November 10, 2021

It is said that all good things must end. But that does not mean that they can't or won't end badly.

Not so with state Representative John D'Amico (D-15), the 59-year old scion of the 39th Ward's 56-year Laurino dynasty, who resigned Nov. 5 after 17 years in Springfield. He had a soft landing, having snagged a six-figure job as political director of Local 130 of the Plumbers Union in July 2019, just after he retired from his job as assistant superintendent for the Chicago water department. That culminated 38 years as a city jobholder, beginning in 1981.

Obviously D'Amico's good thing didn't end badly. When he ultimately retires he'll have several pensions, and he has $320,089 in his campaign account according to disclosures. But his family's dynasty looks like it ended. There will likely be "no family member" seeking his seat, he said. That includes any of his offspring, his brother Jim D'Amico, who works for the CTA, and his cousin John Hundreiser. His aunt, Marge Laurino, retired as 39th Ward alderman in 2019 after 25 years, and she had succeeded D'Amico's grandfather, Tony Laurino, who was alderman from 1965 to 1994, a total of 29 years. At the time Tony Laurino died he was under federal indictment for putting ghost-payrolling on his Traffic Committee.

D'Amico's uncle Bill Laurino was state representative from 1970 to 1996, and was a division superintendent for Streets and Sanitation for decades until he retired. Randy Barnette, another uncle (Marge's husband), was ward committeeman from 1994 to 2016, and was a city colleges lobbyist.

"The Laurino family is collecting at least half-million a year in pensions and benefits," said Jac Charlier, who ran against D'Amico in the 2016 primary, getting 42 percent. "This end is long overdue."

The Pottawatomie Indian tribe occupied vast tracts of land in Illinois and Wisconsin, including what is now the 39th Ward and 15th House District. "Sauganash" is an Indian word meaning "English-speaking." It doesn't necessarily mean speaking without a forked-tongue, as did the iconic Billy Caldwell when the Treaty of Chicago in 1833 was consummated on the site of what is now Queen of All Saints church.

Caldwell was a federal Indian Agent, then a very powerful and lucrative patronage post. He controlled all business affairs on his tribal territory. In exchange for a few trinkets and the promise of western lands, the Pottawatomie gave up 5 million acres, and ended up in Wisconsin, their current reservation.

Chicago's Northwest Side was a sparsely settled bucolic farmland until about 1900, inhabited by Protestants. That changed as more Irish-Catholics migrated to the area around what is now Albany Park-Mayfair, and changed again in the 1920s as Jewish residents in the racially changing West Side flooded into Albany Park. The ward stayed Republican through the 1940s, but changed again when the Jewish population reached a tipping point.

Phillip Shapiro, a Jewish lawyer who had inherited $8 million from his uncle, was elected alderman in 1950. Back then he was the equivalent of J.B. Pritzker. Back then Tony Laurino was a city electrical inspector out of Vito Marzullo's West Side 25th Ward. Laurino then hooked on as Shapiro's "aldermanic secretary," his sole staffer, and moved to Sauganash. When Shapiro got slated and elected Circuit Court judge in 1964, Laurino became committeeman and was elected alderman in 1965. He was re-elected seven times and proudly called himself the "alley alderman," firmly believing that ward housekeeping mattered the most.

He focused on fixing potholes, repaving, garbage pickup and everyday constituent services. He also focused on patronage by getting city jobs (and promotions) for people who worked precincts, making the 39th Ward a key cog of the Daley Machine. Jobs meant workers that meant votes for Democrats. Laurino also got jobs for his family, sometimes two at the same time. Nepotism was no vice back then.

Committeemen in the Daley era were also territorial. They wanted officeholders from their ward. Son Bill got the area's state House seat and kept his city job. In 1972 Frank Annunzio, with roots in the West Loop 1st Ward, was remapped into a Black-majority congressional district. Laurino counseled him to move to Sauganash in the 39th Ward, register at his daughter's home, cleared out opposition and got him elected in Roman Pucinski's open 11th District. Annunzio stayed in office until 1992. Daughter Marge was his top aldermanic aide for 15 years.

But fixation on jobs was Laurino's undoing. He became Traffic Committee chairman in the 1970s, delivered the vote for Bilandic in 1979, thereafter embraced Jane Byrne (who lived in Sauganash), kept delivering votes and got the attention of the feds. He had put his step daughter, wife, daughter, son-in-law and daughter-in-law on the Traffic Committee payroll, but they rarely showed-up for work. Father Laurino got indicted by the feds in 1995 for ghost-payrolling, but died in 1998 at age 88 before his trial and his ghost-kin got convicted. Marge Laurino was appointed to the seat in 1994 and won a tough 1995 election and five re-elections.

When Bill Laurino retired in 1996, replaced by the 45th Ward's Joe Lyons, the 39th was bereft of their coveted Springfield seat. Barnette ran for Howard Carroll's open state senate seat in 1998 but lost the primary to the 50th Ward's Ira Silverstein - who lost the seat in 2018 to Ram Villivalam, who is now 39th Ward Democratic committeeperson and will chair the committee which picks D'Amico's successor in November.

Trade unions were a critical part of Mike Madigan's power structure, and D'Amico was a union guy. He began working for the Bureau of Forestry in 1981 as a laborer, moved to the water department and joined Local 130 in 1988. He became a district foreman (renamed district supervisor) in 2000, all the while working his precinct and dabbling as a political operative. He was the Laurino dynasty's heir apparent, and the 39th Ward Democrats wanted their House seat back.

Madigan complied, creating in the 2001 remap three Democratic Northwest Side House districts: One for Ralph Capparelli west of Nagle, one for Lyons east of Nagle, and one for D'Amico which stretched from Elston-Lawrence in Mayfair along Milwaukee Ave. through Niles to Golf Mill. But then Capparelli decided to cede his new 20th District to Bob Bugielski, whose district was remapped Hispanic-majority, and run in D'Amico's 15th. The plan was foiled when Republican incumbent Mike McAuliffe beat Bugielski, out of the 36th Ward.

Capparelli won, D'Amico was Capparelli's campaign manager, it was clearly understood that Capparelli would not move from his Edison Park home, and that D'Amico would get the seat in 2004. That happened. Capparelli ran against McAuliffe in 2004 and lost.

State law mandates the area committeepersons of the party of the resigned incumbent meet within 30 days to pick the replacement, which means in D'Amico's case by Dec. 8. The selection is by weighted-vote, based on the turnout in the 2020 Democratic primary, which was 35,637. The apportionment is as follows 38.2 percent in the 39th Ward, 32.6 in Maine Township, 17.7 in Niles Township, 9 in the 41st Ward, and the rest scattered. Joe Cook, the 41st Ward committeeperson, has said he won't seek the job. The choice will serve through the end of 2022 and have an edge in the June 28 primary.

Michael Rabbitt of Wildwood was in the race before D'Amico quit. He works for Argonne Laboratories as a manager. He is an advocate of police reform and affordable housing. He models himself after Will Guzzardi, Lindsay LaPointe and John Arena, and is waging a door-to-door campaign. He will be the leftmost candidate.

Others in the contest, who will likely seek selection, are Dan Cotter, an attorney from Edgebrook and former LSC president and CBA past president, Casey Smagala of Albany Park, a 2019 39th Ward aldermanic candidate who is close to Villivalam, Mike Kelly of Mayfair, a firefighter who is the football coach at St. Edward's parish school, Liam Kelly, who ran for subcircuit judge in the 2020 primary, and whose brother Eamon is Evanston Township committeeperson, and Dean Alonistiotis, who works for MWRD commissioner Kim Du Buclet.

Outlook: Kelly is the favorite to be picked. He has union and 39th Ward support. Expect a Rabbitt-Kelly-Cotter primary.