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End of an era for the Laurino clan: Ald. Marge Laurino won’t seek re-election

Ald. Marge Laurino said Friday she won't be running for re-election. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Ald. Marge Laurino (39th), one of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s closest allies, said Friday she will not seek re-election, ending 53 years of Laurino family leadership of the Northwest Side ward and becoming the fifth alderman to exit a City Council in transition.

“It’s time. I’ve been here for 24 years. I’ve been through six elections. This is the time to leave,” said Laurino, 66.

“I felt comfortable about [winning] the election. But another four years of . . . the time commitment I’d have to put in [and the] issues that have to be dealt with in the coming years, I don’t want to do it for another four years. My husband, Randy, just retired. I have two very young grandchildren . . . I really want to spend some time with them while I have the opportunity.”

Laurino, the City Council’s president pro temp, is the fifth alderman recently not to seek re-election.

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) is abiding by a self-imposed two-term limit. Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) is not seeking re-election. Ald. Michael Zalewski (23rd) resigned May 31, paving the way for Emanuel to appoint State Rep. Silvana Tabares to represent the majority Hispanic ward.

Indicted Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) told colleagues he planned to seek re-election, only to reverse field as he negotiates a plea agreement.

And there may be more on the way.

Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), Emanuel’s floor leader, is also contemplating political retirement.

After walking the tax plank repeatedly, just to begin to solve Chicago’s $28 billion pension crisis, incumbent aldermen who choose to stay and fight face a difficult and costly battle to persuade an angry electorate to give them another chance.

If they succeed, they face even more difficult choices — and another punishing round of post-election tax increases.

For some, retirement, the political path of least resistance, is preferred.

“There’s gonna be changes . . . It’s a tough time to be an incumbent. But that’s okay,” Laurino said.

In 2015, Laurino managed to avoid a runoff by only 300 votes in a three-way race and only after outspending her closest rival by a 5-to-1 margin.

On Friday, she expressed confidence that she would have been re-elected — even after lowering the boom on Chicago taxpayers — and that Emanuel will win a third term.

“We’ve turned this financial ship around. We have found dedicated streams to deal with our pension debt . . . The city is going in the right direction as a result of this,” Laurino said.

Laurino’s retirement will mark the end of an era for a clout-heavy political family with a checkered past that never hesitated to seek refuge on the public payroll.

When the new City Council is sworn in next spring, it will be the first time since 1965 that the Northwest Side ward that includes Sauganash, a suburb within the city, will be represented by an alderman whose last name is not Laurino.

Her father and predecessor, legendary “alley” alderman Anthony Laurino, died while awaiting trial on charges that he hired friends, relatives and political cronies for no-show, no-work city jobs.

It was a scheme that cost Chicago taxpayers nearly $1.5 million in salaries and benefits, prosecutors said.

Anthony Laurino’s wife, one of his daughters, his son-in-law and stepdaughter were all convicted of ghost payrolling.

“Specifically, in the case of my sister, she made a mistake and she paid the price,” Marge Laurino said Friday.

“That’s ancient history . . . I was able to move forward and clearly represent the people of my ward . . . I’m proud of the accomplishments.”

In 1995, Marie D’Amico, Anthony’s Laurino’s daughter and Marge’s sister, was sentenced to a year in prison and fined $10,000 for collecting more than $82,000 from three separate ghost jobs.

One of those jobs was on the payroll of the City Council’s Finance Committee, which was chaired then and now by Ald. Edward Burke (14th).

In her plea agreement, D’Amico acknowledged having worked no more than 40 hours in more than two years on Burke’s payroll.

The other no-show jobs were with the Cook County sheriff’s and clerk’s offices.

Her attorney described D’Amico as a “pawn” in a broader scheme controlled by others.

Marge Laurino’s husband, 39th Ward Committeeman Randy Barnette, stepped down in 2016.

The alderman’s brother, former State Rep. William Laurino, left the Illinois House in 1996. Her nephew, State Rep. John D’Amico, will soon be the only member of the Laurino family still holding elected office.

Laurino said she is most proud of having completed the $70 million tunnel that has already proven its worth in alleviating flooding that has plagued Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood.

“We had some unbelievable floods starting in 2008 . . . When it rained, I couldn’t sleep at night . . . It was just so fabulous to be able to complete this project.”

Emanuel said he has been “proud to partner” with Laurino, as a congressman and as mayor. But, he is “even more proud to call Marge a dear friend.”

“Her community is her priority and that passion…can be seen in the Albany Park Stormwater Tunnel, in the new annexes at Sauganash and Palmer elementary schools, in the new science labs at Von Steuben high school, in the new Albany Park and Independence libraries, on the roads, in community parks, at neighborhood businesses and so much more,” Emanuel was quoted as saying in a statement.

“Marge works her fingers to the bone, stands up for what she believes in and calls it like she sees it. In my eyes, there’s no higher praise.”