More renters may give Arena edge in election
by RUSS STEWART
Alderman John Arena (45th) is a likable, lovable kind of guy, always convivial, conciliatory, placating, humble and ever-so-eager to please. He hasn’t a smidgen of arrogance, megalomania or hubris. He is liberal in the true sense of the word, embracing dissent and welcoming alternative viewpoints. In fact, he has made his 45th Ward a “sanctuary,” and he pledges not to deport any Trump voters. Just kidding. Really kidding.
Arena has been singularly unsubtle on social media about the state of the nation, dismissing Trump’s pre-election supporters as “knuckle draggers” and most recently categorizing his ward’s 6,587 Trump voters as “generally sub-human puddles of DNA” and the new president as a “pussy.” I thought he was a “bully.”
However, Arena’s belligerence and intolerance is not cause for political worry. In fact, it has probably made him more popular. Dissing Trump is now fashionable and politically obligatory among liberals and Democrats. As is shown in the adjoining vote chart, the 45th Ward’s 2016 presidential vote was 16,082-6,587 for Hillary Clinton over Trump and 7,457-5,989 for self-declared socialist Bernie Sanders over Clinton in the 2016 primary. That constitutes a solid, nearly overwhelming liberal base. Trump won none of the ward’s 48 precincts, got more than 40 percent of the vote in six, more than 30 percent in 16 and less than 20 percent in 11. Bruce Rauner lost the ward 8,938-5,284 in 2014. Portage Park, Arena’s base, as well as the precincts in southern Jefferson Park from Lawrence Avenue to Montrose Avenue, are virulently anti-Trump and anti-Republican. Arena defeated John Garrido 8,488-7,263 (with 53.9 percent of the vote) in 2015, carrying 31 of 48 precincts, with one tied.
Nevertheless, Arena’s hold on the ward is shaky, and he is wholly dependent on union money. Garrido, whose base is in Gladstone Park and north Jefferson Park, may run again in 2019. Arena won by 30 votes in 2011 and by 1,225 votes in 2015. Arena is a practitioner of the Jesse Helms smash-mouth school of politics, named after the late 30-year North Carolina senator, who was hated by many but loved by just a few more. Helms survived by pandering to his base, energizing them, and never even attempting to reach out to or placate his enemies. That’s Arena. He understands that close to half the ward’s voters hate his guts and will never vote for him. There is no down side in insulting them, and there is no down side is being a consistent critic of Rahm Emanuel. Arena also wants to be an alderman for another decade or two.
The perception is that Arena stepped into a pond-sized puddle with his determination to upzone existing commercial and manufacturing properties around the Jefferson Park CTA station and the Northwest Highway corridor from Milwaukee Avenue northwest to Nagle Avenue. “Apartments Arena,” as he is being derogatively called, knows it is politically advantageous to “pack” the north end of his ward with low-income renters, as they are more liberal than home owners, have no long-term commitment to the community, care not a whit about property taxes as many have Section 8 subsidies — and are future Arena voters.
Arena is, in effect, engaged in colonization. He wants to apartmentize the non-Portage Park parts of the ward, making them more like Rogers Park. At least 400 new Jefferson Park apartments are planned for Argyle-Long, Lipps-Ainslie, and Milwaukee-Northwest Highway, plus a new complex of 39 units on the long-vacant Laramie-Lawrence property. That influx of renters will change the ward demographically, culturally, ideologically and politically; it’s called “refreshing.” The decayed industrial corridor along Northwest Highway from Foster to Nagle could easily accommodate another 1,000 to 1,500 apartments.
The mathematics are elemental: pack 3,000 or more mostly Democratic tenants into a ward voter pool of 23,938, of whom 8,488 already are pro-Arena, 16,082 are anti-Trump, and 6,427 are anti-Emanuel, and Arena goes from shaky to secure.
The 5150 N. Northwest Hwy. situation exemplifies not only Arena’s arrogance, but also his “packing” skills and political foresight. LSC Development spent $3.3 million in 2015 to buy the 67,000-square-foot parcel, which was zoned M1-1, and began interior renovation, intending to build a storage facility. They then got a retrofit construction permit in 2016, which was voided the next day, allegedly at the behest of Arena, who proposed a downzone the site to B1-1, blocking the project. LSC sued, and the settlement agreement mandates a five-story storage warehouse on the north half of the site and sale of the south half to a developer to build a seven-story, 100-apartment mixed-income building, with 20 units for CHA-subsidized renters, 20 at market price and 60 at below-market price. The ward’s planned colonization, as well as exacerbated school overcrowding, is under way.
In the adjacent 39th and 45th wards, it’s “kid care” time. The political end of Aldermen Marge Laurino (39th) and Pat O’Connor (40th) is near, and May 4 or shortly thereafter could be their interment date, but not necessarily the extinction of their family business. That’s when they can quit, the mayor can appoint their successor, and their son or daughter can be an alderman until 2019 without having to win a special election.
Laurino and O’Connor are indelibly tied to Emanuel, she as mayor pro tem and he as the City Council floor leader, and if blame is to be assessed for the city’s festering problems, they’re near the top of the list, having been in the council for a combined 57 years. Like Arena, they’re shaky. Laurino, who had been an alderman since 1994 in a ward where her father was the alderman for 29 years, won by an unimpressive 5,981-4,815 in 2015, getting 53.2 percent of the vote and losing 14 of 45 precincts. O’Connor, who has been an alderman since 1983, won by an semi-impressive 5,601-3,989 in 2015, getting 58.4 percent of the vote and losing 11 of 39 precincts.
Both of their 2015 opponents, Robert Murphy and Dianne Daleiden, are running again in 2019, both are fresh off 2016 Democratic committeeman runs, both style themselves as “progressives,” and both are part of the anti-Trump “resistance.” Murphy won the committeeman post vacated by Laurino’s husband 6,075-5,034 (with 54.7 percent of the vote), and he wants to make the 39th Ward a “sanctuary ward in a sanctuary city.” O’Connor beat Daleiden 6,532-5,431 (with 54.6 percent of the vote).
Laurino is in the more ticklish situation. She wants to hand off her job to her son John Hundreiser, who has a job with the city Cultural Affairs Commission, which her committee oversees. Isn’t DNA great? However, three others want the position, state Representative John D’Amico (D-15), her nephew, who is tight with Emanuel and Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, Dawn D’Amico, who is married to her nephew Jim and who until recently was the executive director of the Pulaski Elston Business Association, and Casey Smagala, one of John D’Amico’s precinct captains. In effect, the Laurino ship is sinking, and they’re squabbling over who wants to be the captain.
It’s cut and dried in the 40th Ward, where O’Connor’s daughter Hilary O’Connor is the anointed one, regularly accompanying her father to ward events. The alderman had $237,669 in campaign funds on hand as of Jan. 1, and he can raise another $400,000 if necessary in 2019. There is a huge liberal/Sanders base in the ward, especially in the east end. O’Connor is strong in Budlong Woods. “He will certainly outspend me, but the ward is ready for change,” Daleiden said.
In the Far Northwest Side 41st Ward, where firefighter Anthony Napolitano upset pro-Emanuel Alderman Mary O’Connor 9,702-9,087 in 2015, anti-Trumpism is hard to find. “People are overjoyed” with the new president, Napolitano said. “He’s doing what he promised, and doing it quickly.” Napolitano’s conservative base has no quarrel with his anti-Emanuel council votes, his opposition to Emanuel’s budget, or his outrage over appropriating $1.2 million to pay lawyers to prevent the deportation of undocumented immigrants. “The law is the law,” he said. Trump lost the ward 14,081-11,480, making the 41st his best ward in Chicago.
Napolitano’s 2019 opponent will be Tim Heneghan, the Democratic committeeman, who is busily aligning himself with Madigan, Emanuel and the anti-Trumpsters. Heneghan needs $750,000 in Madigan/union money to win, and he moved out of state Senator John Mulroe’s (D-10) office because Mulroe was neutral in Merry Marwig’s 2016 challenge to Republican state Representative Mike McAuliffe (R-20).
There are a multitude of haters, and the hated include Trump, Rauner, Madigan and Emanuel. Those who win in 2018 and 2019 will be those who best direct this hatred at their opponent.
This column, over the next few months, will feature analyses of political and economic trends in each Northwest Side ward.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.