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D'Amico's lineage cuts both ways

Family has had clout--and scandal

By John Chase
Tribune staff reporter

March 11, 2004

Born to a family steeped in Chicago politics, John D'Amico seemed destined to run for public office.

His grandfather was Anthony Laurino, the late patron of the Northwest Side's vaunted 39th Ward Democratic Organization. His aunt is Laurino's daughter, Margaret Laurino, the ward's current alderman. And his uncle is Randy Barnette, the party's ward committeeman.

The family connections have helped D'Amico, a Chicago Department of Water Management foreman, become the apparent frontrunner over attorney Dennis Fleming in the Democratic primary for an Illinois House seat that has opened up due to redistricting.

But as D'Amico tries to make his case to voters in the 15th District, which serves parts of Chicago's Northwest Side and sections of Lincolnwood, Niles and Morton Grove, he is finding that his family's history cuts both ways.

Both of D'Amico's parents served time in federal prison in the 1990s as part of a massive city and county ghost-payroll scandal. His grandfather was indicted as part of the scandal that allowed people to collect government paychecks for little or no work, but he died before his case went to trial.

D'Amico himself is also facing questions about his oversight of a seven-member city crew suspended in January for sitting around on the job. The incident came to light as the city delved into its scandal-plagued Hired Truck Program.

He also has taken campaign contributions from trucking companies the city suspended last month for wrongdoing related to the scandal.

Fleming, 52, has begun hammering D'Amico on his family's notorious history in a series of mailings delivered to voters' homes.

"What I'm trying to do is give the people of the 15th District a choice, as opposed to voting for another member of the Laurino clan," he said.

But D'Amico seems to be leading--if the hundreds of green-and-white campaign signs peppering neighborhood lawns are any indication.

Still, questions do remain.

D'Amico's father, also named John, was sentenced to 2 years in federal prison in 1995 for concealing ghost-payrolling schemes from authorities. His mother, Marie, served 18 months for holding no-show jobs in three different government agencies over a 12-year period, all the result of the clout of her father, Anthony Laurino.

Today, the two are busy baby-sitting their three grandchildren while John D'Amico and his wife work and he campaigns, D'Amico said.

"They made a mistake and they paid the ultimate price," he said of his parents. "That's something that doesn't go on anymore and that was a serious mistake. But that's all my opponent has got to run on."

As far as criticisms that are being aimed at D'Amico himself, he said he was busy overseeing other jobs and was unaware what the crew that was suspended was doing. Though D'Amico himself was not reprimanded, he doesn't think the others should have been punished as harshly as they were.

"I didn't think they deserved that. From what their [work] sheets said, they were doing their job, but those couple of days I had a lot of things to oversee," he said. "You can't always go to every job and check everything out."

D'Amico also acknowledged accepting $1,000 in donations from Chica Trucking Inc. and $300 from Blaz Cartage Co., two Chicago firms suspended as part of the Hired Truck scandal.

He said he has already returned the Chica donation and plans to give back the one from Blaz. "I didn't ask anyone to give donations, a lot of these people are personal friends," he said. "I know them. I've gotten to know them over many years. Over the years you develop a friendship."

But Fleming doesn't call those friendships--he calls them conflicts of interest. "It just doesn't seem right," he said.

While Fleming said he isn't part of the ward machine, he doesn't pretend to be a "lakefront liberal" either. He's worked for a number of Cook County Democratic Party stalwarts, including State's Atty. Richard Devine, Sheriff Michael Sheahan and Mayor Richard Daley.

"One of the advantages I think I have is I know these people," he said. "I know them, but I'm not beholden to them. That's the difference."

But D'Amico, a graduate of Weber High School, said he's confident he will win. He said that in addition to having the backing of the ward's Democratic Party, he has lived in the 15th District his entire life.

"I know the 15th District. I've been walking and talking to people about this race since August, and people are really beginning to respond," he said.

Copyright 2004, Chicago Tribune

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