July 31, 2019


It could have been a lot worse around here. But then former alderman John Arena, with a possible city job on the horizon, decided not to appoint himself to the vacant 19th Illinois House District seat on July 24.

Now, throughout Illinois, and, especially in Springfield, there are people laughing and rejoicing because John Arena is NOT going there.

Instead, Arena protŽgŽ Lindsey LaPointe is going to the state capitol, finishing the term of Rob Martwick, who was appointed state senator on June 28.

LaPointe, who worked at a public interest law and policy center, promises to bring "social worker values" to her new job at what she calls a "transformational moment" in state history. She will, she said, bring "compassion" to the political process, treat her colleagues and constituents "with dignity and respect," will be a "problem-solver," "build relationships," "provide service," and "develop a support network." She also promised to continue her efforts as a "grass roots housing organizer." Those who live in the 45th Ward, and especially the 64 percent who voted to oust Arena on Feb. 26, know EXACTLY what that means. (Although sounds like her demeanor will be the opposite of Arena's.) What a multi-tasker she will be. And all for just $67,000-a year. LaPointe may be a keeper.

And, in response to one of my questions at the July 24 committeeman's meeting at the Austin-Irving Library, LaPointe insisted that she's "not a socialist." That didn't impress 41st Ward Democratic committeeman Tim Heneghan, one of the five committeemen who attended and used their weighted-vote to make the pick; Arena had proxies from two other committeemen. "She's definitely a socialist," Heneghan said, refusing to support either her or Martwick in 2020.

While LaPointe was clarifying her ideology, Arena said, "a 'democratic socialist' is not a 'Socialist.'" Both he and LaPointe voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Illinois presidential primary. LaPointe presented her credentials for senator at the June 28 meeting, endorsing Martwick but claiming that "we need more women in office." So why, I asked, would you vote for an old Socialist white guy over Hillary Clinton? "It was a game day decision," she said.

Fortunately for LaPointe, Speaker Mike Madigan makes ALL the "game day" decisions in the Illinois House, so she can focus her decision-making energies elsewhere.

And let's not forget to give a rousing ovation to Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who has reportedly offered Arena a high-paid city job, so he can lock-in his pension. It apparently will be a newly created post in the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection dealing with labor standards. Arena expected the job by July 24, and THAT IS WHY I think he did not grab the Martwick seat, as his 9,405 45th Ward weighted-votes, combined with Martwick's 7,155 38th Ward weighted-votes and Robert Murphy's 1,105 39th Ward weighted-votes would have been way more than the 10,696 needed to appoint him. As of press time, however, there was no "done deal" on the city job. According to sources, the mayor is getting a whole lot of pushback. But give credit where credit is due. Had the mayor not dangled some job, Arena would now be in Springfield, perhaps throwing a tantrum, as he is known to do in secret political circles.

Now, wouldn't it be amazing if Arena DIDN'T get a city job? Then all would be really, really well in the world. And Mayor Lightfoot would deserve her standing ovation.

The July 24 LaPointe appointment, said Heneghan, was a "done deal." Of the seven people who presented their credentials in addition to LaPointe, "it was just a waste of their time and everybody else's time," said Heneghan. "The fix was in" for LaPointe as "soon as he (Arena) thought he got his new job," he added. The presenters included Judith Hamill, a member of the county Zoning Board of Appeals, Patti Vasquez, a former WGN radio personality, Mark Dobrzycki, a former Harwood Heights trustee, Tom Kelley, a former legal counsel to Madigan and staff attorney to the state Property Tax Appeal Board, J.C. Strzalka-Steil, a staffer in Martwick's office, Kurt Hilgendorf, a former CPS teacher and Chicago Teachers Union political operative, and Michael Straughn, a businessman and school board member from Norridge. Arena, having the largest weighted vote, chaired the meeting, and his attempt to ban audience questions was hastily withdrawn.

Heneghan grilled LaPointe on her connections to State's Attorney Kim Foxx, who LaPointe praised for "having done a lot of good work" on bail-bond reforms. In her resume, which was distributed to all committeemen, LaPointe noted that she was a 2016 campaign volunteer for Foxx in her primary against Anita Alvarez, and also noted that she was a volunteer grief counselor to the families of victims of violent crime. Heneghan criticized Foxx's low-bond or no-bond reforms. "Foxx is letting offenders with multiple handgun arrests back on the street," said Heneghan. "That is a major cause of gun violence."

"ARE YOU SUPPORTING FOXX in 2020?" asked Heneghan. LaPointe replied that she "didn't want to speculate" as "there are no announced candidates" running against Foxx. Reportedly former county commissioner Richard Boykin is thinking about running against Foxx.

"She danced around my question," said Heneghan.

Here is a synopsis of the other presenters, of which one or two may challenge LaPointe in the primary.

HAMILL: With an extensive resume, Hamill said she has been "active in the community" for over 30 years, including director of governmental relations at John Marshall Law School, and stints at the city Department of Aviation, Department of Planning and Council on Fine Arts. "I am the best-qualified," she said. She called herself a conservative on fiscal issues, and not a socialist.

KELLEY: He said he would hit the ground running, as he has drafted legislation for the speaker and knows the ins and outs of the Illinois House. Kelley is close to Martwick, and said he volunteered for all of Martwick's campaigns since 2012. Heneghan questioned him about an ethical conflict-of-interest, as Finkel & Martwick, the senator's father's law firm, with which he is associated, does a lot of tax appeal work before the PTAB, as do the firms of Madigan and Ed Burke. "If I know a lawyer's name, I don't write the brief in the case," Kelley said, adding that he would not run in the primary if he were not appointed. He said he is not a socialist and, "in the face of an anti-union onslaught, is a friend of organized labor."

VASQUEZ: She got bounced from WGN after an F-bomb on her show. She is now "working full-time" on her political career, and will likely run in the primary against LaPointe. She promised to "fight for everyone" and "provide a lifeline" to those afflicted with high property taxes by enacting "reforms," but she wasn't too specific. She said "love, dignity, justice" would be her focus. She said she is not a socialist, but decried the fact that "in America we have socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor." Her problem will be raising the $75,000 she needs to be credible, but she is charismatic and energetic.

DOBRZYCKI: He served 12 years as a Harwood Heights trustee, and boasted that he hosted 144 "Meet With Mark" sessions with village residents over that period. Yet he was defeated for re-election and lost an Illinois House race to Republican Mike McAuliffe in 2006.

STRZALKA-STEIL: He made a big deal about being a director of outreach in Martwick's office, but we all know that means sitting in an office, answering the phone, and taking note of some constituent's problem. He said that "dark money" spent $750,000 to beat Martwick in 2018 and that he will not let them "destroy democracy." He also favors more "gun safety" and higher taxes on the wealthy. Strzalka-Steil is not yet ready for prime time. Maybe another Cubs game first?

HILGENDORF: He was a high school teacher for 6 years at Englewood and Von Steuben, and has been the CTU's policy advisor for 7 years and their Springfield lobbyist. He has obvious bureaucratic talents, and is on a trajectory to be CTU's president or vice-president sometime in the 2030s.

STRAUGHN: He promised to "listen to everybody."

The committeemen then went into executive session after the candidate presentations, a gathering closed to the public. (Note: This is Heneghan's version.) Martwick, once the doors were closed, immediately moved to appoint LaPointe "by acclamation," which is a parliamentary term for "an approving vote without an actual count," and Martwick's motion was seconded by Norwood Park Township's Frank Avino. There was no discussion of any other presenter, although Avino reportedly said LaPointe would be a tough sell. Heneghan objected, demanding an actual vote. Arena told Heneghan he "cannot go against the party's candidate." Murphy told Heneghan that "we cannot let the other presenters think that they are unappreciated." A document had been prepared, with LaPointe's name inserted, appointing her by acclamation. All committeemen except Heneghan signed on

So a new document was drafted, and LaPointe was appointed by a vote of 20,409-980. "It was a bigger farce" than June 28, said Heneghan, when Arena provided the votes to block Heneghan and appoint Martwick. On July 24 Martwick reciprocated.

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