February 15, 2023

“Money, money, money, money. Mon-eey.” Those were the lyrics from an O’Jays song “For the Love of Money.” But those words also epitomize and encapsulate 2023’s 38th Ward aldermanic race.

First, who’s got the money (or not)? Second, where are they getting the money? And that includes both pensions and donations. And third, how are they spending the money (or not)?

The candidates are 3-term incumbent Nick Sposato, who has 2 opponents – Ed Bannon and Cynthia Santos – of some consequence and two opponents – Bruce Randazzo and Franco Reyes – of no consequence.

This column usually makes predictions at its conclusion, but I will make an exception for this race: Sposato is going to win with a margin in the 58-60 percent range. He may out-perform Pat O’Brien (R), who got 60.3 percent in the ward in 2020 against state’s attorney Kim Foxx (D). The acerbic Sposato is a pro-police, anti-abortion conservative who has no compunction about dismissing the council’s Woke/Leftist cabal as “Socialists and Communists.”

Although confined to a wheelchair due to MS and unable to campaign door-to-door, Sposato, age 64, will win easily because he is authentic. He is what he is. You get what you get. And 38th warders get services. Sposato can take credit for the Taft Freshman Academy, Rickover and grammar school additions and park upgrades.

The Feb. 28 election will be a referendum on Sposato’s performance, and none of his opponents have articulated a coherent reason to replace him. Santos portrays herself as experienced and an agent of change even though she has been on the city, MWRD or  state payroll since the 1990s. Bannon, who said his current job is “parenting,” criticized Sposato for not doing enough to promote economic development, particularly in the ward’s east (Portage Park) end.  

Sposato has an impressive political track record (see chart). In 2011 he forced John Rice, hand-picked choice of the 36th Ward’s supposedly invincible Banks-DeLeo Machine, into a runoff and won with 56.1 percent, winning 41 of the ward’s 55 precincts. In 2015, when the remap merged half of the 36th Ward with half of Tim Cullerton’s 38th Ward – a ward dominated by the Cullerton Dynasty since the 1930s – Sposato won without a runoff in a 7-candidate field. He got 53.6 percent, getting an absolute majority in 20 of 41 precincts and a plurality in 20 more. The Cullerton candidate, Heather Sattler, got 16.2 percent. The alderman was unopposed in 2019.

“It’s sickening,” said Bannon of Sposato and Santos. “They’re just out for themselves. Pensions are under-funded, but they’re benefiting from their public positions.”  Bannon noted that Sposato is drawing his $80,000 city pension atop his $132,000 aldermanic salary and that Santos, age 61, is drawing her $40,000-plus Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) pension atop her $126,000 salary as a Member of the Illinois Pollution Control Board (IPCB), a job to which she was appointed in 2016 and re-appointed by J.B. Pritzker in 2022.

Both Bannon and Santos slammed Sposato for “voting for” the 9.5 percent 2022 pay hike from $117,000 to $130,000, which was part of the 2023 city budget. An automatic annual cost-of-living (COLA) salary hike was passed by a cowardly council in the early 2000s to avoid having to vote for it. Sposato voted for the 2023 budget. Aldermen can refuse to take the hike, as did Sposato for most of his tenure, but he took it this year. Sposato said he retired as a firefighter in 2019 at age 60 and combined his 18 CFD years with 8 as alderman. “It’s capped,” he said, meaning it can’t go up (except COLAs) if he serves through 2027.

The IPCB was created by state statute and its duties enumerated by 35 ILCS of the Administrative Code, which is to hear appeals from final decisions by state agencies regarding penalties for alleged polluters. Its five members are not elected and not political. They meet twice per month. So how can Santos run for alderman and not quit or take a leave-of-absence? “I don’t campaign on work time,” she said.

Santos added that she is paying all her campaign expenses and not accepting donations. She filed no D-1 statement of organization with the state election board (IBOE), thereby skirting any ethics issue. But she is in fact getting in-kind contributions – in the form of flyers, a domain name  and a webpage – paid for by an entity called Citizens In Action for Better Government (CIABG), run by political gadfly Jimmy Pellegrini.

Even if Santos can avoid disclosure, CIABG cannot. Any expenditure over $1,000 must be reported, but CIABG filed its last D-2 after June 30, 2022.

“There’s something shady going on,” said Sposato, who plans to file a complaint with the state Inspector General.

Santos was a MWRD commissioner for 20 years, from 1996 to 2016. Their pensions are calculated at 2.4 percent of final salary ($70,000) for each year served, so Santos is taking home $40,000-plus with COLAs. Her husband Rich Bradley is a retired state rep and former city Streets & San employee who is now on the payroll of MWRD commissioner Marcelino Garcia. They have mastered the art of pension-gobbling.

Sposato said that part of Santos’ political success in the past has been that she wants people to think of her as a Latina,  which she is not.

Santos’s flyers claim that she is a “government leader and community activist.”  Sposato retorts “that’s non-sense. She’s lived in the ward for 8 years and she’s done nothing.”

Bannon was a general manager of a newspaper and staffer for ex-alderman John Arena. He is trying to appeal to the Woke crowd, but the refusal of his mentor, state senator and ward committeeperson (D) Rob Martwick, to endorse him seals his doom. In a council filled with slick lawyers, Leftist ideologues and on-the-make politicians, having a house husband among them would be unique. But it won’t happen.

WHO’S GOT THE MONEY? Sposato raised $245,000 through Dec. 31, of which 100K came from his liquidated IRA; he expects to raise another $75,000 through Feb. 28. Bannon self-funded $50,000 and raised $8,000 through Dec. 31, including $1,000 from Martwick (who gave the same amount to Sposato). He would not disclose receipts to-date. Santos? Well, who knows or will ever know?

WHERE DID THEY GET THE MONEY? Sposato is strong among the trade unions, and got FOP, Local 2 (CFD), Plumbers and SEIU (janitors) endorsements. They are his major contributors.

HOW ARE THEY SPENDING THE MONEY?  It is conventional wisdom among political strategists that eight mailings, all with a single focused message, are required to win a localized aldermanic or state rep campaign. It takes eight pieces to penetrate the fog and apathy. And it takes about $200,000. Sposato will have eight mailers, and none of the others will come close to that.

Sposato’s message is public safety. According to his polling, he said, “that’s voters’ top concern.”  Sposato’s  Jan. poll put the 38th Ward race at  64/18/15 for Sposato/Bannon/Santos. In the mayor’s race the poll had both Paul Vallas and Willie Wilson around 30 percent. Bannon claimed his poll put Sposato just under 50 percent and him second.

Other issues are “communication” and Sposato’s vote against a resolution praising the codification of Roe v. Wade abortion rights. Sposato said his office sends out 10,000 e-mail updates and a print newsletter annually to ward households, and fields 100 phone calls and 25 walk-ins a day. “I oppose abortion on moral and religious grounds.” He’s right. An alderman’s job is to address quality-of-life matters, not make policy.

The 38th Ward extends from East River Road to Lavergne, between Belmont and Lawrence. The east end is very “progressive.” Everywhere else is more traditional and definitely NOT Woke/Leftist. Of the ward’s 25 precincts with 35,348 RVs. Sposato will get a majority in 22.

Read more Analysis & Opinion from Russ Stewart at Russstewart.com

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