July 25, 2018


Is there such a descriptive double adjective as "tempestuous redundancy?" If so, then that describes the developing aldermanic race in the 39th Ward on the Northwest Side.

Webster's Dictionary defines redundant as "more than enough," which to some may describe the tenure of Alderman Marge Laurino. And tempestuous aptly describes what her three opponents are trying to foment in the ward - namely a wave of disturbance to convince a majority of voters that Laurino's 24 years as alderman are "more than enough" and that she must go.

"Read my lips." That phrase aptly describes the contest to date.

Alderman Laurino consistently proclaims that "I am running" in 2019 and promises not to pull a Chicago stunt like quitting just before filing, or filing and then withdrawing and backing some other candidate.

"I am absolutely running. I am focused. I am passionate," she said. Laurino is mayor pro tem, which means she presides at Chicago City Council meetings when the mayor is absent, and that post, she said, along with her longevity, helps her "build relationships" with city departments and commissioners "that help the ward." She is endorsing Emanuel for reelection as mayor.

Laurino touts a litany of accomplishments, including the $70 million Albany Park tunnel along Foster to alleviate flooding, the $60 million Edens Collection commercial project at Foster-Cicero, which used $10 million in TIF money, a new Sauganash school turf, $2 million in Gompers Park improvements, upgrades at Triangle Park, a $20 million annex at Palmer School, a new Peoples Gas complex at Peterson-Pulaski, 60 new residential homes in Sauganash Glen off Peterson, all in the $800-900,000 range, a Romanian Pentecostal Church on the former Monastero's restaurant site on Devon, a Mariano's and Seafood City on Elston, plus her constant press to get more 17th District police officers.

"To say that there has been a lack of economic development in the ward is ludicrous," Laurino said. She claims to have used her president pro tem post to upgrade the Legislative Reference Bureau into a source for legislative drafting, and has been a "point person" on sexual harassment training. "I am doing my job," she said. Laurino spent slightly more than $200,000 in 2015, and "expects to spend more" in 2019.

However, everybody else differs.

Robert Murphy, an architect, is the ward Democratic Committeeman, got 42.8 percent in his 2015 race against Laurino, and said that he is reading the lips of voters who are telling him that "it's time for a change" in the 39th Ward.

"54 years is enough," said Murphy of the Laurino Clan's legendary reign, which dates back to 1965 when Tony Laurino, Marge's father, became alderman. "The alderman must do more than just be a conduit for providing city services. Anybody can call 311 and get them directly. The alderman must be a legislator and a leader, focusing on citywide issues," said Murphy.

"She (Laurino) votes with the mayor on every issue. What can she do for the ward in the next 4 more years that she hasn't done in the past 24?" he asked. "She is a rubber stamp" for Emanuel.

Murphy promised that as alderman he would have a participatory budget vote for the $1.32 million in ward menu items, and create a zoning advisory board. "We have 'zombie' areas along Devon and Lawrence, and along Elston from Cicero to Pulaski, meaning vacant stores," he said.

Murphy added: "What good is it that she is president pro tem? She (Laurino) voted for all the Daley and Emanuel budgets. She voted for the parking meter deal. She voted to hike water fees and property taxes to bail out city pensions that should have been fixed decades ago. She helped make the problem and she is part of the problem."

Murphy said he is "not ideological" and is a "reform Democrat," never once calling himself "progressive." But he is a definite left-winger.

Casey Smagala is energetic and youthful, age 29, and spends most of his time working precincts, a dying practice in the political age of mailings and social media. In his door-to-door efforts "I rarely find anyone who supports Laurino," he said. Reading voters' lips, "they want a change," he added. Smagala is director of fund-raising and community engagement of the Albany Park Community Center, and was once an intern in the alderman's office. "We need an alderman who provides public service, not just engages in politics," Smagala said.

"I am the real 'progressive' in the race," he said, stating that he helps immigrants on the path of citizenship as part of his job, that the influx of religious institutions into the ward must be "balanced against" the loss of property tax revenue, that the alderman is "unengaged" and that we "need more police."

He noted that he was born in Michigan and "people I talk to want somebody who is not a 'Laurino'" in office, noting that the alderman's sister, brother-in-law and stepmother were on the city payroll, and had 'ghost payroll" problems; that her brother and now nephew were state representatives; that another nephew has been on the county and now CPS payroll, and that her son works for the city Cultural Affairs department. "This must end," he said.

Samantha Nugent has an impressive resume, impressive contacts, and impressive fund-raising. She has ties to the Clintons and the Daleys. She has raised more than $55,000 through June 30, and said she will spend $300.000 through next February.

"People want new leadership," she said, reading voters' lips, "not the same old tired politicians." She is the mother of three children, calls herself a "community activist" with a "record of public service," including stints in the Clinton White House as an intern with her husband in the mid-1990s, doing advance work for Bill Clinton when he makes post-presidential visits to Chicago, aiding Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign, working for the mayor in the department of Intergovernmental Affairs on anti-gun legislation, and working for the county department of Homeland Security to develop a terrorist and natural disaster center.

"I am a viable option," she said. "I have skills and experience."

"I want walkable mainstreets, where people can walk to shops and restaurants. I want new anchors. I want economic development," said Nugent, who wants to make the 39th Ward into a replica of the Ravenswood-centered 47th Ward, from which she moved to 6 years ago.

"The problem is that there is no real epicenter like the 47th Ward's Lincoln-Damen-Irving Park. The 39th Ward has a bunch of mini-centers."

"I am running independently," she added. "I am not a backup" for Marge Laurino. She is getting a lot of out-of-state funding and she said she does from "friends and family."

Laurino's vote trajectory has been on the downswing since 2011, when she won 7,781-2,408, getting 70.4 percent in a turnout of 10,189. In 2015, in a turnout of 11,218, Laurino beat the then-unknown Murphy 5,966-4,808, or 53.2 percent, a 1,815 drop-off of her vote from 2011. In that race, Laurino won 31 of the ward's 45 precincts, despite a 2011 remap which made the ward more hospitable to her by shifting most of Albany Park, which has a large rental and Hispanic population, to the 33rd Ward, and adding Forest Glen from the 45h Ward. The ward is now composed of Sauganash, Edgebrook east of Lehigh, Forest Glen, Mayfair, Indian Hills, southeast Norwood Park, and some of Peterson Park and North Park. Randy Barnette, the alderman's husband, retired as committeeman in 2016, and attempted to hand off the job to Laurino-backed Pat Malloy, but Murphy beat him 6,075-5,034, or 54.7 percent, carrying 29 of 45 precincts. In that same primary, Murphy backed socialist Bernie Sanders, who got 7,103 votes to Hillary Clinton's 6,172 in the 39th Ward.

Handicapping the 2019 race involves several factors, including turnout fostered by the mayoral primary and runoff, and the fact that the 39th Ward contest will definitely be a referendum on Laurino. In 2015's runoff, Emanuel won 7,671-5,462, or 58.4 percent, after having gotten 5,499 votes in the primary. With a large field of mayoral candidates, turnout will be high. The ward has 31,741 registered voters. If turnout hits 70 percent, or 21,000, that spells problems for the alderman.

It should be noted that Murphy has worked to develop an ideological liberal base in the ward. Murphy endorsed Fritz Kaegi in the 2018 primary, who beat Assessor Joe Berrios in the ward 4,880-2,410. In the election, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump 16,005-5,701, but Trump still won 25 percent, and over 40 percent in 2 precincts and over 30 percent in 13 precincts.

But it should be remembered that non-partisan aldermanic elections are not Democratic primaries, and that conservative Republicans - who number about 6,000 in the 39th Ward - will be voting for the least liberal.

My prediction: Laurino will not get over 40 percent. Murphy and Nugent will be bunched at 22 to 25 percent. If Nugent gets into the runoff she will win. If it's Murphy, Laurino can go negative and have a chance and beat him again.

Send an e-mail to russ@russstew art.com or visit his Web site at www.russstewart.com.