February 13, 2019


As a courtesy to the readers of this column here is this week's short version, which precedes the long version.

SHORT VERSION: There will be an aldermanic runoff in the 39th Ward. Robert Murphy will get 36 percent on Feb. 26, to Samantha Nugent's 35 percent, Casey Smagala's 24 percent, and just 5 percent for Joe Duplechin, in a turnout of 11,500 voters.

Murphy and Nugent will be in the April 2 runoff, which Nugent will win 57 to 43 percent - thereby perpetuating the Laurino Dynasty. Blame the voters' "separation anxiety" for Nugent's election.

LONG VERSION: Murphy ran for alderman against Margaret Laurino in 2015, losing 5,981-4,815, getting 42.8 percent and carrying 12 of 45 precincts, doing best in Forest Glen and the rental areas of north Albany Park. Murphy, an architect, then ran for Democratic committeeman in 2016 against Laurino-backed Pat Molloy for the post being vacated by Laurino's husband. He won 6,075-5,034, getting 54.7 percent and carrying 30 of 45 precincts (see chart).

Murphy's candidacy was buoyed by several factors. First, he had name recognition from 2015, when he was the anti-Laurino candidate, proclaiming that "50 years is enough." Second, Bernie Sanders, whom Murphy endorsed, was on the ballot and won the ward 7,103-6,172 over Hillary Clinton, carrying 31 of 45 precincts. And third, he ran a tandem campaign with Jac Charlier, who opposed state Representative John D'Amico (D-15), the alderman's nephew and grandson of Alderman Anthony Laurino (1965-94), the dynasty's founder, known affectionately as the "alley alderman" due to his fixation on providing ward services. D'Amico beat Charlier 5,207-3,934, carrying 31 of the 39 ward precincts in his district. D'Amico has endorsed Nugent. And in the state's attorney's race, with the Laquan McDonald cover-up cloud over Anita Alvarez, Kim Foxx won the ward 5,301-5,115.

Hence, there would seem to be a progressive/reform base in the ward of 5,000 to 6,000 voters, about a fifth of the ward's 31,921 registered voters, but perhaps half in an aldermanic race. It was 19,973 in 2018 and 23,400 in 2016, but just 11,242 in 2015. Nevertheless, Murphy's 2019 campaign essentially ended on Aug. 24, 2018, when Laurino announced her retirement. The Laurino-haters no longer had somebody to hate.

The ward, which also includes Sauganash, Mayfair, North Park Village and Gladstone Park by Milwaukee-Devon, is solidly Democratic, but there is a Republican base. The Pritzker-Rauner vote was 13,137-5,447 and Clinton-Trump was 16,005-5,701. Those ethically challenged do not fare well. Ram Villivalam trounced state Senator Ira Silverstein in the 2018 primary, winning 3,538-1,443, carrying 37 of 38 precincts, and Fritz Kaegi buried assessor Joe Berrios 4,880-2,401, carrying every precinct. In 2016's primary, Clerk of Court Dorothy Brown lost 4,161-3,598 to Jacob Meister.

But there is a wholly different ward-wide mindframe in city elections, which are all about moving parks, and quality of life issues: neighborhood services, schools and safety. 39th Warders pay high property taxes, and they want some bang for their buck, not somebody else getting that bang. Rahm Emanuel was the least risky 2015 choice, carrying the ward 5,499-4,202.

The April 2 winner will be Nugent because she is best able to coalesce two of the three ward factions. One is keep-the-moving-parts-moving (or "I Love the Laurinos") just like now. They are older, longtime residents who view the alderman as a social service provider. Another is somebody-different-who-can-keep-the-parts-moving (or "Anybody but a Laurino"). They are newer, younger residents. And then there is Murphy and his crowd (or "I Hate Laurinos"), who want to rebuild the engine and make the alderman a legislator, tackling issues such as income inequality, immigration and affordable housing. "I will be both a legislator and service provider," Murphy said. "I'm the frontrunner," he added.

Do voters want a housekeeper or a barrier-breaker? As always, follow the money and observe who is attacking whom. Nugent, a former staffer for the county office of emergency management, has ties to Clinton, Emanuel, Daley and Preckwinkle, had $110,931 on-hand as of Dec. 31, and raised $26,300 since then, mostly from trade unions. She will have ten mailings, and touts her career experience and being a mom with kids. Murphy had $62,365 on-hand in two accounts, and claims to have a ground game, meaning precinct workers. Don't believe it. He is attacking Nugent on social media for her thin resume, cognizant of the fact she is pulling votes - especially female voters - away from him and diminishing his "progressive" coalition. Murphy fully understands that if he comes in with less than 40 percent, he can kiss it goodbye on April 2.

Smagala, a 29-year old organizer at the Albany Park Community Center, is the millennial in the race, relentlessly working precincts. He had $26,825 on-hand on Dec. 31, but has since raised $27,000, including $15,000 from Friends of Robert Martwick and $7,500 from Chicago Seafood City Market. He avers that he learned the nuts-and-bolts of servicing the ward while an intern in Laurino's office, but now asserts that they're not doing a very good job. Duplechin, a 6-year cop and Army veteran, had received a $35,000 contribution from the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters PAC, but I think he is a non-factor.

My prediction: Murphy is the best-known and least-liked. He is too agenda-focused and ideological. Smagala is the most-liked but has the least gravitas. Voters might not be ready to trust somebody that young to do a job so important. Smagala will run against Murphy for committeeman in 2020. So that leaves Nugent, who has pushed all the right buttons - money, endorsements, gender, competence and motherhood. The public sector unions - SEIU, AFSCME, CTU - could but won't dump in $300,000 to salvage Murphy. Nugent is the least unacceptable, and will win.

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