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Nice guys don’t want to finish last in Northwest Side ward remap: Brown

On ElectiNight 2011 Nicholas Sposa(36th ward) leans kiss his daughter Nicole after kissing his other daughter Cristinleft Sposato.File Pho |

On Election Night in 2011, Nicholas Sposato (36th ward) leans in to kiss his daughter Nicole after kissing his other daughter, Cristina, to left of Sposato.File Photo | Dom Najolia~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 4, 2013 12:18PM



Chicago’s 50 wards come in all shapes and sizes, the boundaries of each drawn to hold 53,912 residents, plus or minus a couple thousand.

What none of those 50 wards were designed to hold is two aldermen at a time.

That’s the too-close-for-comfort state of affairs on Chicago’s Northwest Side, where Ald. Nicholas Sposato (36th) has purchased a home within the newly drawn boundaries of Ald. Tim Cullerton’s 38th Ward, with an eye toward running against him in 2015.

Although Sposato says he’s still making up his mind about whether to run in the 38th or stay in the 36th, which was redrawn last year to take away more than three-fourths of his constituents, his real estate buy has already ratcheted up tension between the pair.

Cullerton and Sposato, both in their first terms, are probably two of the more decent, just plain nice guys you will encounter on the City Council.

But this is Chicago politics, after all, and the sharp elbows come out when survival is at stake, with the long knives sure to follow.

Sposato, who never mentioned his house purchase when I interviewed him earlier this week about his school toilet paper drive, admits the situation has become awkward.

“We haven’t been too cordial toward each other lately,” Sposato said of Cullerton.

He said he tried to talk to Cullerton about the possibility of running against him but didn’t get far.

“He wasn’t too happy,” Sposato said.

Cullerton denied that Sposato has made any effort to discuss the matter, but he doesn’t dispute that he’s not pleased.

Cullerton is particularly upset with Sposato’s insistence on servicing 36th Ward constituents under the boundaries as they existed when aldermen were elected in 2011 instead of abiding by the ward remap that takes effect for the 2015 election.

By practice and tradition, nearly every other alderman switched last year to the new boundaries to start appealing to the voters they’ll have to face in the next election — a politically practical if legally dubious approach.

Cullerton said this has resulted in a couple of instances of Sposato’s office trying to take credit for work he did fixing neighborhood problems. Sposato accuses Cullerton of trying to embarrass him with a cleanup of a gas station lot that he says he had under control. That resulted in an on-site verbal confrontation between the two.

As I’ve said previously, I admire Sposato’s you-gotta-dance-with-who-brung-you stance, although I can understand how it causes problems for his colleagues when he’s going against the flow. Of course, his stance also should enhance his prospects for running in the 38th, where many of his core constituents will reside under the new map.

That includes the house he says he is rehabbing in the Schorsch Forest View subdivision near Cumberland and Lawrence, which is so suburban-like that it’s west of Norridge.

“I call it Spaghetti Heights,” said Sposato, who can get away with it.

For now, Sposato said he remains in his Galewood home and spends one day a week working on the other house. He said he plans to decide where to run by February.

Sposato, 54, and Cullerton, 64, are not natural enemies.

“I like the man,” Cullerton says of Sposato.

“He’s just a simple, decent guy,” Sposato says of Cullerton.

Asked whether he plans to seek re-election next year, Cullerton said: “I’ve got no reason not to. I love this work, and it’s been in my family’s bloodlines a long time.”

Originally a reluctant heir to the Cullerton dynasty that has held a City Council seat for most of the past century, Cullerton said he still hates electoral politics but enjoys problem-solving duties and the chance to help people.

As far as keeping 38th Ward control in his family, Cullerton says, “Nothing lasts forever. I tell you what, there’s nobody behind me that I know of.”

Cullerton sounds confident he could fend off a Sposato challenge but suggests his colleague might have a better chance of surviving in the 36th “if he works hard enough.”

Sposato thinks he’d have a good chance there, too, but isn’t sure he wants it. The new 36th gives Hispanic residents a two-thirds majority.

“It’s not my community, you know what I mean,” Sposato says. “What do I know about Grand and Pulaski?”

See, that’s what I like about Sposato, who is more of a Grand and Harlem guy.

It never occurs to him he just gave any potential 36th Ward opponent the only campaign slogan he’ll need, “Sposato: what does HE know about Grand and Pulaski?”

I’m afraid I’ve helped make his decision for him.

Email: markbrown@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkBrownCST



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