Napolitano reflects on victory in 41st Ward
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
Chicago firefighter Anthony Napolitano said that he would not be a "yes man" in the City Council after he defeated 41st Ward Alderman Mary O’Connor by 629 votes in the April 7 runoff election.
The runoff followed a heated campaign that focused on issues including O’Hare Airport jet noise, participatory budgeting, attracting new businesses to the ward, addressing pension shortfalls and increasing police presence.
Napolitano received 9,674 votes, or 51.7 percent of the total cast, and O’Connor received 9,045 votes, or 48.3 percent, according to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.
"It was a crazy night, and I don’t mean to discredit Mary O’Connor because she did her service and you have to tip your hat, but a lot of people just felt that they were not a part of the ward, that they had no voice, and I think that kind of had a snowball effect because people wanted an alderman that was more interested in the ward and not the City Council," Napolitano said.
"It still hasn’t hit me yet," Napolitano said after the election. "I haven’t looked past the seventh of April. I thought I was going back to the fire station Friday."
In the February municipal election, O’Connor received 7,132 votes (47.7 percent), while Napolitano had 6,353 votes (42.5 percent), and Ace Hardware store owner Joe Lomanto had 1,449 votes (9.8 percent).
"The entire vote totals this time around were beyond me, compared to the last time," Napolitano said. He said that more than 18,000 people voted in the runoff election, compared to fewer than 15,000 in the municipal election.
Napolitano ran a campaign that focused on advocating on residents’ behalf and having an open door policy with ward nights so he could listen to their concerns, increasing police presence in the ward and fighting property tax increases. Napolitano said that he would continue to hold meetings of the 41st Ward Zoning Advisory Board, which was established by former alderman Brian Doherty and continued by O’Connor.
Napolitano said that he is concerned about the pension crisis that is facing the city and the state and that he will spend much of his time as alderman working on finding a solution. He supports allowing a casino to open in the city, using tax increment district financing funds for pensions and selling closed school buildings to generate property tax revenue.
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.
Napolitano said that he does not know if he will join the Progressive Caucus in the City Council which of includes Aldermen John Arena (45th), Nicholas Sposato (36th) who was elected the alderman of the 38th Ward, Scott Waugespack (32nd) and Ricardo Munoz (22nd). Members of the caucus frequently have opposed Mayor Rahm Emanuel on issues in the council.
"I would love to sit down with them," Napolitano said. "I know who they are and I know what they represent but I don’t know what it entails to join the Progressive Caucus.
Napolitano said that O’Connor congratulated him on the victory and that he is looking forward to the transition. "You can tell that she is not the type of a woman who would just turn her back on the ward and she told me that she would help me transition," he said.
O’Connor, who has been an ally of Emanuel, ran on a platform of economic growth and said that she has worked with him to bring improvements to schools and parks in the ward, to relieve school overcrowding and to attract businesses to the ward.
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 opposed participatory budgeting because she believes that under that system that a select group of residents would get to say how the alderman’s discretionary funding, known as "menu" funds, should be spent. "I think that we need people to get involved and they should have a voice on how the ‘menu’ money is being spent," Napolitano said. "It’s a hard-working neighborhood, and they should have a say about where their tax money is going."
Regarding the increase in jet noise since the opening of a new runway at O’Hare Airport in 2013, O’Connor said that a solution was to get noise insulation for residents who are not currently on the noise map and changing the 65-decible level threshold that is required for federal noise insulation. Napolitano said that O’Connor has not done enough to address the problem and that she has not sought to get Emanuel to help with the issue.
"There is nothing I’ve got against the mayor because the mayor is the boss and you have to work with the boss, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t put the ward first," Napolitano said. "I’m not going to be a ‘yes man’ because I’ve never been one."