Alderman-Elect Anthony Napolitano’s been a tough man to reach since election day. “They only give you four weeks to find an office, staff it,” Napolitano says, apologizing for missing reporter calls, “Things have been crazy.” But the new 41st Ward alderman-to-be says his team’s found a ward office, with parking in front and back, right off Harlem and Milwaukee, 7442 N. Harlem Ave. “Everyone can get to it,” he says, audibly excited. It is part of his plans to be a more hands on, “customer service” oriented alderman than his predecessor.
Napolitano came out on top in the April 7th runoff against incumbent Ald. Mary O’Connor with about 52% of the vote. During the campaign, both said their ward had been forgotten–from infrastructure problems to increasing noise from O’Hare airport. The ward is home to many city employees–police, teachers, fire. A description that also fits Napolitano and his entire family.
A former Chicago Police officer who worked rapid response on the West Side and as a gang officer for four years in the Austin neighborhood, the Alderman-Elect left police work for the Fire Department, but now plans to serve as a full-time alderman. A lifelong resident of the 41st Ward, he says there’s two degrees of separation between every resident, “Everyone knows everyone’s business, we’re all working together or related.”
But he still considers himself an independent in, “a pretty conservative ward that has very strong Democratic values as well.” 47% of the 41st Ward voted for Governor Bruce Rauner in the November elections.
Here’s what Napolitano told Aldertrack about his upcoming term:
Top legislative priorities citywide: Napolitano says addressing the city’s pension problem is going to be a big focus for his first term in office. Between the recent CPS scandal, the budget crisis, and Gov. Rauner’s declaration that Springfield wouldn’t bail out Chicago, he told his new chief of staff they, “picked a heck of a time to run for office.” His entire family, many friends, and much of the ward are relying on those pensions, he says, “People that have worked their butts off in some pretty dangerous jobs, the last thing you want to do is leave them high and dry.”
Top local issues in the 41st Ward: Ward infrastructure, airplane noise, and a bigger police presence top Napolitano’s list of priorities. He says the ward is filled with potholes and some local parks have been neglected, with local residents often fixing things themselves. He says addressing his ward’s needs come before everything else, and airport noise has only gotten worse. “It is gonna be like running up against a brick wall, regardless if i’m the alderman or not. This is affecting my family, this is affecting my neighborhood. I plan on living here my whole life.”
Potential caucus alignment: Napolitano says he’s been approached by several caucuses, including the Progressive, but he has no intention of joining straight out of the gate. He’s living by an old City of Chicago employee saying about picking union alignment, “Get some time on the job, kid.” He tells Aldertrack, “It’s disrespectful for me to walk in and say I’m with one group. I share a lot of great views that the progressive caucus shares. I’m a hardcore labor guy. I support the unions. My entire family, a majority of my friends and a lot of my ward are in unions. I’m excited about sitting down with them, but I can’t say I’m joining a group without knowing more about them.” At the same time, he says he’s ready to work with Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “This city doesn’t want any more rubber stamps. I’m excited to work with the Mayor, but I’m excited to put my ward first and foremost.”
Ward Office/Staff: Aside from choosing his ward office location, Napolitano’s hired his Chief of Staff, former 36th Ward aldermanic candidate Chris Vittorio. He won the endorsement of the Sun Times and the Chicago Tribune, but finished in third place in the February general election (Gilbert Villegas ended up winning in the runoff). Napolitano says Vittorio is, “very good with people.” He tells Aldertrack the two ran in the same circle of friends for years, but grew closer during their campaigns.
Alderman who have reached out: “I established a terrific relationship with Ald. [Nicholas] Sposato (38). He’s a great mentor,” Napolitano says. Ald. Joe Moore (49) and Ald. Joe Moreno (1) have both reached out and invited him and his staff to shadow theirs, without trying to influence him or tell him how to do the job. “You go into this thinking everyone’s trying to get their hooks into you. It’s the opposite.”
Committee interests: Living close to O’Hare Airport, Napolitano says serving on Aviation Committee is a natural fit. He says he could bring, “a nice inside view” to the Committee on Public Safety, and as a father involved with three children in CPS schools, he’d be interested in Education as well.