A group of Democratic Party officials representing the Northwest Side and neighboring suburbs decided Tuesday to fill the vacant seat of a former state representative and member of a Chicago political dynasty with a firefighter who has served as a foot soldier to that family.
Choosing from a crowded field of candidates, seven Democratic committeepersons — and one who voted by proxy — backed Chicago firefighter Michael Kelly to serve the remainder of former state Rep. John D’Amico’s term in the Illinois House, a position the Democratic lawmaker has held since 2004.
Kelly will represent a district that includes all or parts of the Edgebrook, Sauganash and Forest Glen neighborhoods and Niles and Maine Townships.
Kelly, who has been a firefighter since 2003, said he wants to “work with all sides and try to get things in the state going forward.”
“I’m looking forward to having an open- door policy where I can talk to all the constituents and listen to everybody’s problems and see if we can work things out,” Kelly said.
Kelly has worked on previous campaigns for D’Amico, Ald. Samantha Nugent (39th) and her predecessor, Ald. Margaret Laurino, who is D’Amico’s aunt. D’Amico was not part of the process to pick his replacement, but voiced his support after the appointment.
Anthony Joel Quezada, 35th Ward Democratic committeeperson, initially voted against nominating Kelly for the seat but later joined with the other committeepersons in a show of unity in the actual vote to appoint Kelly.
Quezada had backed a rival candidate for the appointment and was concerned that Kelly had voted in two Republican primaries.
The firefighter said he voted in the GOP primary in 2010 because his union was backing Judy Baar Topinka for state comptroller and in the 2012 GOP primary as a favor to a friend of a friend, though he couldn’t recall that candidate’s name.
Despite those two instances, Kelly pledged that his voting history was 100% Democratic.
Quezada said he supported Michael Rabbitt, an affordable housing advocate and employee at Argonne National Laboratory to succeed D’Amico because Rabbitt has a “very extensive track record with progressive community organizations fighting for affordable housing, fighting for rent control.”
As for Kelly, “he voted in two Republican primaries,” Quezada said. “I just didn’t see a lot of political experience and history, and I didn’t get a lot of calls from community members supporting him. But, again, that does not necessarily speak to the full character of Mr. Kelly. I wish him the best of luck in his next chapter.”
Kelly pledged to work with Quezada and Rabbitt, despite the initial opposition.
Along with Kelly and Rabbitt, others who sought the appointment were lawyer Daniel Cotter; Vince Fattore, the chief information officer of Lexington Group; John Melaniphy III, the director of economic development for the Village of Niles; Christina Brophy, a history and humanities professor at Triton College, and Judy Kehoe, a contracting specialist and volunteer on various Democratic campaigns.
The contenders were all asked if they planned to run for the seat if they didn’t win the appointment. Other questions included their stances on reproductive rights and the worker’s rights amendment state residents will vote on next year.
Rabbitt, Cotter and Fattore didn’t commit to not running for the seat in the future.
Rabbitt has already launched a campaign for the office. Brophy and Melaniphy said they would not run, while Kehoe said she likely wouldn’t either.
D’Amico’s extended family has a long — and checkered — history in Northwest Side politics.
His parents and grandmother were convicted in the 1990s for their parts in a ghost payrolling scheme. His grandfather, longtime 39th Ward Ald. Anthony Laurino — and former dean of the City Council — died before his own corruption trial was set to begin.
D’Amico said he’s “very proud” of his family, and “to get elected for almost 60 years, the voters obviously were happy with what we were able to do for the 39th Ward and the 15th district.”
“I’m going to continue to help this political organization and make sure that we’re able to provide the services to the community,” D’Amico said.
D’Amico said he’s known Kelly “most of our lives” and he thinks he’s “going to adapt to this position very well.”
The departing lawmaker didn’t rule out a return to politics in the future but when pressed on whether that meant 2022 or 2024, D’Amico would only say “could be” and “possible.”