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Succession battles in 39th, 47th wards focus on crime, affordability, not drama

Voters in Chicago's 39th and 47th wards will be choosing successors to aldermen who chose not to seek reelection: Marge Laurino (left) and Ameya Pawar.

Voters in Chicago's 39th and 47th wards will be choosing successors to aldermen who chose not to seek reelection: Marge Laurino (left) and Ameya Pawar. | Sun-Times files

Two aldermen opt not seek re-election, and the decisions have nothing to do with controversy, scandal or federal investigations.

In Chicago this year, that’s news.

But nobody in the Northwest Side’s 39th Ward or North Side’s 47th Ward is complaining about the lack of drama.

In the 39th, Ald. Marge Laurino decided that 24 years in office was enough. In the 47th, Ald. Ameya Pawar is observing a self-imposed two-term limit and running for city treasurer instead.

So voters now get to choose whether to replace Laurino with an architect or a  longtime public servant and whether Pawar’s successor should be a civil rights attorney or a former policy chief for the mayor’s office.

No candidate won a majority in February, so the two wards are among 15 holding April 2 runoffs.

Battling for the 39th Ward seat are Robert Murphy, an architect and the ward’s Democratic committeeman, and Samantha Nugent, former chief of staff for the Cook County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Whoever wins will be the first person to represent the ward in over 50 years who doesn’t have the last name Laurino.

Murphy is happy that control is coming to an end.

“The family dynasty is all about taking the same money from the same people, having the same results and is all about job protection,” Murphy said.

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Former Mayor Richard M. Daley appointed Laurino after her father, Anthony Laurino, abruptly resigned in 1994. Anthony Laurino was later charged with masterminding a ghost-payroll scheme that cost taxpayers $1.5 million. But he died awaiting trial. His wife, one of his daughters, his son-in-law and stepdaughter were convicted in the payroll scheme.

Murphy has campaigned as a reformer wanting to clean up City Hall. He’s against political family dynasties, wants term limits for committee chairs and wants investment directly in neighborhoods instead of the city’s broader economic engines.

“This is a ‘change’ election, and I am the ‘change’ candidate,” Murphy said. “I’m the only candidate that has a track record for both serving the community and fighting for reform.”

Nugent has centered her campaign on public safety concerns because of “an uptick in crime.” She acknowledges that the ward — which includes North Park, Forest Glen and Albany Park — doesn’t have as much crime as “other parts of the city” but says they are at “tipping point.”

39th Ward aldermanic candidate Samantha "Sam" Nugent. File Photo.| Rich Hein/Sun-Times

39th Ward aldermanic candidate Samantha “Sam” Nugent. | Rich Hein / Sun-Times

Crime in the ward has dropped by 11 percent between 2013 and 2018, according to city data.

Nugent is pushing for more preventive policing policies that encourage more street patrols. And she wants more officers at places of worship for community engagement.

Murphy said Nugent is “fearmongering.”

“Crime is an issue because of unemployment and lack of opportunity,” Murphy said.

He wants to shift City Hall’s focus on downtown development to invest more in neighborhood businesses and education, saying that’s the best way to reduce crime.

In the 47th Ward, which includes parts of Uptown, Lakeview and North Center, voters will be choosing between Matt Martin, a civil rights attorney for the state of Illinois, and Michael Negron, former policy director for Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Martin won 39 percent of the vote Feb. 26, and Negron got 21 percent.

47th Ward aldermanic candidate Matt Martin. File Photo. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

47th Ward aldermanic candidate Matt Martin. | Rich Hein / Sun-Times

Martin is focusing on identifying alternative ways to deal with the ward’s housing affordability concerns. He wants to scale back property taxes and introduce a city income tax. He is also pushing to require that new developments with 10 units or more in the ward have 25 percent of their units set aside as affordable housing.

“Also, thinking creatively about using vouchers in a targeted way,” Martin said. “It might be $1,000 to $2,000 a year that are provided to an individual or family who’ve seen their income stagnant but their rent has gone up significantly, so they can continue to stay here in the neighborhood.”

Negron said he thinks these “bold” plans won’t come to fruition. He said he opposes instituting a city income tax and said the next alderman should support Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s graduated income-tax plan.

47th Ward aldermanic candidate Michael Negron. File Photo.| Rich Hein/Sun-Times

47th Ward aldermanic candidate Michael Negron. | Rich Hein / Sun-Times

Negron, who worked on the city’s 2015 “Affordable Requirements Ordinance,” said Martin’s proposal to require setting aside 25 percent of developments as affordable units won’t work.

He said he is focusing on policies that can be passed and have an immediate impact. He wants to do away with the city’s ban on “granny flats” and coach houses and to do more to preserve two- and three-flat buildings.

“Small wins are more important right out the gate than worrying about these bigger projects,” Negron said.

Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South Side and West Side.