns and soldiers quickly. O’Connor won the 2011 runoff by 150 votes, and she hasn’t solidified herself since.
For O’Connor, April 7 is a defeat just waiting to happen unless Emanuel intervenes, spends oodles of money, and gets her over the 50 percent threshold on Feb. 24.
In the far northwest corner of the city, in what the late Alderman Roman Pucinski called "a suburb in the city," there’s plenty of haggling among the three aldermanic candidates, O’Connor, firefighter and former police officer Anthony Napolitano and business owner Joe Lomanto, about "more" and "less" — particularly the level of city services and property taxation. According to both Napolitano and Lomanto, the ward is being socked with more taxes and getting less service. "Under-served," as in non-served, mis-served, or mal-served, is the adjective used by both. "Her constituent service is atrocious," Napolitano said. "When I knock on doors, I find a great deal of anger. People tell me, ‘She has to go.’"
If the alderman from the 41st Ward supports the mayor, then the mayor should support us, Lomanto, who called O’Connor a "rubber stamp," said. "Instead, there has been no reciprocity," he said. "We’re the worst served ward in Chicago."
Lomanto has owned two Ace Hardware stores in the Wrigleyville area for more than 30 years, and he has investment property along the Lakefront. "I’ve dealt with numerous aldermen," he said. "I know what can and should be done. What can be done is not being done."
Lomanto cited the following deficiencies:
Streetsweeping: Lomanto said that in the 39th Ward, where pro-Emanuel Marge Laurino is the alderman, street sweepers scour the ward every third Thursday of the month from April to November. "In the 41st Ward, we had only five street sweeps, the last on Sept. 9, before the leaves fell," he said
Snowplowing: "We have only two snowplows to service the whole ward," Lomanto said, adding that they "cleaned only the arterial streets, not side streets." He said that the excuse is that the ward is too big. In the Edgebrook area, the residents pay for a private plowing service to clean the side streets.
Property taxes. Lomanto has lived in the 41st Ward for 20 years, and he has experience with the Board of Review on tax appeals. He said that property values are declining in the ward but that property taxes are increasing. "Outside the Lakefront, we pay the highest (property taxes) in the city, but we can’t get them reduced," Lomanto said. "Because the sale time is short — one or two months — the (Board of Review) considers us a stable neighborhood and won’t reduce assessments. Elsewhere, where sale time is up to six months, they do."
Police services: Area crime is down. Tactical teams from the 16th District sometimes are redeployed to high-crime areas. Lomanto said that not all cars are manned and that there are "almost no" beat patrols. "Wait time for a police response can be up to 5 hours," he said. "That’s not acceptable."
Lomanto, with Napolitano concurring, want 2,000 more police officers hired.
The Lomanto/Napolitano strategy is simple: Attack O’Connor. Run up her negatives. Get a combined Feb. 24 vote of more than 50 percent, forcing O’Connor into a runoff, and with the third-place finisher backing the second-place finisher, defeat O’Connor on April 7. That strategy worked in the 36th Ward in 2011, when five candidates held Alderman John Rice to 48.1 percent of the vote in the municipal election and second-placer Nick Sposato beat him in the runoff with 56.1 percent of the vote.
However, O’Connor, who has been the ward Democratic committeeman since 2008, personifies a plethora of verities: Silence is golden. Better to be seen than heard. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. The alderman will not talk to this columnist, but her loquacious senior advisor, Jason Hernandez, has no reticence.
"She’s delivered as promised," Hernandez said. "She’s brought in $100 million in public school upgrades. She’s brought in $30 million in water main improvements. She’s resurfaced 218 miles of ward streets. She’s helped make Taft one of the best high schools in the city, with $17 million in upgrades. She’s opposed charter schools, privatization of city services and school closures. She’s reversed the flow of tax dollars from the ward."
"Who is she kidding?" Napolitano, of Edison Park, retorted. "She’s sold her soul to Rahm. For all her slavish loyalty, the 41st ward should have the best city services, not the least. Potholes, jet noise, rising taxes. Voters are angry about the declining quality of their neighborhoods, and they blame the alderman."
Napolitano said that on only two issues did O’Connor diverge from the mayor, raising the minimum wage to $13 per hour and the plastic bag ban. She supported all four of Emanuel’s budgets.
The most pressing issue is city pensions and how to pay for $20 billion in unfunded liabilities. A judge in Sangamon County on Jan. 23 struck down the General Assembly’s 2014 "reforms," which allowed Chicago to raise employee contributions and cap cost-of-living hikes.
The court ruled that benefits for existing or retired employees "cannot be diminished" under the state Constitution. Unless the ruling is overturned on appeal, it will cost Chicago $2.5 million a day. There also is an expected 2015 budget deficit of $300 million.
What to do? Find a new revenue stream, Hernandez said, suggesting a new casino. Cut the "waste" and duplicative services, Lomanto said. Build a casino, start selling unused city property and abandoned lots, and use TIF funds, Napolitano said. Since all three candidates don’t want to raise property taxes and do want to hire up to 2,000 more cops, finding that extra $1 billion will be a nifty trick.
The 41st Ward contains 47 precincts and four distinct neighborhoods: Edgebrook (six precincts), an upscale area with many non-curbed streets, Edison Park (12 precincts), a mecca of bars and restaurants crammed with city workers, Norwood Park (13 precincts), with turn-of-the-century homes on Circle Drive and now a more vibrant commercial district, and Oriole Park (16 precincts), built post-War and encompassing the area south of the Kennedy Expressway to East River Road. It is estimated that there are two to 20 city workers on every block and well over 1,000 current or retired police and firefighters. Add in spouses and adult children, and the first responder vote is significant.
Politically, the ward, with 33,736 registered voters, is schizophrenic, filled with well paid, largely Catholic, culturally conservative working class whites who find it difficult to vote for any Republican. If the ward were transplanted to Queens or north New Jersey, they would be Republicans. The vote in the ward in 1983 was 32,725-2,380 (93.2 percent) against Harold Washington. The vote in 2012 was 13,134-11,048 (53.3 percent) for Barack Obama, who got more than 55 percent of the vote in just three precincts but carried 39 of 47. Pat Quinn topped Bruce Rauner in 2014 by 9,465-8,817, getting 50.3 percent of the vote and carrying 28 precincts. Emanuel lost the ward to Gery Chico in 2011 10,125-8,578, getting just 42.3 percent of the vote.
Here’s my real "scouting report."
O’Connor: Her predecessor Brian Doherty was low-key, but O’Connor is subterranean . . . Evokes no enthusiasm and minimal antagonism . . . Acronym for campaign strategy is GEE — gender, ethnicity and Emanuel . . . Being a "Rahmwoman" is no selling point with voters . . . In 2011, in a field of 11, got 6,132 votes (30.5 percent), won runoff 7,354-7,104 (with 50.9 percent of the vote) over Doherty’s chief of staff but carried only 21 of 57 precincts . . . Precinct organization has atrophied . . . Has non-aggression pact with Republican Committeeman Mike McAuliffe . . . Had $73,704 on hand on Jan. 1 . . . Unanswered question: has she gained or lost from her 2011 base? . . . Voters have a fuzzy image of O’Connor, but those who have dealt with her office or don’t like the mayor, don’t . . . Needs five or six glitzy Emanuel-paid mailings . . . If she doesn’t win on Feb. 24, will be toast in runoff.
Lomanto: First-time candidate . . . Says he won’t be a career politician . . . Has interfaced with city bureaucracy through his businesses and is not impressed — "too many layers of management" . . . Has endorsed no mayoral candidate and promises to be an independent in City Council . . . Wants budget cuts . . . Had $17,292 on hand on Jan. 1 . . . Wants a new high school in ward . . . Says he’s "not a liberal."
Napolitano: Police officer for 5 years, firefighter for 10 . . . Father, cousin and uncle were Chicago cops . . . had $11,643 on hand as of Jan. 1 . . . expects his first responder "base" to deliver . . . Endorsed by FOP and Firefighters Local 2 . . . Says he’ll be "independent" alderman . . . Will vote for Chuy Garcia or Bob Fioretti for mayor.
My prediction: O’Connor’s base vote is about 7,000. If turnout exceeds 15,000, she’ll be in a runoff.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.