January 28, 2004


They're competing with each other, but not against each other. Two of the Northwest Side's more durable political dynasties -- the 39th Ward's "Laurino Dynasty" and the 45th Ward's "Lyons Dynasty" -- will be tested in the March 16 Democratic primary for state representative in, respectively, the 15th District and the 19th District.

The two anointed dynastic candidates -- John D'Amico and Joe Lyons -- undoubtedly will triumph, but the margins of their victories will be closely scrutinized. If either wins with less than a convincing margin, it will be deemed a sign of political and familial weakness.

The "Laurino Dynasty" dates back to 1965, when the late Tony Laurino became the 39th Ward alderman and Democratic committeeman. He served until 1995, when he resigned while under federal indictment on three counts of mail fraud and three counts of defrauding Chicago government by arranging "ghost payroll" jobs on his City Council Traffic Committee staff, including many family members. He died before his trial. Laurino's successor as alderman was his daughter Marge, who was elected in 1995 and re-elected in 1999 and 2003. His successor as committeeman was Randy Barnette, Marge Laurino's husband.

From 1970 to 1996, Laurino's son Bill held the area state representative seat and also had a high-paying job in the city Department of Streets and Sanitation. Bill Laurino retired in 1996, and he was succeeded by Joe Lyons, from the neighboring 45th Ward. In 1998 Lyons declined to run for retiring incumbent Howie Carroll's state Senate seat; Barnette ran instead, but he lost the Democratic primary to Ira Silverstein.

Since the potency of a Chicago Democratic ward organization is measured by both the number of votes delivered for Daley-backed candidates and the number of office holders they boast, the 39th Ward has been diminished since Bill Laurino's departure. A new House district centered on the 39th Ward was created in the 2001 remap. State Representative Ralph Capparelli (D-15), the 41st Ward Democratic committeeman, moved into the district to run in 2002 and was easily elected. However, Capparelli is seeking 2004 re-election in the adjacent 20th District, so the 15th District is "open," and Capparelli's all-but-sure successor is none other than John D'Amico, the grandson of Tony Laurino and a longtime city worker who is pursuing the family business.

The "Lyons Dynasty" dates back to 1968, when Tom Lyons became Democratic committeeman. Lyons is the county Democratic chairman and is a longtime ally of Mayor Rich Daley. He had some rocky times during the 1980s, when Jane Byrne was mayor, but he survived. The 45th Ward's legislators during the 1970s and early 1980s were the late Bob Egan, who served as a state senator from 1971 to 1972 and from 1975 to 1984, and the late Dick Clewis, who was a state senator from 1977 to 1978. Clewis was elected 45th Ward alderman in 1979, but he lost in 1983, leaving Lyons virtually cloutless.

But Lyons recovered the aldermanic seat in 1987 with Pat Levar, and he engineered the nomination of his cousin, Joe Lyons, to the Illinois House in 1996. Joe Lyons is expected to succeed his cousin as committeeman in 2008 or 2012.

Lord Palmerston, a British prime minister, once opined that nations have no permanent allies, only permanent interests. The same axiom applies to Chicago ward committeeman: They have no permanent allies, and their permanent interest is protecting their ward power base. And the secondary interest of those for whom politics is the family business is perpetuating their family dynasty.

Of course, the Laurino and Lyons clans are the new family on the block when compared to the 38th Ward's "Cullerton Dynasty." The first Cullerton sat in the City Council in 1871, and a Cullerton served as alderman for 107 of the 124 years through 1995. Patty Jo Cullerton is still the ward's committeeman, and the alderman since 1995 is Tom Allen, who is releated to the Cullertons by marriage.

Here's a look at the two contests for state representative:

19th District: Stretching from roughly Devon and Nagle south to Belle Plaine and as far east as Kostner, the district is a Democratic bastion. Joe Lyons was re-elected without Republican opposition in 2002, getting 22,117 votes. He also was unopposed in the primary that year, getting 14,945 votes. The district has a large Polish-American population, many of whom are non-citizens, and with many of the citizens moving north and west, being replaced by Hispanics.

Lyons, age 52, is the quintessential organization politician, having been (and still being) a precinct captain since the 1970s, having had (and still keeping) a cushy part-time $49,500-a-year job as manager of training and education for the county Department of Human Services, and having been a loyal soldier in Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan's Springfield army.

Lyons is conservative on some social issues, having voted for welfare reform, as well as for private school tuition tax credits and charter schools. He opposed partial-birth abortions and backed parental notice prior to a minor's abortion, but he opposed reducing possession of a concealed handgun from a felony to a misdemeanor. Lyons supported dockside gambling, and he voted for former Governor George Ryan's "Illinois FIRST" program, which raised liquor taxes and increased vehicle fees. Last year he backed Governor Rod Blagojevich's budget and bond plans.

In the Madigan-controlled Springfield environment, a legislator with any smarts gets a committee chairmanship in his or her second term and makes it into the leadership as an assistant majority leader by the fourth or fifth term. Lyons is on the leadership track: He was the chairman of Child Support Enforcement Committee in his second term, the chairman of the Revenue Committee in 2001 his third term, and is the chairman of the Financial Institutions Committee in his fourth term.

But Capparelli, the deputy majority leader, stands in Lyons' way. Madigan allocates five assistant majority leader slots on the basis of geography and gender. He also has two deputy majority leaders and one majority leader. Until Capparelli, a deputy majority leader, leaves the leadership, fellow Northwest Sider Lyons cannot enter it.

Lyons won a tough primary in 1996. He was the organization-endorsed candidate, and he got 50.8 percent of the vote in a four-man field. He has had no primary opposition since, but he does in 2004. His foe is Jeff Holewinski, a 24-year-old Internet entrepreneur and the son of former state representative Mike Holewinski, who served from 1975 to 1978. Holewinski's appeal is four-fold: to Polish ethnics, to independents, to fiscal conservatives and to "those who want a change." Holewinski proposes "out of the box" approaches to the state's fiscal situation, including the use of technology to produce paperwork savings and the elimination of waste in government. He blasts Blagojevich for "spending too much" and for "enlarging state government," and he is especially emphatic on the issue of property tax caps. "We should cap property tax reassessment hikes at 7 percent," he said. "This year's local property taxes will be increased, perhaps by as much as 300 percent."

My prediction: Lyons is not beatable. The only question is, how big of a dent can Holewinski make? Expect Lyons to win with close to 65 percent of the vote, getting 11,400 votes to Holewinski's 6,200 -- a convincing margin.

15th District: Stretching from Dewes Street in Glenview (north of Central Road) to Milwaukee and Waveland, and east to California and Peterson, this is another solidly Democratic district. Capparelli was unopposed in the 2002 primary, and he got 13,675 votes. He creamed Republican Bill Miceli 19,718-9,249, a 68.1 percent majority, in the 2002 election.

D'Amico, age 41, has been a city employee for 22 years. He currently is a district foreman for water main construction in the city Department of Water Management, and he is a journeyman plumber. If D'Amico wins the seat, he will be, like his uncle Bill Laurino, a Springfield "lifer," serving for many decades and being a loyal Madigan soldier.

D'Amico's opponents include Dennis Fleming, a Chicago attorney, and Mike Burnett, of Lincolnwood, a 24-year-old third-year law student and a Niles Township High School District 219 trustee. Fleming's petitions have been challenged, so he may not make it onto the ballot. Burnett is running as "new generation" politician who contends that there is "something deeply wrong with the job that the state is doing."

My prediction: D'Amico's dynastic coronation is a done deal. Not a peep has been mentioned about the fact that his mother (Tony Laurino's daughter) and father were both convicted -- Marie D'Amico for holding a ghost-payroller job and John D'Amico Sr. for arranging the jobs for his wife and for others -- and that both served jail time. Of course, the sins of the parents (or grandparent) should not be held against the offspring, but nobody is addressing the issue, or whether the "Laurino Dynasty" should be propagated by electing D'Amico.

Expect an easy D'Amico victory, with close to 70 percent of the vote.

And the March 16 outcomes will mean that both the Laurino and Lyons dynasties are alive and vibrant -- and both equally potent.