April 14, 2004


Wellness may be a highly subjective determination, especially in politics, but the March 16 Democratic primary results indicate that the "Lyons Machine" in the 45th Ward clearly eclipses the "Laurino Machine" in the 39th Ward. Of the two, the 45th Ward is much "weller" -- being more politically aggressive in squelching opposition and having more patronage and a better precinct operation for delivering votes.

Like Mark Twain's comment that reports of his death were greatly exaggerated, the solid win of 45th Ward Democratic Committeeman Tom Lyons belies any notion that he, his organization or his alderman, Pat Levar, are in any electoral jeopardy.

Of course, it helps to have a veritable army of precinct workers, often six-deep per precinct. Tom Lyons is the Democratic county chairman and a longtime ally of Mayor Rich Daley. Levar is a Daley loyalist and the chairman of a key City Council committee. And state Representative Joe Lyons (D-19), the committeeman's cousin, has a second job as director of training in Cook County Board President John Stroger's office. This triumvirate ensures the placement of hundreds of 45th Ward residents into city, county and state jobs, and those job holders work precincts for their benefactors.

Challenger Bob Bank hoped to build on Pete Conway's 4,475-vote (33 percent) showing in the 2003 aldermanic race, which Levar won with 8,667 votes (65 percent). Conway is poised to run again for alderman in 2007, and he hoped to use Bank's race to generate or solidify anti-Levar support.

Instead, Bank, who was endorsed by Conway and who ran against the "culture of the ward office," got pulverized. Bank amassed a dismal 1,845 votes (20.6 percent), to Lyons' 6,516 votes (72.8 percent), with the balance of 584 (6.6 percent) going to Ron Pacelt, a longtime Lyons precinct captain now living in Arizona, who was put on the ballot by Lyons to divide the putative anti-Lyons vote.

Likewise, in the 19th Illinois House District primary, four-term state Representative Joe Lyons also pulverized his opponent, Jeff Holewinski, the son of a former state representative, who campaigned as an "independent reformer." Lyons trounced Holewinski by 5,906-2,026 in the 45th Ward (74.5 percent), and he beat Holewinski 9,651-4,101 (70.2 percent) overall in the district's Chicago precincts, which include almost all of the 45th and 38th wards and a few precincts in the 41st and 36th wards. Lyons won the one suburban precinct, Norwood Park Township, 51-37.

In the 15th Illinois House District, however, which incumbent Democrat Ralph Capparelli vacated to run in the neighboring 20th District, the triumph of John D'Amico against an unknown and underfunded foe was comparatively unimpressive.

D'Amico, age 41, is the latest legacy of the "Laurino Dynasty" which has controlled the 39th Ward since 1964. His aunt is Alderman Marge Laurino, who is married to Democratic Committeeman Randy Barnette, and his grandfather was longtime Alderman Tony Laurino (1964-93), who died while under federal indictment for arranging dozens of ghost-payrolling jobs for family and friends as chairman of the council's Traffic Committee. D'Amico's mother (the alderman's daughter) and father were both convicted in that federal probe.

D'Amico's primary opponent, attorney Dennis Fleming, sought to make his foe's familial connection an issue, and news reports that D'Amico, as a district foreman for the city Department of Water Management, had seven of his crew suspended after the Chicago Sun-Times "Hired Truck" investigation reported that they took long lunches and falsified time sheets, took a political toll.

Contrary to expectations that D'Amico would coast to an overwhelming win, the results were much closer than anticipated. Boosted primarily by a 3,725-1,653 (69.3 percent) bulge in the 39th Ward, D'Amico won the 15th District's Chicago precincts by 6,532-4,014 (61.1 percent). In the suburbs, which include precincts in Morton Grove and Niles, D'Amico topped Fleming by 2,117-1,999.

Districtwide, D'Amico won by 12,663-8,531 (59.7 percent). Despite that relatively inauspicious showing, he is a cinch to win in his heavily Democratic district over Republican Bill Miceli.

Here's a look at both races:

45th Ward: The ward is undergoing significant demographic and generational change. Younger, more socially liberal people are moving into Portage Park and Jefferson Park, and five-term aldermanic incumbent Levar allegedly is not connecting with the newcomers.

Levar's 2003 aldermanic vote of 8,667 was higher than his 2000 ward vote of 6,883 in the Democratic primary for clerk of the Circuit Court, in which he was the party-endorsed candidate and which he lost overwhelmingly countywide to Dorothy Brown. In prior aldermanic races, Levar got 14,199 votes in 1999 (when he was unopposed), 10,842 in 1995 (against two foes), 15,850 in 1991 (against two minor opponents) and 15,615 in 1987 (when he upset then-Alderman Gerry McLaughlin). The 2004 Lyons organization vote (with the Pacelt vote factored in) is 7,100, just slightly higher than Levar's 2000 clerk vote and greater than the 5,906 votes that Joe Lyons got against Holewinski.

In 1984, the last time Tom Lyons was challenged, he topped McLaughlin 10,609-7,152 (48 percent), with 3,331 for John Donovan and 831 for Randy Ernst.

The outlook: Tom Lyons, age 72, is a Daley insider. In 1983, when Daley ran for mayor against incumbent Jane Byrne and Harold Washington, Lyons was the only Northwest Side committeeman to back Daley, and Daley won the 45th Ward 52-47 percent over Byrne. The mayor always remembers his allies. Levar, age 53, chairman of the City Council Aviation Committee, is likely to run for a sixth term in 2007, but he could retire.

If the 2004 committeeman and 19th District state representative primary results are a harbinger, then the "Lyons-Levar Machine" has little to worry about in 2007. As long as Daley is mayor, Tom Lyons will get whatever patronage he needs to stay in power. The 2004 outcome is much like 1984, when McLaughlin thought his 1983 upset aldermanic win was a mandate to take over the ward's Democratic organization but got crushed. Bank presumed that Conway's 33 percent was the bedrock anti-Lyons/Levar vote, but instead he proved that there is a 6,000-plus bedrock pro-Lyons/Levar vote. Conway's 2007 hopes are definitely diminished.

39th Ward: Voters in the ward (Sauganash, Edgebrook, Albany Park, Mayfair, North Park Village) seem to be impervious to political chicanery. Despite the fact that her father was under indictment, and that her sister, brother-in-law and stepmother were convicted of ghost payrolling, Laurino won the aldermanic seat in 1995 by 6,882-4,982 (58 percent), although she had only 4,351 votes in the primary. She was re-elected in 1999 by 7,296-4,352 (61.3 percent), and she was unopposed and got 7,131 votes in 2003.

So what's the bedrock pro-Laurino vote? Look at the 1998 primary. Barnette, who took over the committeeman's job from Tony Laurino, was the heavy favorite to win retiring incumbent Howie Carroll's state Senate seat. Barnette faced Ira Silverstein, and he needed a huge vote out of his ward. Instead, he got just 2,659 votes (53.5 percent) in the 39th Ward, to Silverstein's 1,596 and Michael Bender's 711, in a turnout of 4,966. Barnette lost that race by just 844 votes, and he now is a lobbyist for the City Colleges of Chicago.

This year, in a ward turnout of 5,378, D'Amico got 3,725 votes (69.3 percent), to Fleming's 1,653. Note that D'Amico's vote is in the neighborhood of Marge Laurino's 4,351 in 1995's aldermanic primary. So the bedrock Laurino/Barnette/D'Amico base vote is around 4,000 -- about 2,000 less than the Lyons-Levar bedrock in the 45th Ward. Unlike the 45th Ward, Barnette's organization is not flush with city or county patronage workers.

D'Amico's ascension to the Illinois House will restore the "Laurino Clan" to its pre-1996 heyday, when Tony Laurino was the alderman and his son Bill Laurino (from 1971 to 1996) was a state representative. Bill Laurino retired in 1996, and his seat was taken by Joe Lyons. In Chicago, the most influential ward Democratic organizations boast a state legislator.

Barnette was supposed to have brought a legislative seat back to the ward in 1998. D'Amico will finally do so in 2004. But the bottom line is this: Marge Laurino, age 51, is quite popular, and she likely will serve for many more terms, but the "Laurino Machine" is far from being awesome, and D'Amico will be a target in 2006.



45th Ward  Vote
Democratic Committeeman 
Tom Lyons  6,516 (72.8%) 
Bob Bank  1,845
Ron Pacelt  584
State Representative: 19th District 
Joe Lyons 5,906 (70.2%) 
Jeff Holewinski 2,026
Pat Levar 8,667 (64.6%) 
Pete Conway 4,475
Bruce Best 261
Clerk of Court
Pat Levar 6,883 (66.3%) 
Dorothy Brown 1,225
39th Ward
State Representative: 15th District
John D’Amico 3,725 (69.3%) 
Dennis Fleming 1,653
State Senator: 8th District
Randy Barnette 2,659 (53.5%) 
Ira Silverstein 1,596
Michael Bender 711