Northwest Side Ald. Nick Sposato (38th) dropped out of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus on Thursday, one day after he was called out by a colleague on the Council floor for opposing a $1.3 million legal defense fund to assist immigrants threatened with deportation after the election of Donald Trump.
Sposato said his reasons for leaving the 11-member caucus, which includes Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s staunchest opponents, are part medical and part philosophical.
The former Chicago firefighter suffers from multiple sclerosis that has gotten progressively worse, and he now uses a wheelchair.
But Sposato also acknowledged that he is a social conservative in a sea of liberals and has clashed with his “best friends” in the Progressive Caucus on a host of social issues ranging from immigration to police reform.
He represents a Northwest Side ward filled with police officers, firefighters and other city workers where President-elect Donald Trump got more than 35 percent of the vote.
“Only quitters quit and I’m not a quitter. I’m just overwhelmed with it now with my health. Life is quite difficult now for me. We do a lot. It’s like another job being in the Progressive Caucus. There’s no problem with anybody there. It’s just too much. I’m overwhelmed,” Sposato said Thursday.
“And there’s some things I don’t agree with. There’s a couple issues that I know I’m not on the same page with them. Sanctuary city. The legal defense fund,” he said. “I can’t keep saying, `Take my name off.’ . . . So I figure well, maybe now’s the time.”
Earlier this week, Sposato was called out by Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st) on the Council floor for opposing Emanuel’s newly expanded plan to create a $1.3 million Legal Protection Fund to assist immigrants.
Sposato was one of three aldermen to vote “no.” But he was the only one who was verbally attacked.
“Unfortunately, one of our colleagues addressed me earlier today and said they’re not gonna support money for `illegals.’ I take offense to that personally . . . as my namesake, my grandfather Proco Sr. came to this country at 13 years old illegally, jumped on D-Day as a paratrooper, won three Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star, and I have his framed honorable discharge paper that says, `non-citizen,’ ” Moreno said then.
“If my grandfather was good enough to fight for this country, he’s good enough to be legal. He’s good enough to be a citizen. . . . I challenge you to change your mindset in terms of funding `illegals.’ No human being is illegal — especially in the United States, especially in Chicago,” he said.
That prompted Sposato to insist that he is “not a hater.” He explained that he voted no because he believes there are higher priorities.
“All of these people are in tents with no place to go trying to stay warm. On any given day, we have 1,000 homeless veterans out there. What are we doing for them? We have 25,000 city employees and we don’t offer them insurance anymore. How do we feel about that?” Sposato said.
He added, “I was just gonna quietly vote no because I couldn’t support this. There’s many reasons. But unfortunately when one of your colleagues gets in your face because you’re against something he’s for, I have to respond. I’m not a hater. . . . But unfortunately some people can’t support other peoples’ opinions. I’ve been here for 5.5 years. Never attacked anybody on their opinions. Nobody’s every attacked me. . . . But, I’m forced to defend myself here. . . . My opinion was twisted around by my colleague.”
In 2011, Sposato became the first Chicago firefighter elected to the City Council after defeating a candidate backed by the once powerful 36th Ward Regular Democratic Organization run by former longtime Zoning Committee Chairman William J.P. Banks (36th).
Sposato was subsequently remapped out of the 36th Ward. He ran and won in the 38th after former Ald. Tim Cullerton (38th) opted to retire.
On Thursday, Sposato made no apologies for this week’s surprisingly contentious and personal debate on the volatile issue of immigration.
“Was I somewhat classy about my response? Was I civil? I know the mayor didn’t seem like he wanted me [to respond]. He was looking at me, kind of shrugged almost like, `Come on, Nick.’ But I had to respond,” Sposato said.
“I have voted no on a lot of things. I don’t agree with people on a lot of things. But I respect everybody’s opinion. . . . For somebody to literally get in my face and then go back with this angry, lying tirade about me was wrong and I had to respond. That’s my nature,” he said. “I couldn’t let somebody push me around and spew lies about me. He approached me. I never approached him.’
Sposato’s departure leaves the Progressive Caucus with 10 members. They are Aldermen Leslie Hairston (5th); Roderick Sawyer (6th); Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th); David Moore (17th); Ricardo Munoz (22nd); Chris Taliaferro (29th); Scott Waguespack (32nd); Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) and John Arena (45th).
Waguespack thanked Sposato for “all the hard work” he has put in over the years.
“We know he’ll still be along side us on a range of issues in standing up for Chicago’s working people,” Waguespack said. “The Progressive Caucus will continue to be impactful because we’ve relentlessly worked to drive our progressive policy agenda forward. That will continue to be the case going forward.”