September 5, 2018



All good things must come to an end. Well, maybe not. The Laurino Dynasty - father Anthony and daughter Margaret - have reigned supreme and essentially unchallenged as the aldermen in the 39th Ward on the Northwest Side of Chicago since 1965.

Margaret Laurino's recent announcement of her retirement in 2019 at the end of her current term has sparked a fierce semantical debate: Was the Laurino Dynasty a bad thing, making its termination a good thing? Or was the Laurino Dynasty a good thing, making its end a bad thing? One fact is undeniable: The Laurinos provided superlative ward services and raised the bar, and any future alderman will be held to that standard.

But as baseball legend Yogi Berra once famously remarked, "It ain't over 'til it's over." And though there may be much joy in proverbial Mudville that "Mighty Marge" has gotten out, particularly among the announced aldermanic aspirants, state Representative John D'Amico (D-15), the grandson of the late Tony and Marge's nephew, hasn't gotten in or out. "I'm thinking about it," he said of an aldermanic bid, but cautions that he is "now concentrating" on his re-election contest on Nov. 6, when he faces Republican Amanda Biela.

D'Amico, who has run the Laurino ward political operation since Robert Murphy was elected Democratic committeeman in 2016, said he would make no endorsement of any aldermanic candidate until after the nominating petition filing period, which is Nov. 19 through 26.

There are four candidates: Murphy, Samantha Nugent, Casey Smagala and Jeff La Porte. None of them are allied with the Laurino/ D'Amico operation. "I want to see who can best represent the community and its needs," D'Amico said. The alderman has said that she will be making no endorsement at this time. But after 53 years in charge, can one really believe that the Laurino Dynasty is just going to close the family business while failing to groom an heir apparent?

Well, they have. And that is D'Amico, age 56, a state legislator since 2004. Remember this fact: It takes a minimum of 475 petition signatures to get on the February ballot for alderman, and there are 20 days between Nov. 6 and Nov. 26 - more than enough time for D'Amico to gather as many as 2,000 signatures. As of June 30 D'Amico had $368,848 on-hand in his campaign account. That means, if he is going to run for alderman, he can inundate the ward with mailers hyping his Springfield accomplishments, which are largely centered on road safety, and start 2019 with a huge advantage in name recognition and the expectancy of plenty more campaign cash.

Here is this column's scouting report, an early preview of the 39th Ward field.

CASEY SMAGALA: Call him the "Alderkid." He is young, age 29, smart, energetic, ambitious and has extensive ward wide contacts due to his job as director of development at the Albany Park Community Center. He lives in Albany Park and is exultant that Laurino, for whom he once interned, isn't running. "It takes out the fear factor," he said, meaning that small businesses will donate to him and display his window signs. Smagala was once a Laurino/D'Amico precinct captain, but so far fund-raising has been unimpressive, as he had $8,251 on-hand as of June 30. He needs $100,000, and instead will focus on a door-to-door campaign. He has as been in the precincts since last winter, circulating petitions for Ram Villivalam and state Representative Rob Martwick (D-19) and then covering precincts on their behalf in the 39th Ward. Smagala expects Martwick's endorsement if D'Amico doesn't run and said Murphy's "I-hate-the-Laurinos-the-most" positioning won't work anymore.

Smagala derides D'Amico as a "career politician" with a six-figure city job with the Department of Water.

"If we get him (D'Amico) in there (as alderman), and then his kids, it (the Laurino Dynasty) may last another 40 years." However, he said that he learned how "sausage is made" in Chicago by working in Laurino's office.

ROBERT MURPHY: Murphy, an architect, lacks money and could probably be more charming, but, what the heck, who needs a charming alderman anyway? But he is persistent and had $12,271 on-hand as of June 30 and just gave himself $6,000. He has residual name recognition from 2015 aldermanic race, which he lost to Laurino 5,966-4,808 and takes credit for the "wave of change" in the ward, which he expects will culminate in his election, and then D'Amico's defeat in 2020.

Murphy backed Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders for president in 2016, who won the ward 7,103-6,172 over Clinton while Murphy won committeeman 6,075-5,034 over the Laurino-backed candidate. He denies that he is a "progressive," but rather an "independent reformer" and says that aldermen "need to hold the mayor accountable for allocation of services and resources" and that "this is not being done." He backed Fritz Kaegi and delivered a 4,880-2,410 ward majority over Joe Berrios for assessor in March. The rap on Murphy is that he is too ideological and too much of an outsider. He lives in Forest Glen.

SAMANTHA NUGENT: She will have the deepest pockets, as she had $51,568 cash on-hand as of June 30 and will likely be the only woman in the race, against three men - which is a big advantage. Her husband has ties to the Clintons and Emanuel, as he was a White House intern in the late 1990s, while the candidate had stints in the Daley Administration, working for Intergovernmental Affairs on gun control legislation and the county's Homeland Security department, claiming to have the skill set to deliver ward services. He ties will raise money and she is positioning herself as a mom with three kids who is a "community activist" who lives in Sauganash and will likely raise and spend in excess of $250,000. She is almost certain to make the runoff.

JEFF La PORTE: Coming off a losing 2018 primary campaign against Martwick, La Porte, a Chicago police officer for 24 years, said he is running "because Laurino is retiring." He congratulates the alderman for "providing great services," lives in the Norwood Park precincts around Devon-Nagle and will be center-right, pro-police, anti-tax, joining conservative aldermen Anthony Napolitano (41st) and Nick Sposato (36th).

He has raised and spent less than $10,000 against Martwick, losing 9,332-4,563 and his best hope is to piggyback on the mayoral candidacy of Garry McCarthy. Trump got 5,701 votes in the ward in 2016, so there is a credible, if not sizeable, conservative base...but he starts out trailing the pack.

JOHN D'AMICO: Is on the fast-track for Springfield leadership, given his 14 years of seniority, and could become speaker in the late 2020s when Mike Madigan, now age 76, finally retires. His only competition would be Sara Feigenholtz, with Barbara Flynn Currie retiring and Lou Lang having quit as deputy majority leader...question is: can or will D'Amico hang on that long?

He proved his mettle in 2016 primary, facing Jac Charlier, who ran in tandem with Murphy and Sanders, winning the contest 11,437-7,663, with 59.8 percent, and winning the 39th Ward 5,207-3,934, with 57 percent, carrying 30 of 38 precincts. He backed Clinton, who lost 28 of 38 precincts in the ward and lives in Sauganash. His only downside is that an aldermanic run will resurrect the feds' $1.5 million ghost payroll investigation in the early 1990s, which ensnared Tony Laurino and indicted many of his relatives for giving no-show jobs on his committee payroll.

He would have to forfeit both the city and state job if he wins the alderman spot. He needs 6 more years to fully vest a state pension but would start the race as frontrunner, but everybody would gang up on him - "54 years is enough."

D'Amico dismisses Murphy and Smagala as a "ward boss" and a "precinct captain," forgetting that his grandfather was a captain in Vito Marzullo's West Side 25th Ward, moved to the 39th Ward in the 1950s, became Alderman Patrick Shapiro's (1950-64) "aldermanic secretary" - like Marge was to him, only now called chief-of-staff -and became "ward boss" in 1965 when Shapiro became a judge. D'Amico wants to be the "ward boss."

The outlook: D'Amico's goal is not necessarily to be alderman, which will be a thankless task, but to keep a place at the 39th Ward table, and keep his Springfield job. Nugent is non-political, and would be no threat to him. Murphy, if alderman, would try to take him out in 2020, and in every primary thereafter.

Smagala, if elected aldermen, would definitely run for committeeman in 2020. The optimal scenario for D'Amico is to not run for alderman, hope Nugent wins, and then take out Murphy as committeeman in 2020.

SCORE ONE FOR PAT QUINN: Mayor Rahm Emanuel's Sept. 4 announcement of his withdrawal from the 2019 contest is entirely attributable to the fact that Quinn's binding mayoral term-limit referendum was almost certain to be certified for the Nov. 6 ballot. Latest tabulations from the Chicago Board of Elections have validated 54,995 signatures, more than the 52,533 minimum.

"It will win with more than 65 percent," predicted Martwick. That meant EXIT RAHM. The mayor and his attorneys could have worked feverishly to find some legal technicalities to keep it off the ballot, or block the application if it wins. But voters would have been enraged, and Emanuel's tenuous support would have collapsed. Can you say "Mayor Quinn"?

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