January 17, 2007


The "Laurino Clan," which has run Chicago's 39th Ward as a family business since 1964, views any opposition as a hostile takeover attempt.

Chris Belz, a 32-year-old systems analyst for Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, had the temerity to challenge Alderman Marge Laurino for re-election in 2007. According to Randy Barnette, Laurino's husband and the 39th Ward Democratic committeeman, Belz will soon discover that "politics ain't beanbag."

Belz blasts Laurino for "neglecting Albany Park," charging that gang crime is soaring while garbage pick-up and street cleaning are "sporadic." He also claims that "unrestricted development and condominium conversions are drying up the pool of affordable housing," meaning rental units, in the ward. Laurino called his charges "ludicrous," noting that she has secured more than $6 million in city funding for neighborhood improvement in Albany Park and that the Lawrence-Kedzie TIF District has been established. The ward also includes Sauganash and Mayfair.

Belz better don his wet suit, because a whole truckload of slime and dirt is about to engulf him. According to Barnette, 14 of the 24 circulators of Belz's nominating petitions have criminal records, and Belz himself was arrested in 1999 and charged with battery and criminal damage to a vehicle. A total of 30 cases were lodged against the 14, including six felonies, and one circulator has been charged with six counts of child pornography, which is pending, Barnette said. "He talks about crime problems," Barnette said. "He's part of the problem."

Belz initially said that his circulators were "upstanding members of the community," but after investigating he admitted that he "wasn't aware of (their) felony backgrounds." Belz' campaign headquarters is located at Elston and Montrose avenues, sharing space in the law office of his father, Ed Belz, a veteran criminal attorney who owns the building. Belz lives in an upstairs apartment. "I asked many of my clients to help me by helping Chris," Ed Belz said. "They did."

Regarding to Chris Belz's 1999 arrest, Ed Belz said that his son and two friends were on a bus coming back from a football game and were being harassed by some off-duty cops, and a fight ensued. Belz said that his son, then age 24, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, received supervision, and had the case expunged. "They should talk about crime," Belz fumed. "Her (Marge Laurino's) father, Alderman Tony Laurino, was indicted for hiring ghost payrollers while she was working for him, and her sister, brother-in-law, step-mother, step-sister and a bunch of precinct captains were convicted of being ghost payrollers."

Chris Belz says that he is a "community organizer," serving as president of Community Connections since 2002. He said the group provides "services to seniors and the poor and property tax challenges." Barnette scoffs at that statement. "His alleged organization is not incorporated, has not filed as a charitable or tax-exempt entity, has no Web site or phone number, and has generated not a single press report on the Internet or anywhere else," he said. "It's a total sham. It's a figment of his imagination."

And then there's the mayoral race. Laurino and Barnette are supporting Mayor Rich Daley. Belz works for Brown, and last year he said that he was endorsing Brown, who is running for mayor against Daley. "He is the Dorothy Brown candidate," Barnette said, citing polls by Fako and Associates showing the mayor with a 77 percent "positive" rating in the 39th Ward. "I am endorsing no candidate for mayor," Belz said, reversing himself.

Tony Laurino was once a protege of 25th Ward Alderman Vito Marzullo, but he moved to the 39th Ward in the 1950s and was the ward secretary to Alderman Patrick Shapiro, who was elected a judge in 1964. Laurino replaced him, became the Democratic committeeman, and won re-election easily thereafter. He got his son, Bill Laurino, elected a state representative in 1970, and he served in the General Assembly until 1996. Tony Laurino's grandson, John D'Amico (D-15), won his uncle's House seat in 2004.

Tony Laurino was indicted in 1993, and he resigned in 1994; he died before his trial. Daley appointed his daughter as his replacement, and she won a tough 1995 runoff with 58 percent of the vote, was re-elected in 1999 with 61 percent and was unopposed in 2003.

Laurino said that during her tenure she has sponsored ordinances for live Web casts of City Council proceedings, online ethics training for city employees and citywide wireless access and that she has secured city funds for streetscaping and business facade improvements. She rejects Belz' assertion that converting apartment buildings to condominiums is deleterious. "Condos create ownership, and ownership creates stability," she said.

According to Barnette, his polling gives his wife a 65/13 percent favorable/unfavorable rating, with 81 percent of respondents approving of street maintenance, 90 percent approving of police protection and 93 percent approving of garbage collection.

My prediction: By the time Feb. 27 arrives, Belz had better have dug a deep foxhole. Aldermanic contests are usually a referendum on the incumbent, and any embattled, unpopular incumbent needs to go negative on any credible challenger. Laurino is neither embattled nor unpopular, and Belz is not particularly credible, but that doesn't matter: Belz is messing with the family business.

Barnette said that he can field about 125 workers in the ward's 49 precincts, and there will be a deluge of direct mail, painting Belz as some kind of Freddie in the "Friday the 13th" movies. The "Laurino Clan's" mentality is to stomp, crush and eviscerate any opposition to send a warning to future foes. My prediction: Laurino will win with 65 percent of the vote.

47th Ward (Ravenswood, Lincoln Square): Marty Cooney won't need the services of his family's funeral home this year. Instead, he'll get buried by Alderman Gene Schulter, who will win a ninth term easily.

"The ward is being overdeveloped," said Cooney, a vice president of Cooney Funeral Home, at Addison Street and Southport Avenue, the 80-year family business. "Clark Street is like Key West. Lakeview is like downtown. The 47th Ward will soon be like the 44th Ward, with congested traffic, no parking, and no space."

Cooney wants to create a zoning advisory board and get "neighborhood input" into ward development.

Schulter, first elected in 1975 and now the ward's Democratic committeeman after a decade of feuding with former committeeman Ed Kelly, scoffs at Cooney's allegations. "Over the past 18 years, I have downzoned every single precinct in my ward from R-4 to R-3," Schulter said. "That means no knockdowns. That means no replacement of single-family homes with condominiums. There is not a single major street in the ward that is overbuilt."

Schulter said his procedure in rezoning matters is to convene what he calls a "committee of the whole," a public meeting to which residents who live near the site of a rezoning or variance are invited. "If they're for it, I'm for it," he said. "If they're against, it does not proceed. The ward is not being overbuilt."

The alderman also boasts that his seniority makes him a power in the City Council. "I can get things done," he said, adding that he helped secure federal and state funding for improvements on the CTA's Brown Line, which runs through the ward. He is chairman of the License and Consumer Protection Committee, which regulates such diverse matters as restaurant food and animal control. Schulter also claimed that his ward is a "leader in recycling."

"There is fear in the ward," Cooney said. "People were afraid to sign my petitions. People are afraid of Gene. It's time for a change."

Kelly, the former Chicago Park District superintendent, was the ward's Democratic committeeman from 1968 to 2004. He plucked Schulter from obscurity in 1975 and made him alderman. In 2000 Schulter ran against Kelly and lost by just 80 votes. In 2003 Kelly backed Jack Lydon against Schulter, and he got 36 percent of the vote. Kelly retired in 2004.

Schulter maintains that the old Kelly forces in the ward have evaporated.  Cooney said that he has made no contact with Kelly and that he is running his own anti-Schulter campaign. My prediction: Schulter will win with 68 percent of the vote.

45th Ward: The death of longtime (since 1968) Democratic Committeeman Tom Lyons may cause a complication in the ward's aldermanic contest. Alderman Pat Levar is a Lyons protege, first elected in 1987, and state Representative Joe Lyons, first elected in 1996, is Lyons' cousin. Both want to be the next ward committeeman. That choice will be made at a meeting of Democratic precinct captains within the next month.

Levar wants his son, Pat Jr., to succeed him. Why make Levar committeeman if he's going to quit as alderman?  But being committeeman gives Levar the power to anoint his son. My prediction: Joe Lyons will get the post.