Candidates talk donations, who is ‘independent’ in 39th Ward race
by KEVIN GROSS
With the Feb. 26 election less than a week away, 39th Ward aldermanic hopefuls discussed their campaigns, their donations and who is the most "independent."
"There’s almost no chance for a regular person to be anything in politics," Chicago police officer and military veteran Joe Duplechin said. "The alderman is, basically, in charge of filling potholes and resurfacing streets, yet you have to be a millionaire to do that. In this race, essentially, you have to be very well connected or super rich."
Duplechin’s campaign had about $55,000 in funds on hand, the smallest amount of the four candidates vying for retiring Alderman Margaret Laurino’s City Council seat, according to records from the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Much of Duplechin’s financial support comes from organized labor. He said that his campaign was helped by the race’s largest single donation of $35,000 from the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters PAC on Jan. 29, which he said he has been a member of since 1998.
"I’ve been a union guy my whole life. And its not like I’m lying about it," Duplechin said. "If it wasn’t for that amount of money, I wouldn’t really have much of anything."
To date, union support in the race has split between Duplechin and former Cook County Department of Homeland Security chief of staff Samantha Nugent, the best financed of any of the candidates with more than $142,000 on hand as of Feb. 19.
Her second largest donation of $5,000 on Feb. 11 came from the Chicago Land Operators Joint Labor – Management PAC, and her fifth largest donation of $3,500 from Chicago Journeymen Plumbers’ Local Union 130 was reported the same day, records show.
"I have worked for labor-friendly candidates up and down the ballot for the last 20 years. I have an incredible track record for working in the community and public service, and my husband’s family has a 100 percent union construction company," Nugent said. "We’re no strangers to labor. We’ve always been supportive of labor. And I think I’m the natural candidate to gravitate towards."
Architect and ward Democratic committeeman Robert Murphy has about $71,500 in campaign funds, with about $76,500 in campaign debts that his field director Steve Spagnolo attributed to "loans fronted by Robert and his wife."
"Although I have raised over $100,000 since the start of the race, my family has put in a large commitment, and I’m showing my own commitment to this campaign," Murphy said. "In this race, its necessary because I don’t have the support of machine connections, of lobbyists, of unions, or large single donations from politicians."
Murphy has received endorsements and about $4,000 from state Senator Heather Steans (D-7) and Citizens for Alderman Scott Waguespack (32nd), as well as $2,500 from the Cook County College Teachers Union.
His other endorsements include Congressman Jesus "Chuy" Garcia (D-4), County Assessor Fritz Kaegi, former Governor Pat Quinn and the Chicago Sun-Times.
The three candidates accused Nugent of being an "insider candidate," as her donors include Devon Realty president Peter Spyropoulos, Sauganash-based Precision Plating Company, and Smith-Corcoran funeral home owner Robert Smith, who have all donated to Laurino in the past.
"I think it’s a really good sign when the business leaders from your community are vested into your campaign. It shows that they are committed to taking care of you, and I think that’s really important," Nugent said. "I want their support. I want to partner with them."
Defending herself as independent, she said, "I am my own candidate. I am working so hard to be the next alderman. I’ve been knocking doors 7 to 8 hours a day. I’ve been knocking every day. I’m giving this 2000 percent because this is incredibly important and it matters."
Albany Park Community Center community engagement director Casey Smagala, whose campaign has the second least cash on hand at about $58,000, said, "Elections being turned into auctions is an awful direction for our democracy."
Smagala said his campaign’s largest donation of $15,000 on Feb. 5 came from Friends of Robert Martwick whom Smagala said helped him form his own ideas about pension reform.
"Rob has been, in many ways, a mentor to me in this race," Smagala said. "Also, when Martwick needed petitions signed to run for re-election, I got more signatures for his campaign than Rob Murphy’s entire ward organization."
Smagala’s second largest donation was $7,500 from the Seafood City supermarket, which he said partnered with the Albany Park Community Center’s workforce development programs to find staff.
is fifth largest donation was $2,000 from Pan American Bank and Trust, which had donated to Laurino in the past.
"My campaign is financed by local businesspeople who hire local people," Smagala said. "Residents are so tired of people campaigning on promises, which sound good, sure. But do you have any track record of doing that in your civic lives, in your personal lives? I can point to getting things done in this ward, and I think my opponents really have to dig deep to back that."