July 4, 2018


Mark Twain said that there are "Three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics." According to first-term Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st), his upcoming 2019 reelection race will be characterized by "lies," more "lies" and candidate Tim Heneghan.

"It will be a campaign of lies," Napolitano said, "and it has already begun."

Heneghan, the 41st Ward Democratic committeeman and an Elmwood Park firefighter, is running against Napolitano for alderman. He could not be reached for an interview for this column after numerous phone calls. Heneghan has said to me in the past that "I never get my facts straight," and while I obviously disagree, I tried to give him an opportunity to get the facts "straight." I feel it's important to note that at the beginning of this column.

In an interview with Napolitano, he cited the following instances in which Heneghan misrepresented his record and intentions.

THE NORWOOD PARK HOCKEY RINK: Working with the Chicago Park District and the Chicago Blackhawks, Napolitano first sought to locate the outdoor hockey rink at Brooks Park, but neighborhood opposition to perceived parking and congestion problems shifted the focus to Norwood Park.

"I know for a fact that he (Heneghan) and his workers knocked on doors and told adjacent property owners that I would be revoking their residential parking permits on Hurlbut, Natoma and Northcott. That was untrue."

Napolitano said at a community meeting attended by more than 200 people that the Blackhawks were donating $300,000 to the project and that the rink would be built over the existing park tennis courts at Hurlbut and Natoma. Also, the park district would build four new tennis courts on Taft high school property across the street, as well as a new football field. "(The roller rink) costs the taxpayers nothing," said Napolitano.

MARRIOTT HOTEL DEVELOPMENT: The mid-price hotel industry has been stagnating for several decades, and the Marriott Hotel's empty parking lot on Higgins west of Cumberland near the CTA Blue Line is symptomatic of lots of vacancies. Management decided to sell off the Higgins frontage and the developer proposed building a commercial/residential complex that would feature headquarters for True Value and 297 apartment units.

The 41st Ward Zoning Advisory Committee recommended the proposal but Napolitano opposed it. Recently, the City Zoning Committee rejected the proposal on a 7-5 vote. Napolitano said that Heneghan began exploiting the fact that Alderman John Arena (45th) was requesting that low-income and "affordable rent" units be included in the project.

Arena is on a crusade to, as he calls it, "desegregate" the Northwest Side, and ground zero is the 5150 N. Northwest Highway project to build 75 mixed-income apartments including CHA-subsidized units. Normally aldermen don't meddle in other wards on zoning matters, but Napolitano spoke out last year, asserting that "5150" would increase overcrowding at Taft High School, which has about 3,400 students.

"I know for a fact that he (Heneghan) and his workers were saying that I was bringing in low-income housing," said Napolitano, who blocked the deal due to density concerns, noting that Dirksen elementary school is way overcrowded. Napolitano said that he invited Arena to "drive through" the west end of his ward, south of Bryn Mawr and west of Cumberland, where he said there are 6,503 units, almost all apartments, with 1,115 units at the Pavilion and 168 at Catherine Court.

"He will see enormous diversity," including African Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, Asian Indians, Pakistanis and Asians, "and he will see 'affordable' housing, since studios rent for not more than $605 per month."

THE HARLEM-FOSTER CHURCH: The Saint James Evangelical Lutheran Church, 7240 W. Foster Ave., just west of the Harlem-Foster shopping center has been for sale for over a year.

"I know for a fact that he (Heneghan) is telling voters in Oriole Park that I'm putting (a massive development) in there," he said. "It will be sold to another church, or demolished." Napolitano said that there have been no formal plans of any kind regarding the property. "Nothing has come up," he said.

POLICE SHORTAGE: Both Napolitano and colleague Alderman Nick Sposato (38th) have been holding "Support the Police" rallies outside the 16th District police station. "Police are leaving the force because they are not being allowed to do their job," said Napolitano, who opposes any further police oversight.

"The ACLU should not be interviewing every person stopped and questioned by a PO (police officer) to find out if the stop was justified." Napolitano opposed the Emanuel administration's 2016 and 2017 budget because there "was no funding for additional police hiring," but supported the 2018 budget because there was. There are 245 police officers assigned to the 16th District, up from 186 when Napolitano took office. "Crimes against property," like theft, robbery and home invasion, "are increasing, and we need more police on the street," he said. Napolitano wants to end the practice of assigning PPOs - probationary police officers - to low-violence districts.

"They then transfer out (when their probation is over), leaving a manpower shortage," he said, asking for a "bid process" whereby what he calls "mid-timers" - cops with 12 to 18 years of experience - can transfer in and stay.

Capital Projects: Napolitano said that he is pleased at the flurry of capital projects underway in his ward, which contains Edison Park, Norwood Park, Oriole Park, Edgebrook and Wildwood west of Lehigh. "We are getting improvements which have been promised for up to 10 years," Napolitano said, including road resurfacing and new water mains, sewers and sidewalks, with funding coming from state and city sources, and Peoples Gas.

Of special concern is the Devon project in Edgebrook, which involves new water mains and sewers along Devon and a tunnel under the railroad tracks, creating enormous traffic congestion and virtually shutting down the business district. "It has to be done," said Napolitano. "I'm sure he (Heneghan) will try to blame me for the difficulties." Other projects include resurfacing on East River Road, Caldwell, Higgins, new sewer mains on Canfield and Caldwell, and new gas mains on Avondale.

"We have a lot of influential people in the (41st Ward)," said Napolitano. "But for years our ward was ignored, not getting our fair share of services and improvements. I'm trying to get everybody to work together to change that."

However, that doesn't mean Napolitano is supportive of the mayor. "I vote my ward," he said, having a high anti-Emanuel opposition score. "I will not be endorsing any mayoral candidate," said Napolitano. "I will focus solely on my ward and my re-election."

Predecessor Mary O'Connor, whom Napolitano defeated in 2015, had a 98 percent pro-Emanuel voting record. "She voted for everything he (Emanuel) wanted," Napolitano said. She is now a deputy commissioner in the city department of community development.

Economic development has been brisk, with a Starbucks and Verizon opening at Northwest Highway and Harlem, a new restaurant at the Tailgaters site, a new storage facility on Northwest Highway, and a bank and realtor at the Devon-Avondale site. Three bars and a liquor store have enlivened drowsy Norwood Park's nightlife, and a major restaurant chain has looked into buying the Suerth Funeral Home in Edison Park, but the precinct is dry and requires a vote. The funeral home would be demolished, according to staff at Napolitano's office.

Napolitano is particularly elated that the ward's housing market has rebounded. The median home value is now $600,000, with prices higher in Edgebrook, Old Norwood and parts of Edison Park, and a bit lower for 1950s brick bungalows. With the World War II generation mostly gone, and with the Baby Boomers now in the age 60 to 75 bracket, it is the millennials in age 25 to 40 who are buying homes in the ward, having children, and flooding the schools.

"The (ward's) demography has changed," Napolitano said "Younger parents or 'young marrieds,' who may have lived Downtown or in a condo, have discovered that in the 41st Ward they get nice houses, big back yards, great parks and excellent schools."

O'Connor had been elected Democratic committeeman in 2008, and used that post as a base to win the open aldermanic seat in 2011, after 20-year incumbent Brian Doherty retired. She got 6,132 votes in the primary, or 30.5 percent, and won the runoff against Doherty staffer Maurita Gavin 7,354-7,104, a margin of 250 votes, winning 34 of 57 precincts, and running strong in her base of Edison Park.

As alderman, O'Connor was pro-Emanuel, and the public sector unions dumped a lot of money - over $150,000 - into her 2015 reelection campaign, in which she faced two opponents. She received only 47.7 percent in the primary, and then lost the runoff to Napolitano 9,702-9,087, or 51.6 percent, losing 29 of 47 precincts.

In 2016 O'Connor backed her protŽgŽ, Heneghan, for Democratic committeeman, while Napolitano, who professes to be non-partisan, backed Anthony DeVito. Heneghan won 6,787-3,921, and has been running for alderman since. Heneghan's Web site says that he has a "record of leadership," is a "true family man," and has lived in the ward for 22 years.

Napolitano is personable and visible, and can take credit for a definite increase in the ward's quality of life. The 2015 election was a referendum on O'Connor, and Napolitano won because voters were disenchanted with her. 2019 will be a referendum on Napolitano, and Heneghan can only win if he gives voters a reason to vote AGAINST Napolitano. My prediction: Napolitano will win with more than 60 percent.