Street gangs, racial discord, gropes and gas — all standard Cicero campaign fare
BY BECKY SCHLIKERMAN Staff Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org February 23, 2013 1:18AM
Cicero Town President Larry Dominick leaves the board room after testifying. The Cicero election board holds a hearing to determine if Dominick should be removed from the ballot after allegations about a no-bid, no contract million-dollar town job. Friday, January 11, 2013. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times
Updated: March 25, 2013 6:39AM
One candidate is accused of having ties to a street gang.
Another is accused of sowing racial discord by hiring black campaign workers to hand out a rival’s literature.
And a woman who claims the incumbent groped her and then farted is running in a slate against him.
Welcome to Election Day in Cicero — where politics have rarely climbed out of the gutter since the days of Al Capone.
“There’s a lot of fear and intimidation that has existed for way too long,” said Juan Ochoa, the latest in a long line of politicians promising to clean up Cicero’s town hall.
“I’d like to be able to invite the [U.S.] Justice Department when I first arrive,” Ochoa says of his campaign to oust Town President Larry Dominick on Tuesday. “I want them to know because I want to know.”
Such promises are nothing new. In 2005, it was Dominick’s supporters who vowed he’d call in the feds.
“The first thing Larry is going to do is open the windows and let the sunshine in,” former Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica said at the time. “Dominick is inviting the FBI in to audit the books and let the indictments roll.”
Eight years later, the indictments have yet to roll — but Dominick himself has been secretly recorded by the FBI. And the town is as mired in scandal as ever. There are the questionable deals between the town and Dominick’s pals, the appointment of many his relatives and friends, and among multiple lawsuits, claims of sexual harassment against Dominick himself.
In a dirty race, Dominick’s campaign has tried to tout his crime fighting efforts while linking Ochoa to the Latin Kings street gang.
But Ochoa denies the charge, and the most up-to-date Illinois State Police data shows little change in Cicero’s crime rate since Dominick took office.
Dominick, through a spokesman, declined to speak with the Sun-Times saying he didn’t think the newspaper could be fair. But in a statement, Dominick said, “I am proud of the results of the hard work of the Cicero Police to reduce street gang related crime in Cicero. The number of street gang related shootings which were in double digits before I came to office, today is in single digits. My hope is one day we will not have any street gang related killings.”
Dominick, whose town is 87 percent Latino, has also been accused of using racist slurs and of hiring black workers to pose as his opponents’ supporters — a charge he and his campaign deny.
He’s tried to make inroads into the Latino community by offering help to residents seeking citizenship, and in 2011, published a bilingual coloring book that featured a slimmed down cartoon version of the plus-sized town president.
Ochoa, who was once appointed to run McPier by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich but now runs his own public relations firm, was born in Mexico and brought to the U.S. as an undocumented child. He moved to Cicero a year ago and said if he is elected, Latinos will “have someone that will actually represent them.” Ochoa is backed by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-4th).
Sharon Starzyk, who sued Dominick for sexual harassment and has said in court depositions he groped her then passed gas, is running for town collector on Ochoa’s slate.
Also taking on Dominick is Joe Pontarelli, a lifelong Cicero resident who worked for the town for 30 years. He claims he was forced out of his job as head of senior services when he decided to run against his boss, a claim the town spokesman said is not true.
“Our town is a good town, there’s a lot of good people here,” Pontarelli said. But, he said “The town is going in the wrong direction. We need reform.”