August 19, 2015



One down, two to go. That's how Jac Charlier perceives the political situation in the 39th Ward, where Democratic Committeeman Randy Barnette abruptly resigned on Aug. 9. The new committeeman is Pat Malloy, a former aldermanic staffer who works for the library system.

Charlier will run for state representative in 2016 as an "independent Democrat" in the 15th Illinois House District, which is centered on the 39th Ward but which includes 46 suburban precincts in Niles and Maine townships. The 11-year incumbent is Democrat John D'Amico, who is the nephew of 39th Ward Alderman Marge Laurino and the grandson of the late Alderman Tony Laurino, who served from 1965 to 1994. D'Amico is the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, and he invariably votes as Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan directs.

Barnette is the husband of Marge Laurino, and he became the committeeman in 1994, after Tony Laurino died while under indictment. Barnette has a well paid job as a lobbyist for the City Colleges of Chicago, and D'Amico is an assistant superintendent at the Chicago Water Department, a job budgeted at $100,000. "He's got two jobs, works part-time at both, and makes $183,000 a year," Charlier said of D'Amico. "I don't get paid when I'm in Springfield," D'Amico responded.

It gets better. D'Amico's brother Jimmy D'Amico retired after 30 years working for Cook County, and he is working on his second pension with the Chicago Transit Authority; wife Dawn D'Amico is the executive director of the Pulaski Elston Business Association, her salary paid by the city. Rumors abound that when Marge Laurino retires as alderman in 2019, as expected, John D'Amico will run for alderman and, if he is victorious, Dawn D'Amico will get his House seat. John D'Amico insisted that he is not interested in being the alderman.

"Barnette's not running because I'm running," said Charlier, who earned a modicum of fame as the co-founder of FAIR, an anti-noise coalition that his virulently opposed to changed runway configurations at O'Hare Airport. "They (meaning the Laurino/D'Amico clan) don't deem it advisable to have two family members on the same ballot in the same election," Charlier, of Edgebrook, said. Charlier's campaign is teamed with Robert Murphy, who came close to beating Laurino for alderman last February. Murphy is running for Democratic committeeman on March 16. "Murphy would have beaten Barnette, so Barnette had to go," Charlier said."

"That's ridiculous," responded D'Amico. "It was time (for Barnette) to retire." Wait a minute. Barnette is age 63. Didn't Tony Laurino, hang on to the commiteemanship until his death at age 84.

The Murphy-Malloy contest is too early to handicap, but Charlier's challenge to D'Amico will be formidable, and the contest will be nasty, negative and expensive.

The Laurino/D'Amico clan is the Northwest Side's most favored family. Why all this clout? Two reasons. First, Marge Laurino has been a reliable pro-Emanuel (and pro-Daley) vote in the City Council on everything. She was rewarded by being made mayor pro tem, which means that she presides over the council in the mayor's absence. Second, back when Rahm Emanuel, Bill Clinton's former White House chief of staff, was making millions in equity trading (along with his buddy Bruce Rauner) and was looking for a political venue, John D'Amico was his driver. Emanuel ran for Rod Blagojevich's open congressional seat in 2002, but he faced tough opposition from Nancy Kaszak, a Lakefront state representative.

D'Amico (presumably in his spare time) drove him everywhere, and he was Emanuel's conduit into politics west of Kedzie Avenue. Emanuel beat Kaszak 46,774-35,716, with 50.5 percent of the vote. That victory sent Emanuel on a trajectory that got him into the U.S. House, the Obama White House and the Chicago mayoralty. Whenever D'Amico has a fund-raiser, Emanuel is there. As of June 30, D'Amico had $310,131 in his campaign fund.

However, all is not well. Laurino trounced Mary Hunter 7,781-2,408 (with 76.4 percent of the vote) in the 2011 aldermanic election, winning all 47 of the ward's precincts. She did not do as well in 2015. Facing Murphy, a former Forest Glen Community Club president, and Joe Laiacona, Laurino got 5,981 votes (53.2 percent of the total cast), to 4,815 for Murphy and 446 for Laiacona. Laurino won 32 of 45 precincts and got 1,800 fewer votes than she did in 2011. "They were shocked," Charlier said. "Only 53 percent?"

"This is her last term," Charlier said. "She will not be re-elected, and she will not run."

"That's the nature of the business," D'Amico said. He said that aldermen make decisions and make enemies. The taking of property via eminent domain around Northeastern Illinois University angered local residents, and speed cameras upset voters. Laurino raised $208,705 during 2014-15, compared to $51,560 for Murphy. D'Amico bragged that the 39th Ward Democrats "have at least one, and usually more" workers in every precinct. Then why did Laurino almost get forced into a runoff?

The 39th Ward encompasses Sauganash, Edgebrook, Forest Glen, small sections of Albany Park and North Park, and the area around Northeastern. The 2011 remap added precincts from Forest Glen and cut reliably Democratic areas of Albany Park, which was heavy with renters and Hispanics.

Charlier adheres to the "Keep It Simple, Stupid" theory. Voters cannot absorb complex solutions to complex problems, so a challenger makes the incumbent a villain, blames the incumbent for every evil, portrays the race as a referendum on the incumbent and his bosses, and portrays his victory as a "solution."

Charlier, age 48, has been a professional organizer for 20 years, and he worked for the state Department of Corrections as a parole officer for 17 years. He currently presently works as a consultant for the Center for Health and Justice, which provides input on sentencing guidelines.

Charlier's "issue package" against D'Amico is succinct. He says: Illinois is broke. D'Amico has been in Springfield for 11 years. He votes like Madigan tells him to. D'Amico voted for a "pension holiday" in 2006-07, during which no money was paid for retirees' pensions, and he consistently voted to underfund pensions. Illinois residents owe an average of $45,000 toward that indebtedness, which includes $120 billion in pensions, $10 billion in unpaid bills and $2 billion to $4 billion in the budget "gap." One of every four dollars in revenue, including taxes and fees, is used to pay for debt and debt service. A state budget of $36 billion is already down to $27 billion for services. Blame D'Amico.

Charlier says that "democracy is broken." The Laurino/D'Amico clan has been in power since 1965, when Tony Laurino became alderman and committeeman after Philip Shapiro was elected judge. Since then the ward had has two aldermen and two Democratic committeemen, and for 37 of those 51 years a member of the clan as state representative (Tony Laurino's son Bill Laurino from 1970 to 1996 and his grandson D'Amico from 2004 to present.

"Two generations of children have grown up in the 39th Ward knowing that they can never be alderman, Democratic committeeman or state legislator . . . just because they don't have the right DNA," Charlier said. "Birthright and family lineage has got to end."

Finally, Charlier, who expects to raise $200,000, is going to hammer D'Amico for his two jobs and for the fact that D'Amico's father, mother and grandmother were all convicted for having "ghost" payroll jobs on Tony Laurino's Traffic Committee payroll in the early 1990s. "That 'corruption' had a cost, in terms of tax dollars spent to investigate and prosecute and in terms of pension dollars being paid to family job holders," Charlier said.

Charlier said that airplane noise is symptomatic of political dysfunction. The runway changes were made in October of 2013. "There was no information, no community input," he said. The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) just decided it was a technical issue and that 85 percent of night traffic would land from the east and 70 percent of day traffic would land from the east, and the politicians let them do it." Since most of the midnight traffic flies over Bryn Mawr Avenue, Charlier lays much of the blame on Laurino. "She's the mayor's favorite alderman, the mayor is Obama's favorite mayor, and it still happened. What good is clout?"

"I have asked that flights be rotated, with an equal number from the west, with 10 runways and landing on the diagonals, but you cannot order the federal government," D'Amico said.

As for solving the state's fiscal woes, both D'Amico and Charlier are masterfully vague.

D'Amico said he wants "reasonable" budget cuts, and Charlier said he will "not defund essential services." Total gibberish.

D'Amico argued that he has been a leader on driving issues, such as banning texting and increasing teen permit time, and that he opposed imposing the 2001 "temporary" income tax hike. He noted that Charlier voted Republican in the 2012 primary, and he suspects that he is a "Rauner Democrat." Law enforcement groups "don't like his ideas," he said.

The 15th District includes 52 Chicago precincts, 38 in the 39th Ward, which cast a total vote of 3,428 votes in 2012, and 46 suburban precincts, in Niles, Skokie and Park Ridge, which cast a total of 2,210 votes in 2012. For Charlier to win, he needs 55 to 60 percent of the 39th Ward vote.

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