Sposato resigns post of 38th Ward committeeman
by RUSS STEWART
Irreconcilable differences based on unfulfilled expectations. That is a pretext for divorce. It also explains why Alderman Nicholas Sposato recently submitted his letter of resignation as the 38th Ward Democratic committeeman.
Historically, Democratic committeemen in Chicago wards and suburban townships involuntarily end their tenure through death, incarceration and, very rarely, defeat. Sposato is voluntarily ending his tenure, which dates back to 2012, because the committeeman’s post has "absolutely no power," he said, because the Democrats’ county slatemaking process is "a farce," and because the Democratic Party as a whole "has moved too far to the left."
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s "Sanctuary City" edict was a turning point, said Sposato, who was a firefighter before being elected alderman in 2011. "The mayor is protecting people, illegal immigrants, who are breaking federal law. My grandparents came here from Italy. They followed the legal process to become citizens, as should all immigrants," he said. Under "Sanctuary City" policies, any illegal immigrant who is arrested is not turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation. "The mayor has no right to do that," said Sposato.
The breaking point came when the council in December of 2016 voted to use $1.3 million of the leftover $20 million property tax rebate money to establish a legal defense fund to pay lawyers to delay deportation proceedings. Sposato was one of four aldermen in opposition, and was chastised by Alderman Proco Joe Moreno (1st). Sposato bristled and responded that he was "not a hater" and that other aldermen should respect "other people’s opinions."
Another issue was decertification of the city’s 292 unarmed aviation police officers, whose April 9 forcible removal of a passenger at O’Hare International Airport went viral. The city stripped them of the power to make arrests, enforce warrants or write tickets, making them mere observers. Sposato was one of the few aldermen to oppose the action. Sposato also opposed the issuance of municipal identification cards.
"I am not a ‘progressive.’ I am an independent," Sposato said, who resigned from the city council’s "Progressive Caucus" because of ongoing differences with other aldermen like John Arena and Scott Waguespack. "I am a conservative on social issues" like abortion, gay marriage and public safety and internal police matters, he said, "but liberal on labor issues, protecting pensions, public education and job creation." The Democrats, both locally and nationally, have become "obsessed with political correctness and quotas" as well as "attacking law enforcement" and "viciously criticizing everybody with whom they disagree."
Sposato added that he would "remain a Democrat, but I no longer wish to be part of the Democratic Party. I’m going to focus on serving my ward."
Back in the heyday of Mayor Richard J. Daley, Democratic city committeemen were pawns and powerhouses. A non-compliant committeeman was quickly out the door; but in their respective wards, committeemen were kings, and the beneficiary of oodles of patronage. Their job was to stick the city workers in precincts, who then produced Democratic votes in order to keep their jobs. No longer.
All coercion of city workers under the Shakman Decree was banned, so the precinct captain system vanished. It evolved into entities like the Hispanic Democratic Organization, where ambitious city workers "volunteered" to work for a specific candidate, the quid pro quo being a promotion or getting a job. And now it has evolved into simple cash, with incumbents engaging in pay-to-play fund-raising with businesses. But that only works if the committeeman has a public job, like alderman, state legislator or a countywide office. Otherwise, a donation to a committeeman or aspirant is utterly valueless.
The remaining incentive to be a Democratic committeeman is twofold. First, to be a roadblock, and not let somebody else position himself or herself to use the post to run for alderman or state legislator. And second, to have some input into the choosing of Democratic candidates for city, county or state office.
Of the City Council’s 50 aldermen, 26 are their ward’s Democratic committeeman. It is simply self-preservation. The aldermen are not about to let a potential rival win the post and use it to organize to oust them. They want it themselves. This tradition – of aldermen grabbing the committeemanship – dates back almost a century.
When the Northwest Side’s 38th Ward P.J. Cullerton got elected alderman in 1935, after creation of the ward, he immediately ran for committeeman in 1936, and a Cullerton held the post and alderman’s job until 2015-16. In the 33rd Ward, Dick Mell won for alderman in 1975 and committeeman in 1976. In the 40th Ward, Pat O’Connor won for alderman in 1983 and committeeman in 1984.
Recently, Arena won for alderman in 2011, and extinguished the last vestiges of the Lyons-Levar 45th Ward Machine by winning the committeemanship in 2012. Likewise, Sposato beat the Banks-DeLeo 36th Ward "machine" in 2011, ousting appointed Alderman John Rice, and then getting 71.3 percent for committeeman in 2012. When the 36th Ward was merged with the 38th Ward in the 2011 remap, the Cullertons capitulated, and Sposato became alderman and then committeeman.
There have been some recent procedural reversals – not of an alderman maneuvering to beat an alderman, but vice versa. In the 39th Ward, where the Laurino Clan has held the ward’s reins since 1965, Robert Murphy won the committeeman’s post in 2016, and is positioning himself for a run against Margaret Laurino for alderman in 2019. In the 33rd Ward, Aaron Goldstein beat Dick Mell for committeeman in 2016, and is gearing up to run for alderman against Deb Mell in 2019.
As to a committeeman’s institutional role, which is to choose – and then coalesce behind – party candidates, Sposato terms the situation "farcial." Said Sposato: "I’m supposed to have input. I’m supposed to have a weighted-vote at slatemaking. But when I attend (county slatemaking), all the decisions are already made, all the candidates already chosen." A weighted-vote is the number of votes cast in each ward or township in the most recent Democratic primary. In March 2016, 8,497 were cast in the 38th Ward, 720,812 citywide, 476,261 in the suburbs, and a total of 1,197,073 were cast countywide. Theoretically, a nominee needs one-half of the weighted votes of the committeemen. But no "vote" is ever taken, said Sposato. "When I show up, a resolution to approve the ‘recommended’ slate is presented, approved by a voice vote," he said. "They tell me an actual vote for each office cannot occur because it might upset the ticket’s ‘balance.’ So why bother?"
Sposato did admit that committeemen have clout in judicial subcircuit slating, and in Chicago municipal elections, which are non-partisan, they can back anybody they want for mayor, clerk, treasurer and alderman. In past elections, Sposato personally endorsed such Republicans as the late Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, state Representative Mike McAuliffe and county Commissioner Pete Silvestri. Now he can endorse anybody anytime.
Sposato’s resignation letter to county chairman Joe Berrios recommended that his replacement be State Representative Rob Martwick (D-19), who moved into the ward from Norridge in 2013, and was elected to Joe Lyons’ House seat in 2012. Inasmuch as Martwick’s father, Robert Martwick, the Norwood Park Township committeeman, is secretary of the county party, young Martwick’s appointment is a fait accompli. Sposato suffers from multiple sclerosis, but said he intends to run for re-election in 2019. "I will not run against him," promised Rob Martwick.
As detailed in a July Sun-Times article, Martwick is an avid multi-tasker. In addition to his duties as a state representative, Martwick also works for his father’s influential law firm, Finkel Martwick & Colson, which specializes in property tax appeals, and has donated copiously to Berrios over the years. He also runs a direct mail firm called First Tuesday Inc., which designs and prints campaign mailers, for which his company has been paid, according to the article, $673,000 since 2005. His firm was paid $66,000 in 2016, and $170,000 since 2015. Martwick acknowledged that First Tuesday makes a 20 percent profit. The article focused on the fact that Martwick failed to disclose income from the company on his campaign disclosure filings, and failed to have a Chicago business license for his company.
Now Martwick is taking on the onerous task of committeeman, amid what will definitely be a difficult 2018 re-election campaign. Martwick’s equivocation on the 5150 N. Northwest Highway low-income housing project prompted two Chicago cops – Democrat Jeff LaPorte and Republican Ammie Kessem – to challenge him, respectively, in the upcoming primary and election. Sposato is not gifting Martwick his precinct organization, so Martwick faces the equally onerous task of fielding workers in the 88 precincts of the 19th District, of which 37 are in the 45th Ward and 28 in the 38th Ward, as well as build an infrastructure in the 41 precincts of the 38th Ward.
Martwick lives in the ward’s east end, in west Portage Park, but the ward extends west from Laramie, north of Belmont, extending to Cumberland-Lawrence in the west, and to Gunnison in the east.
Martwick said he wants the committeeman’s post because the "has spent his whole life organizing around Democratic issues." He’s got his wish. He’ll be spending his whole life for the next 3 years getting re-elected in 2018 and elected in 2020.
Send an e-mail to russ@russstew art.com or visit his Web site at www.russstewart.com.