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D'Amico leaves one public job — and heads into another

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle listens as James D'Amico director facilities management for Cook County speaks during press conference

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle listens as James D'Amico, director of facilities management for Cook County, speaks during a press conference to announce significant energy savings across the county through the efforts of their ongoing partnership with ComEd. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 16, 2014 7:41AM

With Cook County’s internal investigator alleging ethical violations and calling for his head, James D’Amico quit his high-level county job a few months ago.

Although he denied accusations that he hit up underlings for campaign contributions, D’Amico all but swore off life as a public servant.

“You’re under the microscope in government,” he told the Chicago Tribune in January. “I’m glad I got my 30 years and got the hell out of there.”

He didn’t get too far. Certainly not as far as working in the private sector.

By March 10, D’Amico was back on a public payroll. He landed a senior-management job at the Chicago Transit Authority that pays him more than $95,000 a year, CTA payroll records show.

Is it any less than we should have expected for a member of one of the Northwest Side’s best-known political families?

D’Amico’s brother John is a Democratic member of the Illinois House. Aunt Margaret Laurino represents the 39th Ward on the City Council. Both his parents and a grandmother were convicted in a ghost-payrolling scheme in the 1990s. Ald. Anthony Laurino, the dynasty’s patriarch and his grandfather, died before his federal corruption trial could start.

James D’Amico himself pleaded guilty in 1996 to making threatening phone calls to a candidate who ran for state representative against the guy endorsed by his family’s organization.

D’Amico was sentenced to six months’ supervision and ordered to have no future contact with the candidate, whom he told “he was going to beat the - - - - out of.”

The County Board president at that time, John Stroger, promised an internal investigation. If anything came of that, it didn’t prevent D’Amico’s rise through the ranks of county government.

Stroger’s son and successor, Todd Stroger, promoted him to director of facilities management in 2008. D’Amico retained that post under the current president, Toni Preckwinkle, until county Inspector General Patrick Blanchard called for his removal.

In 2010 — as Todd Stroger was making a futile re-election run — D’Amico allegedly sought campaign contributions at work and directed ranking aides in the county Facilities Management Department to pressure lower-level workers to give political donations.

That didn’t factor in when CTA President Forrest Claypool decided to hire D’Amico recently, a spokeswoman for the transit agency says.

“President Claypool had worked with him at the county, knew his work ethic, knew his skill set and thought he would be a good fit,” CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase said of D’Amico on Monday.

The new gig should tide D’Amico over until he turns 50 and can start collecting his county pension.

D’Amico, 47, began working for the county as a teenager, in 1984. He did not return calls seeking comment.

Chase said he works at a CTA facility in Skokie, where he replaced someone who retired. She says she did not know whether the opening was posted publicly or if anyone else applied.

What we do know is that the CTA, as a so-called sister agency of City Hall, is controlled by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

We also know the D’Amico/Laurino clan’s Democratic ward organization was among a handful of Northwest Side political groups that collected nominating petition signatures for Emanuel’s 2011 mayoral campaign.

Should D’Amico add to the family lore by getting into trouble again in his new public-service role at the CTA, he would become Emanuel’s problem.

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