clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Mihalopoulos: CPS chief Claypool turns to political hack for help

James D'Amico, a Chicago Transit Authority executive, has been loaned to Chicago Public Schools. | Sun-Times file photo

Follow @dmihalopoulos

What could be the second teachers’ strike in four years is looming.

The Chicago Public Schools already are many billions of dollars short of what they need.

And Springfield is ignoring the desperate cries from CPS CEO Forrest Claypool and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Never fear. Claypool has called in a favor from an old pal from one of his many previous stops in local government.

CPS officials confirmed Tuesday they are getting help from James D’Amico — a Chicago Transit Authority executive with a scandal-pocked past and deep-rooted clout.

An anonymous tipster thought I might be interested in D’Amico’s recent appearances at the school district because I wrote about him a couple of years ago.


Follow @dmihalopoulos

At the time, D’Amico had gotten into trouble in his job at Cook County. Claypool, then Emanuel’s main guy at CTA, found a cushy landing spot for D’Amico in March 2014.

There was no mention of a college degree on D’Amico’s resume. What a background search would show, however, is a guilty plea.

In 1996, D’Amico was sentenced to six months court supervision after threatening to “beat the s— out of” a political rival of his well-connected Northwest Side clan.

D’Amico comes to public service from the 39th Ward Democrats, who were early and important supporters of Emanuel’s 2011 mayoral bid.

D’Amico’s brother John is a Democratic state representative. His aunt Marge Laurino is the 39th Ward alderman.

Both his parents and a grandmother were convicted in a ghost-payrolling scheme in the 1990s. Ald. Anthony Laurino, his grandfather, died before his federal corruption trial could start.

Despite his own criminal record, James D’Amico somehow kept his job in county government for many years.

He might be there still if it not for county Inspector General Patrick Blanchard’s push for his removal. Blanchard alleged that D’Amico sought campaign contributions at work and directed aides in county government to pressure lower-level workers to make political donations.

Rather than fight the charges, D’Amico retired from the county and soon decided to join Claypool at the CTA. Claypool became Emanuel’s schools’ chief last summer, after a brief stop in the mayor’s office.

Again, in his new post, Claypool has called on D’Amico.

“Mr. D’Amico is on loan to the district from the CTA on a short-term, part-time basis to help with a comprehensive review of its facilities and maintenance needs,” CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in a statement.

CPS and CTA officials said D’Amico started working for the district in early December, and the loan arrangement will end on Jan. 16. They added the school district is not paying D’Amico under the six-week loan arrangement.

“He continues to be paid his full salary by us,” CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase said. “He is meeting all of his CTA obligations and responsibilities. Some of his time is devoted to CPS.”

D’Amico took a big pay cut from his $133,000-a-year county job when he accepted a $95,000 annual salary for a “senior manager” post at the CTA in 2014.

He didn’t suffer long, though. Since landing at the CTA, D’Amico has been promoted and his pay skyrocketed.

D’Amico currently is the CTA’s vice president for facilities maintenance with an annual salary of $149,445.42, according to the transit agency’s website.

It shouldn’t matter to Chicago taxpayers whether D’Amico’s pay is coming from the CTA or CPS. Either way, it’s taxpayer money.

At a time when public finances are tighter than ever, Claypool could explain why the schools need a convicted political hack to work for them on the taxpayers’ dime.

Tweets by @dmihalopoulos