The handmade sign above Anthony Napolitano’s spartan firehouse bunk reads: “Reserved for Aldermen Only.”
A much larger banner hanging above the fire engine borrows a line from “Goodfellas”: “He’s gone, and we couldn’t do nothing about it.”
At 7 a.m. Tuesday, Napolitano will finish his last shift as a Chicago firefighter before being sworn in May 18 as the new alderman of the 41st Ward.
Presumably, Napolitano will fare better at the swearing-in ceremony than did Joe Pesci’s slain Tommy DeVito character, not to suggest the new life he has chosen is that much less cutthroat.
“This is going to be a hard end of shift,” Napolitano told me Monday morning as he began his last 24 hours on the job. “I’m going to miss it.”
Napolitano says he will miss the camaraderie, the sense of family, the satisfaction of putting out fires and the ball-busting humor exemplified by his recently bestowed nickname, “Napolitician.”
“Don’t touch the ax. I don’t want you to cut your foot,” Lt. Thomas Marlo told Napolitano on cue as the alderman-elect showed me the tools of the trade he will be leaving behind.
I dropped in on Napolitano at Engine Company 125, located at 2323 N. Natchez in Montclare and known in the Fire Department as The Hill.
The political neophyte defeated one-term Ald. Mary O’Connor in the April 7 runoff, overcoming strong opposition from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago Forward Super PAC.
The 41st Ward that Napolitano will represent is on Chicago’s Far Northwest edge near O’Hare Airport and is known as a land of cops and firefighters.
Napolitano, 40, happens to be both. He was a Chicago Police officer for five years before joining the Fire Department in 2005. While working as a firefighter, he held a second job as a part-time police officer in north suburban Highwood.
The muscular Napolitano, who plays ice hockey in his spare time, quickly jumps to the top of my list of the Chicago alderman most likely to win a fistfight, although I have yet to meet some of the other 12 newcomers.
At a recent charity boxing event, Emanuel pulled Napolitano aside for a welcome-aboard-it-wasn’t-personal speech.
This seems to have greatly relieved Napolitano, who says he plans to be an independent voice on the City Council but isn’t looking for any ongoing battle with the mayor either.
“I was blown away. We had a terrific conversation,” Napolitano said as we sat at a table in the firehouse kitchen. As the cook, this has been Napolitano’s domain the last six years. His specialties, not surprisingly, are lasagna and chicken parmesan.
Joining us was Ald. Nicholas Sposato (36th but soon to be 38th), also a former firefighter, who backed Napolitano and two other aldermanic newcomers. As a result, Sposato expects to have some allies in a second term after being left for dead in the City Council remap.
For now, Napolitano says he’s fending off overtures to align himself with either of the self-styled independent aldermanic groups.
Napolitano, who has been known to pull a Republican primary ballot on occasion in years past, says he’s more of a social conservative with strong views on protecting gun rights. But he promises to be a “hard-core” labor union supporter.
Napolitano said it was his father, a 35-year Chicago Police veteran, who suggested he look into “crossing over” to the Fire Department as a better future for a young man raising a family.
That proved true, but as much as Napolitano will miss his fellow firefighters, he says he won’t miss seeing another dead body, one four-year-old child abuse victim weighing especially hard on him.
Napolitano said his father was also the one who instilled in him that it did no good to complain about government if he wasn’t willing to do something to change it.
His father’s reaction when Napolitano told him he was running for alderman: “I didn’t want you to take that drastic a step.”
It’s too late now. “Napolitician” might want to bring the ax with him.