Candidates make final push before election
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
Firefighter Anthony Napolitano, who forced a runoff election for 41st Ward alderman against Mary O’Connor on April 7, said that he is looking forward to the remainder of the campaign and that he feels that he has enough momentum to defeat the freshman alderman.
“We are staying positive and sticking to our position that the 41st Ward needs change,” Napolitano said. “This one-party city has to go, and I think that voters are absolutely disgusted with the direction this ward is going.”
O’Connor received 7,132 votes, or 47.7 percent of the total cast, in the February municipal election. Napolitano had 6,353 votes, or 42.5 percent, and Ace Hardware store owner Joe Lomanto had 1,449 votes, or 9.8 percent.
“Alderman O’Connor is very excited about the last week of the campaign and is confident that the residents of the 41st Ward have seen the changes and improvements that she has brought to the community,” said Stacy Raker, a political associate for O’Connor’s campaign who works for New Chicago Consulting. “Alderman O’Connor’s record is clear – her concern for the community and ability to deliver investments in the neighborhoods relying on her leadership will continue to move the 41st Ward forward.”
Napolitano was a police officer in the 15th (Austin) District before he became a firefighter, and O’Connor owns O’Connor’s Deli and Market, 7280 W. Devon Ave., and is a former president of the Edison Park Chamber of Commerce.
The two candidates have debated issues such as airplane noise, participatory budgeting, how to run the ward and its services and how to increase business and fix pensions, and they have discussed increasing the minimum wage and medical marijuana dispensaries.
O’Connor, who is running on a platform of growth, has been an ally of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and she has said that she has worked with him to bring improvements to schools and parks in the ward. She also said that she has worked to relieve school overcrowding and to bring businesses into the ward.
Napolitano’s priorities are to advocate on residents’ behalf and have an open door policy with ward nights so he could listen to their concerns and increase police presence in the ward.
“She has a closed door policy,” Napolitano said. “For an alderman, an elected official, who won’t provide customer services is bad for all of the residents. It’s rude and it is completely unacceptable.”
Napolitano previously has said that residents tell him that they feel that they don’t have a voice and that the alderman has alienated them.
At a debate in January, Napolitano criticized Emanuel for not addressing the needs of the 41st Ward, pushed for an elected school board and supported participatory budgeting. O’Connor opposes participatory budgeting because she feels that a select group of residents get to say how the alderman’s discretionary funding should be spent.
“She is totally against it,” Napolitano said. “That to me says that she is not really concerned about what the residents want.” Napolitano said that if he is elected he will continue to hold meetings of the 41st Ward Zoning Advisory Board, which was established by former alderman Brian Doherty.
“Alderman Mary O’Connor strongly supports the 41st Ward Zoning Advisory Board and is very grateful for the service they provide this community,” Raker said. “She will absolutely keep this board in place throughout her second term in office.”
Napolitano said that he supports a liquor license that was applied for recently by Ada’s Market and Deli, 6156 N. Northwest Hwy. Raker said that the alderman’s office did not receive any opposition to the license request and that O’Connor has allowed the application to proceed.
Both candidates said that they would oppose having a medical marijuana dispensary in the ward until they could see results of the affect they have on other wards. Raker said that O’Connor would like to have a chance for residents to address safety issues. Napolitano said that a dispensary has the potential to benefit to the community but that he personally would not like to see one in the ward.
The candidates also support increasing the minimum wage in a uniform manner so businesses do not move into the suburbs.
“We could start at $13 and push it further, but we need to see how the impact this has on businesses,” Napolitano said.
O’Connor issued a press release that urges Napolitano to return campaign donations that she says have ties to anti-union organizations. The release states that Friends of Anthony Napolitano has received $1,000 from 43rd Ward Republicans and $3,000 from the Illinois Opportunity Project, an organization which she said works to deny the collection of dues from unions.
“41st Ward families are sick and tired of the never-ending assault on unions who give working people a collective voice, and they deserve better than a candidate who takes money from the right-wing organizations pushing that very agenda,” O’Connor said. “Anthony should immediately return the money he received from the extremist groups that supporting his campaign and denounce their union-busting efforts. They have no place in the 41st Ward.”
“I support all of the unions, from firefighters, police officer to plumbers,” Napolitano said. “We need to get together.”
Napolitano said that O’Connor was failed the unions by not working on solutions to the pension problem. “This is an extremely strong union neighborhood, and she is just looking for something to stick,” he said. “I have been pro labor all my life so she shouldn’t be making up stuff.”
Napolitano said he has been endorsed by several labor unions, including the Service Employees International Union. He said that O’Connor “has voted with the mayor 98 percent of the time.”
“And for anyone who is making claims that Brian Doherty is running my campaign, I say this, Brian Doherty is not running my campaign,” Napolitano said. Napolitano said that he did seek advice from Doherty.
“I need people to know that I am not here just looking for a job,” Napolitano said. “I have some conservative views, but I am pro-labor and I genuinely want to help this community.”
Napolitano said that he is very concerned about the pension crisis that is facing the city and the state and that he would spend much of his time as alderman working on finding a solution. He supports having a casino in the city.
O’Connor said after the municipal election that she knew that the race would be close.
“I’m a first-term alderman that has hit the ground running when I was elected 4 years ago, and we have brought attention to the ward because it has been forgotten by the previous alderman,” O’Connor said. “Perhaps my message has not been clear with the voters, but I will continue to work hard for this ward. “My job is to work with the city and state leaders to improve the quality of life in the ward. I did work with Emanuel on the things that we needed in the ward, and I will continue to work with whomever is elected mayor.”
On the increase in jet noise since the opening of a new runway at O’Hare International Airport in October of 2013, both candidates have said that the issue is complicated because the federal government has led the airport expansion effort.
O’Connor had said that a solution is to get noise insulation for residents who are not currently on the noise map and decreasing the 65-decible level threshold that is required for federal noise insulation.
Napolitano said that O’Connor has not done enough to fix the problem and has not advocated sought to get Emanuel to help with the issue.
Napolitano also criticized O’Connor for taking credit for getting additions to schools.
“Additions take time, and some have been earmarked way before even the mayor got here,” Napolitano said. “We have terrific schools in this ward, but when you start to pack in the kids, it’s going to take a toll on their education.
“You have to push for new schools, but we need to look at the schools like Taft to make it a premier destination. Let’s fix what we have here first.”
O’Connor said that she stands behind her record of relieving overcrowding of the schools in the ward and helping to fix aging sewers and attracting businesses to the ward.