Laurino family dynasty under siege in 39th Ward
ANALYSIS & OPINION BY RUSS STEWART
There is no political consensus in Chicago’s Northwest Side 39th Ward. There are those who fervently believe that there are and have been too many Laurinos and D’Amicos on too many public payrolls for too long — like 52 years. And there are those who believe that the status quo is just swell.
As of now, the latter still exceed the former, but not by much.
"I’m absolutely running (for re-election) in 2019," said Alderman Margaret Laurino (39th), scion of the family dynasty that dates back to 1965, when father Anthony became the ward’s alderman. Since then, a slew of Tony Laurino’s offspring, and offspring of those offspring, plus in-laws, have materialized on various city and county payrolls. And, in a few cases, were indicted and convicted for being on payrolls and not doing any work.
But nothing lasts forever, and, as demonstrated in the 2015 aldermanic election, the 2016 Democratic committeeman election, and the 2016 15th District Illinois House Democratic primary, the proverbial natives are getting restless.
"She’s only running because Rahm (Emanuel) asked her to run," said 39th Ward Democratic Committeeman Robert Murphy of Laurino’s decision. "Rahm needs her vote. Her plan was to pass on the (aldermanic) job to some kin, but my election upended that plan," Murphy said.
In his underdog, low-budget 2015 aldermanic race against Laurino, Murphy’s mantra was "fifty years are enough," and he held her to 53.7 percent in a three-candidate field, and then went on to beat the Laurino-D’Amico machine’s candidate for Democratic committeeman in 2016 by 1,041 votes, or 54.7 percent. In that primary Murphy ally Jac Charlier ran against state Representative John D’Amico (D-15), who is the alderman’s nephew and Tony’s grandson, and lost 11,437 to 7,663, or 40.1 percent — a respectable showing. Charlier is not running again in 2018.
Marge Laurino, alderman since 1994 and president pro tem of the City Council, is inextricably tied to Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Voting studies indicate that she has supported the mayor on 100 percent of the contested council roll-calls since 2011. And she makes no apologies for that.
"We have turned the ship around," she said of the Emanuel Administration on issues of safety, education, taxes and pensions. Will there be any voter retribution against her?
"It had to be done," said Laurino of the various city tax hikes. She emphasized that the property tax increase will fully fund the police and fire pensions, the water and sewer fee increase will fully fund the municipal employees’ pension, the utility-phone tax will fully fund the laborers’ pension, and the teachers’ pensions, which will henceforth be picked-up by the state, will mean higher property taxes for unfunded liabilities. "People understand," she said.
Murphy scoffs at that scenario. "What people understand is that they" — meaning the Laurino-D’Amico combine — "were present at the creation. They bear some of the blame for the current mess." Murphy argued that the Laurino aldermen — Tony from 1965 to 1994, and Marge to the present day — "did not address issues" and "voted with the mayor." Laurino "voted with Daley on the Skyway sale and the parking meter deal," he said. And he noted that a family member has been an area state representative for 39 of the past 47 years: Bill Laurino, Marge’s brother, from 1970 to 1996, and D’Amico from 2004 to present. ‘They were in Springfield," said Murphy. "They bear some of the blame" for state pension problems
"Their machine is crumbling," Murphy said, noting that he won 12 of 45 precincts when he ran in 2015, and 30 in 2016, and that Charlier won 8 of the 38 precincts in the 39th Ward against D’Amico in 2016. Also, he added, the 2016 candidates they endorsed — Joe Cook for Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, Colleen Daly for subcircuit judge, and Pat Molloy for committeeman — all lost. "She’s nothing but a rubber-stamp" for the mayor, added Murphy.
In addition to Murphy, the 2019 aldermanic field may include Casey Smagala, a 28-year old D’Amico precinct captain who is director of development for the Albany Park Community Center and Roosevelt High School LSC member. "I’m putting myself in position to run (in 2019)," said Smagala. According to some sources, there is a rumor going around that a potential celebrity wildcard could be Lou Manfredini, who owns the Edgebrook Ace hardware franchise and has a "Mr. Fix-It" radio show and a "HouseSmarts" TV show. He would be a fresh, non-political face and have the money to be credible. But would he want to jump into the political circus?
Also, 39th Ward Republican Committeeman Matt Podgorski promises that his Northwest Side GOP Club organization will field a candidate. A multi-candidate primary would surely force a runoff, precipitating an up-or-down, one-on-one vote on Laurino.
Laurino is nevertheless upbeat about the future. "We’ve accomplished a lot," she said, emphasizing the $70 million, mile-long, 150-foot deep Albany Park storm water tunnel under Foster Avenue, paid for by city, state, federal and MWRD funds. "Over 500 homes were flooded" in past rainstorms. "This will protect those along the (Chicago) river." She also got new turf at Sauganash Park and a new Albany Park library. Economically, she got Peoples Gas to move into the vacant former Commerce Clearing House site at Peterson-Pulaski, a Whole Foods at Cicero-Peterson, and a Romanian Christian Church on the Monastero’s site on Devon. She also sponsored an ordinance to restrict parking in front of daycare centers, so as to create drop-off zones, and to allow parental leave for city employees.
As president pro tem, Laurino presides over council meeting in the mayor’s absence, and also oversees the Legislative Reference Bureau, a previously moribund entity that archives council activity. "It now does research," she said. "If an alderman wants to introduce an ordinance to address a problem, it will help prepare that ordinance."
Smagala said that the 39th Ward "has no plan, no priorities." That is just not true. Laurino is a very engaged alderman who understands that her constituents in Forest Glen, Sauganash, Edgebrook, Mayfair, North Park, east Norwood Park and Albany Park, who pay egregiously high property taxes, expect her to maintain and enhance their quality of life. Tony Laurino was fondly known as the "Alley Alderman," because he focused on providing services.
In the 2015 election, in which Laurino faced Murphy and Joe Laiacona, the alderman won 31 of 45 precincts, and 11 with over 60 percent. She topped Murphy by 1,166 votes.
The outlook: Joined at the hip with Emanuel, Laurino’s 2019 prospects depend on whether there is or is not an anti-incumbent trend. Emanuel won the ward 7,671 to 5,462 in the 2015 runoff. An early harbinger will be the 2018 assessor’s primary. Murphy is backing Fritz Kaegi against Joe Berrios. The Kaegi vote will indicate the level of voter discontent in the ward.
D’Amico, in the 15th District, may not have a primary opponent. D’Amico had $309,667 on-hand. Murphy said he’s "focused on recruiting candidates" for 2018, but has not yet found one for state representative. Podgorski did recruit Amanda Biela, a former schoolteacher, to oppose D’Amico as a Republican. In the 2016 election, D’Amico won 25,586 to 16,030, carrying the 39th Ward by a hefty 10,704 to 4,885; the district contains 48 precincts in Chicago, and 42 in the suburbs, including parts of Niles, Skokie and Glenview.
Biela asserted that D’Amico, who collects some of his a $107,000-a year salary as district superintendent at the city Department of Water Management when not in Springfield, "votes in lockstep" with Speaker Madigan. He is "part of the problem" in state government, and she slammed him for supporting the state income tax hike, as well the city pension ramp extension and the CPS school bailout. "We need to streamline" the CPS bureaucracy, she said, and expand school vouchers.
D’Amico seems unconcerned with the Biela challenge, and hypes Senate Bill 1, which poured $226 million from the state into the CPS pension fund, as a "good bill." Chicagoans, he said, were "getting taxed twice" for education expenses, once through property taxes and a second time through the state income tax. Every non-Chicago school district in Illinois had its pensions paid for by the state. Henceforth, under the bill, future Chicago teachers’ pensions will be paid by the state. Of course, the city is still stuck with finding funds to pay for existing unfunded shortfalls in all pensions, and D’Amico backed a bill extending the "ramp" until 2055.
As for the income tax hike, D’Amico stated that everything was "tied to education funding. We had to keep the schools open. We had to close the $11 billion revenue deficit. We had to raise taxes."
Feedback gleaned from her door-to-door campaigning, said Biela, is "intense displeasure" with all levels of government. "And very few people knew that he (D’Amico) is the nephew of the alderman." Podgorski asserted that his job is to conduct an "educational campaign" to enlighten voters that the Laurino-D’Amico clan treats government as a "family employment and pension collection service."
Laurino has been alderman for 23 years, and before that was her dad’s aldermanic aide. Husband Randy Barnette, committeeman until 2016, is a lobbyist for the City Colleges system. Son John Hundreiser, after a stint in Hollywood, works for the film department at the city Cultural Center. John D’Amico has two jobs, and his brother Jim, after 30 years with the county, now works for CPS, and his wife Dawn for the sheriff.
"This has got to end," said Podgorski. But it probably won’t in 2018 or 2019.
E-mail Russ@russstewart.com or visit his website at www.russstewart.com