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Despite recent hirings, Emanuel has 'full confidence' in Claypool

Updated: April 20, 2014 9:16AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday defended his handpicked CTA President Forrest Claypool despite two recent CTA hirings that run contrary to Claypool’s reformer image.

Emanuel said he had no problem with Claypool’s decision to hire James D’Amico as a $95,000-a-year manager of rail maintenance or Gerald Nichols, a former top aide to longtime County Board President John Stroger, as the CTA’s general manager of legislative affairs.

Eight years ago, Nichols was at the center of a county hiring scandal that triggered an FBI search of county offices. He was suspended with pay before resigning his county job.

D’Amico quit his Cook County job a few months ago just as the county’s inspector general was accusing him of ethics violations.

“One, Forrest was a former county official. Worked with both of the gentlemen. And second, Forrest has my full confidence in the type of transparency and leadership that he has shown at the CTA to do what’s necessary so you could rebuild the Red Line top-to-bottom, rebuild the Blue Line, take the system with 4G into the 21st Century and people will now have a public transportation system — bus and train — that they can totally rely on,” Emanuel said Thursday.

What the mayor failed to mention is that Claypool spent much of his time — as a county commissioner and during failed campaigns for county board president and Cook County assessor — crusading against patronage hiring.

He derisively called it the “friends and family hiring” plan of John and Todd Stroger.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Dan Mihalopoulos reported this week that Claypool had hired D’Amico, 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.”

Then-County Board President John Stroger promised an internal investigation. Still, D’Amico rose through the ranks of county government.

Stroger’s son and successor, Todd, promoted D’Amico 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.

Emanuel’s support for the D’Amico hiring may have something to do with his own political loyalties.

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.

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