May 21, 2003


On May 2, veteran State Representative Ralph Capparelli (D-15) became a lame duck in his Northwest Side district. Capparelli didn't establish legal residency in his district by that date, so he cannot run for re-election to that seat in 2004. He could run against Republican incumbent Mike McAuliffe (R-20), since he lives in the 20th District, but that is unlikely.

According to Springfield and Northwest Side sources, Capparelli will soon be a "non-duck": He will resign his seat this summer, after he gets a high-level state job in the Blagojevich Administration. And Capparelli's House replacement will be John D'Amico Jr., a city water department foreman who is the nephew of 39th Ward Alderman Marge Laurino and the grandson of the late 39th Ward Alderman Tony Laurino.

But Capparelli emphatically denies that his political demise is imminent. "I did not move (into the 15th District), but I have no intention of resigning my seat," he said. Capparelli adds that it is a "strong option" that he will run for re-election against McAuliffe.

In political vernacular, a lame duck is an incumbent office holder -- like retiring Republican U.S. Senator Peter Fitzgerald -- who has announced his retirement, who has been defeated in the primary, or who is ineligible to run for re-election. For a politician to remain influential among lobbyists, special interests and fellow legislators, he must be able to do something for them tomorrow, not just today. So a politician who won't be around tomorrow is a politician who is irrelevant, and who is ignored. Capparelli is teetering on the brink of being ignored.

Capparelli is the dean of the Illinois House, having served since 1971. Because of the 2001 redistricting, Capparelli had the option of running in 2002 in the district where he lived or in any other new district which contained part of his old (13th) district, such as the 15th District. Capparelli opted for the latter, and he won the seat. State law required that he establish residency in the 15th District by May 2 in order to run for re-election in the district. So unless Capparelli takes steps to run in the 20th District in 2004, he will be an instant has been.

But the rumor in Springfield is that Capparelli's days are numbered, that his replacement by D'Amico is a done deal, and that Capparelli, as well as House Republicans (especially McAuliffe) will move heaven and earth to get him an appointment to a prestigious and well paid to a state job from Governor Rod Blagojevich.

In fact, one source has said that Capparelli's "arrangement" after the 2001 remap was to run in the 15th District for re-election, enabling fellow Democrat Bob Bugielski to move into the 20th District and seek that seat, and then to resign the 15th District seat. But Bugielski was clobbered by McAuliffe, and now Democrats in the 15th District, and particularly in the 39th Ward, are holding Capparelli to his bargain: They backed him, and now they want him to quit to allow D'Amico to be appointed and run for re-election as an incumbent.

From 1970 to 1996, the 39th Ward Democrats had a state representative, Bill Laurino, the son of the late alderman. Bill Laurino retired in 1996, and the seat was won by Joe Lyons, of the 45th Ward. Marge Laurino's husband, Randy Barnette, currently a Springfield lobbyist for the City Colleges of Chicago system and the 39th Ward Democratic committeeman, was supposed to restore a legislative seat to the ward by winning a state Senate spot in 1998, when incumbent Howard Carroll retired to run for Congress. But Barnette narrowly lost the Democratic primary in an upset to Ira Silverstein, who still holds the job.

D'Amico, age 41, is a lifelong city employee, as befits the grandson of a clout-heavy alderman. And he's quite eager to acquire a second job: that of state representative. Bill Laurino, while serving in the legislature, had (and still has) a comfy job as a deputy superintendent in the city Department of Streets and Sanitation. If appointed to replace Capparelli, D'Amico could keep his city job, just as Lyons keeps his county job, for which he earns a salary when he is not in Springfield.

The weighted vote of the 39th Ward in the 2002 Democratic primary in the 15th District is almost 44 percent, which means that Barnette has the greatest influence in naming a replacement to a House vacancy. Of the district's 102 precincts, 37 are in the suburbs (Niles, Morton Grove and Glenview) and 65 are in Chicago, with 35 in the 39th Ward, 11 in the 41st Ward (where Capparelli is the committeeman), seven each in the 40th and 45th wards, and five in the 30th Ward. If Barnette backs D'Amico for the Capparelli seat, and if he has the support of Capparelli and 40th Ward Committeeman Pat O'Connor, he will get it.

Lending credence to reports of Capparelli's imminent resignation is the fact that D'Amico has been scouting out Springfield. "He has a curiosity about the democratic process," said Barnette, who is a Springfield regular, only half-facetiously. D'Amico wasn't there in May checking out Chicago water mains. "He wants to get a sense of what it takes (to serve in the legislature)," Barnette said.

Barnette could claim the 15th District seat for himself if he chose, but he has decided not to do so.

Another harbinger of Capparelli's imminent departure has been the activity of Joe Lyons, who is doing what it takes to get noticed and respected as a credible legislator. Capparelli is the deputy House majority leader, a job that pays him $16,273 on top of his $55,778 salary. In addition to Speaker Mike Madigan, a total of eight other Democrats are in the leadership, including two white Chicagoans (Capparelli from the Northwest Side and Barbara Flynn Currie from the South Side), one suburbanite (Lou Lang from Skokie), two black Chicagoans and three Downstaters. Lyons, age 52, was chairman of the Child Support Enforcement Committee in the 1999-2000 session, and he now is chairman of the Revenue Committee.

If and when Capparelli departs, Lyons expects to ascend to a position in the House leadership, as an assistant majority leader, being the Northwest Side member of the "Big Nine."

The 2001 Democratic-drawn remap put both McAuliffe and Bugielski in areas outside the 20th District, but both ran in that district when Capparelli ran elsewhere. McAuliffe has since moved into the district.

In a decisive result, McAuliffe beat Bugielski 18,401-15,717, a plurality of 2,682 votes. In the 41st Ward, where and McAuliffe is the Republican committeeman, McAuliffe trounced Bugielski 10,188-6,109, carrying 58 of the ward's 60 precincts in the district.

Bugielski's loss, and especially McAuliffe's huge triumph in the 41st Ward, was a gigantic embarrassment for Capparelli. In addition, both Blagojevich and Lisa Madigan (for attorney general) lost the 41st Ward. Capparelli has more than $900,000 in his campaign fund, but he's a paper tiger in the precincts of his ward.

"If he runs against me, I'll out-campaign him and I'll beat him," McAuliffe said. McAuliffe spent more than $300,000 in his 2002 race, to Bugielski's $250,000, but the key was door-to-door campaigning. McAuliffe, age 39, spent hours every day walking precincts, often with 41st Ward Alderman Brian Doherty, who is a Republican. Bugielski relied entirely on precinct workers. The outcome validated McAuliffe's strategy. "I'm ready to start walking again this summer," he said.

Capparelli, who will be age 80 in 2004, cannot out-campaign McAuliffe, but he certainly can out-spend him. However, with nearly $1 million in his account, Capparelli won't get any money from Madigan, so he'll have to spend his own dough. If he retires, he can pay a 40 percent tax and keep the rest of his fund. If he runs for re-election, every dollar he spends takes 60 cents out of his pocket.

My prediction: When the sun sets some time in August, expect Capparelli to be riding into it. Bugielski just got a job as an associate director of the state Liquor Control Commission, and Blagojevich certainly can find an even more comfy job for Capparelli, who will then use the appointment as a pretext for his resignation from the House. At this early date, there are two done deals for 2004: McAuliffe will win another term in the 20th District, and D'Amico will resurrect the "Laurino Dynasty" in the 15th District.