June 7, 2006


It can be remarked about the 39th Ward that, demographically, it ain't what it used to be, and that, politically, it is what it used to be.

That contradiction can be explained thus:

A generation ago, back in the 1970s, community activism in the 39th Ward was far more prevalent than community affluence. Residents were battling to prevent the construction of the Crosstown Expressway, which would have cut a swath from the Edens Expressway south to the Stevenson Expressway along Cicero Avenue, and they were fighting Harry Chaddick's "Green Acres" plan to develop the 160 wooded acres occupied by the shuttered Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium at Pulaski and Peterson. Residents wanted open space and parkland, not thousands of homes and condominiums. And the North River Commission, a loose alliance of 95 area community organizations, was battling blight in Albany Park, which was beset by numerous urban ills.

But that has changed. Affluence is now apparent throughout the 39th Ward, in Sauganash, Mayfair, Peterson Park, North Park and even Albany Park. The ward stretches from Devon to Lawrence, between Cicero and Kedzie, with a southern sliver between Elston and Lawndale south to Waveland. And residents are contentedly apolitical and inactive. The reason is economic: When housing prices range from $300,000 to $700,000 and city services are exemplary, who's worried about urban blight? And, when the Internet can connect you to the world in your house, why relate to, or be connected to, your neighbors and neighborhood?

What hasn't changed is the political dominance of the "Laurino Dynasty." More than a generation ago, in the 1950s, a young Tony Laurino moved from the West Side 1st Ward, a heavily Italian-American area where he was a precinct captain, to the 39th Ward. He became secretary to Democratic Alderman Patrick Shapiro, who was first elected in 1951. Shapiro won a judgeship in 1964, and Laurino replaced him in the 1965 election.

Proudly proclaiming himself an "alley alderman" who focused on providing city and constituent services, Laurino became politically invulnerable. He won with 85.3 percent of the vote in 1971, was unopposed in 1975, got 73 percent of the vote in 1979, was unopposed in 1983, and got 79 percent in 1987. But in 1991 he skidded to 57.2 percent. The end was near. Laurino resigned in 1994, and his daughter Marge Laurino, who had been his aldermanic aide for 15 years, was appointed to replace him.

In 1995 85-year-old Tony Laurino was indicted by the U.S. Attorney's Office on five counts of mail fraud and three counts of defrauding the government, to which were later added obstruction of justice and additional mail fraud counts. Laurino allegedly bilked the taxpayers out of $1.8 million over 20 years by putting 35 relatives and friends on various county and City Council committee payrolls for which they did little or no work.

Laurino was chairman of the City Council Traffic Committee before he resigned. His wife, Bonnie, got paychecks from the Budget, Traffic and Streets and Alleys committees, his step-daughter, Christine Boyar, was on the Traffic Committee payroll, and his daughter Marie D'Amico was on the Finance Committee and sheriff's payroll; each was convicted of being a ghost payroller. Laurino's son-in-law John D'Amico was convicted of recruiting ghost payrollers and taking kickbacks.

Laurino died in 1999, before going to trial. Nevertheless, he was a Northwest Side political powerhouse.

First, he founded the dynasty. He made his 29-year-old son, Bill Laurino, a state representative in 1970. Laurino served in the General Assembly until 1996. Then Marge Laurino was appointed his aldermanic successor in 1994. She won a tough 1995 election and was re-elected easily in 1999 and 2003. Son-in-law Randy Barnette succeeded Tony Laurino in 1996 as Democratic committeeman. And grandson John D'Amico, whose parents were convicted of ghost payrolling, won the 15th Illinois House District seat in 2004.

Second, he was instrumental in slating West Sider Frank Annunzio for the 11th U.S. House District vacancy created by incumbent Roman Pucinski's bid for U.S. senator in 1972. Laurino greased the skids for Annunzio to move into the district to run and to move into the 39th Ward to live. Laurino was a pillar of the Democrats' Italian-American contingent, which included Annunzio, Vito Marzullo and John D'Arco. Annunzio stayed in Congress until 1992, but his seat didn't remain the city's "Italian" seat. The district was merged with Dan Rostenkowski's, and Rahm Emanuel now represents most of the old 11th District.

Third, he was a loyal and effective cog in the machine of Richard J. Daley. In 1971, against Republican Richard Friedman, Laurino won his ward 16,678-8,206 for Daley. In 1975, when Bill Singer ran for mayor, Laurino carried his ward 10,454-5,610 for Daley in the primary.

After Daley's death in 1977, Laurino was the only Northwest Side committeeman to carry his ward for Mike Bilandic, who beat Pucinski 7,506-7,209. And in 1979, when Bilandic was besieged by the snow crisis and opposed by Jane Byrne, who lived in Sauganash, Laurino again managed to carry his ward 7,809-7,772 for Bilandic. After Byrne won, Laurino became a supporter. And during Harold Washington's tenure, Laurino was part of the "Vrdolyak 29." The key was patronage: Laurino did what he had to do to maintain his army of precinct workers, and they delivered.

By the 1990s Tony Laurino had become a beloved political icon, so voter revulsion concerning his payroll padding was minimal. As long as city services were provided, who cared about the "Laurino Dynasty's" transgressions, indiscretions and scandals?

The dynasty was put to a critical test in 1995. There were two factions among 39th Ward Democrats: the precinct captains and city payrollers loyal to the alderman, who had gotten their jobs or promotions from Laurino and who backed Marge Laurino, and the Annunzio group, mainly aging Italian-Americans led by attorney Tony Fornelli, who was Annunzio's campaign manager in 1972.

Fornelli ran for alderman, and he hammered hard on the corruption issue, asking how Marge Laurino, as her father's aldermanic aide, could not have known about all her kinsmen and kinswomen who had no-show city and county jobs. But the sins of the father did not attach to the daughter. In a decisive outcome, after getting 45.1 percent of the vote to Fornelli's 22.5 percent in the 1995 election, Laurino got 58 percent of the vote in the runoff, winning 6,882-4,982, a margin of 1,900 votes.

In 1999 Laurino was opposed by Don Hodgkinson, a onetime attorney for the North River Commission, and she dispatched him 7,296-4,352, getting 61 percent of the vote. She was unopposed in 2003.

In 2004 her nephew (and Tony's grandson) John D'Amico ran for the open 15th Illinois House District seat. Barnette managed D'Amico's campaign. In the Democratic primary Dennis Fleming tried to stick his opponent with the sins of his mother and father, but D'Amico won the 39th Ward 3,725-1,653, a margin of 2,072 votes, and won districtwide 12,663-8,531, with 59.7 percent of the votes cast. D'Amico won the 2004 election over Republican Bill Miceli with 66.9 percent of the vote, and he was unopposed for renomination in 2006. He is now entrenched and unbeatable.

So, more than 40 years after Tony Laurino took control of the 39th Ward, all remains normal. The "Laurino Clan" controls the three key jobs -- alderman, Democratic committeeman and state representative -- that it did during the 1970s, 1980s and half of the 1990s. Don't expect anything to change. Marge Laurino, age 53, has been a dependable supporter of Mayor Rich Daley, and she will surely draw a 2007 opponent backing Jesse Jackson Jr. or some other anti-Daley candidate for mayor. But she, like her father, has delivered city services to such an extent that she is entrenched and unbeatable, and no issues have surfaced to activate any discontent. She will be re-elected in 2007.

Here's a look at another Northwest Side contest:

30th Ward (North Logan Square, parts of Old Irving Park): Unlike the "Laurino Dynasty," the hegemony of the Hispanic Democratic Organization will be tested in 2007, when Alderman Ariel Reboyras seeks a second term. Reboyras, age 52, who won with 77 percent of the vote in this newly created Hispanic-majority ward in 2003, has long been an HDO insider.

In connection with the current trial involving city patronage hiring, it is speculated that two HDO powerhouses, former city Intergovernmental Affairs Office director Victor Reyes and former Department of Streets and Sanitation commissioner Al Sanchez, could be indicted for hiring abuses. If that occurs, Daley could be next.

But, absent any indictments before the 2007 election, Reboyras is safe. Jose Alvarez, a city worker out of Alderman Dick Mell's 33rd Ward organization, is running against Reboyras; he lost a bid for alderman in 1991. Republican committeeman Bob Foss also will run. In 2004 George Bush got 2,854 votes in the ward, indicating a white voter base of about 25 percent. The bottom line: Mell is known as "Old Gringo" for his meddling in Hispanic politics, but there is no indication that Reboyras' HDO ties are a liability or that Mell can muster the troops to beat him.