May 29, 2019


The meek shall inherit the earth, the Bible says. But, in Chicago politics, especially as it applies to the 50 ward aldermen, the meek don't last very long. One term and they're out.

According to 41st Ward Alderman Anthony Napolitano, it's those in the City Council who go-along and get-along who don't last very long. An alderman "has to grab every dollar available for ward infrastructure improvements," he said, noting that there are millions of dollars available from federal, state, county and city sources every year. "You have to grab your share," he added. "If you don't, some other alderman will." The ward, during his first term, ranked among the city's top four in infrastructure improvements. "And people were always complaining" about partial street closings and traffic congestion, Napolitano said.

But residents in the 41st Ward were obviously enamored with Napolitano's grab-and-build philosophy, as he was re-elected to a second term on Feb. 26 by a hefty 12,502-5,289 margin, getting an impressive 70.3 percent, and winning all 47 precincts. In a blowout of epic proportions, Napolitano won three precincts with more than 80 percent, 24 with more than 70 percent, 14 with more than 60 percent, and six with 50 to 59 percent. "I did my job right," said the alderman.

The loser was Democratic committeeman Tim Heneghan, a protege of former alderman (2011-15) and committeeman (2008-16) Mary O'Connor, who Napolitano defeated 4 years ago 9,702-9,087, or 51.6 percent. During his first term, in which Napolitano opposed the Emanuel administration on virtually every fiscal, cultural and public safety issue, voters took note and were not displeased. Napolitano grew his 2015 vote by 2,800 votes, and Heneghan, whose campaign theme was "we deserve more," received 3,798 fewer votes than O'Connor did. Getting 29.7 percent does not mean that Heneghan cannot have a bright future, but I doubt it's going to be in politics. He won the open 2016 Democratic committeeman's race 6,787-3,921, which means that 1,498 registered 2016 Democrats who voted for him for committeeman didn't vote for him for alderman in 2019.

"The people spoke," acknowledged Heneghan, a retired Elmwood Park firefighter who is now angling to get himself appointed to John Mulroe's soon-to-be-vacant Illinois 10th Senate District seat. Mulroe is expected to be appointed to Tom Allen's vacant 10th District subcircuit vacancy. "I want the job," Hehengan said. "I'm definitely in the race."

As chairman of the committee that will do the appointing, consisting of the Democratic committeemen from five city wards (29, 38, 39, 41 and 45) and four suburban townships (Maine, Leyden, Niles and Norwood Park), Heneghan has the largest weighted-vote (8,448), but not a majority of the 34,357 ballot field, which was the vote garnered by Mulroe running unopposed in the 2016 primary. Heneghan needs 17,194 weighted-votes, which means 8,746 more than he has. He will need the support of 38th Ward committeeman Robert Martwick (6,566 weighted-votes) and 45th Ward committeeman John Arena (7,445), who have a combined 14,011, to get the appointment. Or Arena and state Senator Laura Murphy (D-28th), the Maine Township committeeman, who has 4,870 votes.

Heneghan's embrace of affordable housing in the 41st Ward got him major media endorsements, but that did not sit well with some voters. The combined 41st/45th vote is 15,893, so Martwick is the linchpin. Senate president John Cullerton will surely instruct both Murphy and Barrett Pedersen, the Leyden Township commissioner, with 2,292 votes, who to support. He does not want to waste party resources to prop up a flawed Democrat for the Mulroe seat.

Not on board is Norwood Park Township committeeman Frank Avino, an elected township fire commission member, who succeeded Martwick's father as township Democratic committeeman in 2018. "I'm interested in the (senate) appointment," he said. Will Martwick back him? Avino has 2,931 weighted-votes. The 10th District has 51 suburban precincts, in Norridge, Harwood Heights, Elmwood Park, Schiller Park, Rosemont and parts of Park Ridge and Des Plaines, versus 123 in Chicago. If added to Martwick's 6,566, Avino would be at 9,497 - still short.

A new wrinkle is the candidacy of Cary Capparelli, the son of longtime (1970-2004) state Representative Ralph Capparelli, whose name remains well known. "I'm going to run," he said. And as a wealthy retired business entrepreneur and self-proclaimed "fiscal conservative" he said he will "spend what it takes" to win. So whoever gets appointed will have to get nominated on March 20, 2020.

Anyway, getting back to the 41st Ward, where Napolitano did well in 2019 and O'Connor did poorly in 2015. The far Northwest Side ward includes Edison Park, Norwood Park and Oriole Park, plus Edgebrook west of Lehigh. An alderman is the closest elected official to any voter, and what he or she does or doesn't do has an impact on every ward resident's quality of life. Each election is a referendum on the alderman's performance. O'Connor beat Capparelli for Democratic committeeman in 2008, and then used that base in 2011 to nab the open ward aldermanic seat, after Alderman Brian Doherty (1991-2011) retired. She beat Maurita Gavin, a top Doherty aide, 7,354-7,104, in the runoff, a margin of 250 votes. O'Connor won 35 of the ward's 57 precincts, and ran especially well in Edison Park, where she had her catering business, and in Edgebrook and Wildwood.

Normally incumbents gain votes over time, especially first-termers. Not O'Connor. "She was slavishly supportive" of Emanuel during her term, said Napolitano. "She thought that she would be rewarded" by the mayor "with more (ward) projects," Napolitano said. Instead, Napolitano added, it worked the other way. "The ward was ignored" in terms of infrastructure improvements, he said. Napolitano added that there was a perception that her constituent services were not superlative.

(Editor's note: Wildwood School received a $15 million annex during O'Connor's term, and several infrastructure initiatives were completed on her watch.)

Nevertheless, going into 2015 O'Connor was the solid favorite. She was allied with the mayor and Mulroe, and had maintained the longstanding political "non-aggression" pact with Republican state Representative Mike McAuliffe, the ward Republican committeeman, meaning they didn't field candidates against each other. The 2015 anti-O'Connor field consisted of two unknown, first-time candidates: Napolitano, a cop-turned-firefighter from Oriole Park, and Joe Lomato, a hardware store owner from Edgebrook. Surprisingly, their combined vote of 7,813 kept O'Connor under 50 percent in the 2015 primary, with 7,132 votes. In 2011, she got 7,354 votes, so she lost 222 votes over 4 years.

In the ensuing runoff it was evident that O'Connor had hit and slightly eclipsed her ceiling, which was her level of voter approval and/or tolerance. Napolitano beat her 9,702-9,087, getting 51.6 percent in a turnout of 18,789, and carrying 28 of 47 precincts. In the concurrent Emanuel-Garcia runoff, the mayor won the ward 12,007-6,766. A deluge of mailings, funded mostly by unions and Emanuel sources claiming that she had delivered for the ward were ineffectual.

The ward does have a sizeable non-liberal base, consisting of police and firefighters, as well as Republicans and Trump supporters. The president got 11,480 votes in the ward, or 42.6 percent; in the 2016 state's attorney primary, embattled Anita Alvarez got 6,927 votes, or 54.6 percent. Bruce Rauner got 9,774 votes in 2018.

Napolitano during his term takes credit for a new fieldhouse in Wildwood Park, a hockey rink in Norwood Park, numerous streets being resurfaced, and sewer and water upgrades, such as 40-inch pipes replacing 20-inch pipes along Talcott from Harlem to Canfield. He likes gas line repairs, such as those along Avondale, along Sayre off the Northwest Highway, in Edgebrook on Devon, on Touhy Avenue, and on Imlay near St. Thecla, since Peoples Gas has to pay for street resurfacing and new curbs and sidewalks which need to be ADA compliant. Napolitano is emphatic about raising his annual $1.37 million "menu" allocation funds, which he can use at his discretion for infrastructure improvements. "I have 800 streets in my ward, and it costs $7.3 million to repave each block," plus $41,000 for ADA corners. "I need $10 million-a-year," he said.

As for the $1 billion pension hole the city faces in the 2020 budget, Napolitano suggested a 2-to -3-cent tax on every commodity transaction. "That would cover it," he said. "And (the Exchanges) will not leave Chicago."

As for new Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who carried the 41st Ward with 87.5 percent in the April 2 runoff, Napolitano anticipates that she will not have an "automatic majority" in the council.

"Every vote will require a new coalition," he said. Napolitano also said the council needs to be more assertive, and not let the mayor appoint the 17 committee chairmen. "That gives (the mayor) 17 guaranteed votes. That has to change."

STATE REPRESENTATIVE (2020): McAuliffe had a tough re-election in 2016, beating Merry Marwig (D) by a 55-45 percent margin, but only after having Rauner and his allies pump $3 million into the race, more than Marwig's Madigan-funded $2 million. Marwig withdrew after filing in 2018, leaving McAuliffe unopposed.

Given Madigan's 74-44 House super-majority, which is enough to pass the governor's "Fair Tax" plan, McAuliffe expects another "free pass" in 2020. "They're going to dismember my district" in 2021 after the 2020 census, said McAuliffe of Madigan. "If they put a Democrat" in the seat in 2020, "then they can't dismember it," he added.

COMMITTEEMAN: Goran Davidovac, who got 865 votes in the 2016 election, will definitely run against Heneghan in 2020. "He's been a total failure," Davidovac said. Heneghan said he is running again.