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As gay marriage vote looms, ‘undecided’ Rep. John D’Amico not swayed by recent poll

John D'Amico | Sun-Times Medifiles

John D'Amico | Sun-Times Media files

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Updated: November 18, 2013 7:55AM

As the only Democratic state representative on the North Side of Chicago who hasn’t signaled support for legalizing gay marriage, Rep. John D’Amico is drawing lots of attention in advance of next week’s veto session in Springfield.

Although supporters of the measure have regarded D’Amico as a likely opponent because he previously voted against civil unions for same-sex couples, he insists he hasn’t made up his mind.

“I’m undecided right now. I’m not a ‘no,’” D’Amico told me by phone this week.

“I’m just trying to reflect the district the best way I can,” he said of his 15th Illinois House District, which includes his home base in the far northwest corner of the city plus parts of Glenview, Lincolnwood, Skokie, Morton Grove and Niles.

D’Amico, 51, said he is being lobbied hard by both sides in anticipation of a possible vote that is expected to be close.

“It’s a very tough issue. Let’s put it that way,” D’Amico said when asked whether he’s feeling pressured.

Then this should help make it easier for him.

A new poll commissioned by Illinois Unites for Marriage Equality indicates D’Amico’s constituents — at least those likely to vote in a Democratic primary — strongly support legalizing same-sex marriage with 66 percent in favor compared to only 24 percent against.

The poll of 351 likely Democratic voters, conducted by Lisle-based Fako & Associates, has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

You always have to consider the source with any poll, although D’Amico conceded this one appears legitimate.

Still, D’Amico did not sound persuaded by the results, especially with the poll’s concentration on Democratic voters.

D’Amico said he’s “got a whole district to represent,” not just those who take a Democratic ballot.

“I’ve seen a lot of numbers thrown at me,” he said. “I’m trying to feel it out for myself.”

D’Amico said he expects to rely more on “my own unscientific poll, talking to people.”

The flip side of D’Amico’s argument is that in a heavily-Democratic district like his it’s the primary where he is at greatest risk of facing a serious challenge.

D’Amico, who took office in 2004, is the heir to the Laurino political dynasty in the 39th Ward. His grandfather, the late-Anthony Laurino, was the alderman, later replaced by D’Amico’s aunt, Marge Laurino.

It’s regarded as a heavily Catholic area and more conservative than other parts of the North Side.

The poll has an answer for that, too, finding that 64 percent of Catholics in D’Amico’s district support same-sex marriage compared to 61 percent of Protestants.

That squares with previous national polling data which has shown that Catholic Americans actually support marriage equality in greater numbers than the rest of the population—in spite of the official position of the Catholic Church and the sometimes harsh opposition from its leaders.

As a Catholic himself, D’Amico acknowledged that his religious beliefs are a factor in his thinking, although not as important as reflecting the views of his district.

D’Amico is a longtime city Water Department employee, which raises the question of whether Mayor Rahm Emanuel could have some influence there.

I mean, what’s the point of having state legislators on the city payroll if you can’t put the squeeze on them in a pinch?

D’Amico allowed that the mayor has indeed lobbied him on behalf of the bill but that it’s been “a while ago.”

Might it be time for D’Amico to hear from Emanuel again?

“As it gets closer, I’m sure I will,” D’Amico said.

D’Amico isn’t the only North Sider who isn’t expected to be on board for gay marriage, just the only Democrat.

Rep. Michael McAuliffe, a Republican who previously opposed civil unions, is also regarded as a probable “no” vote by supporters of the bill. McAuliffe did not return my call Wednesday.

Both sides in the gay marriage debate are planning a show of force in Springfield next week with supporters of the bill scheduling a major rally for Tuesday and the opponents hitting town Wednesday.

Rep. Greg Harris, the Chicago Democrat who is sponsoring the measure in the House, has not indicated if he will seek a vote during the veto session, but there is expected to be pressure on him to do so by other supporters who are determined to see where every legislator stands.

Chai Wolfman, a Sauganash Park resident who went to see D’Amico with her partner Mandi Hinkley and their three-year-old twin daughters to make the case for same-sex marriage, said the legislator told them the decision was “weighing on him.”

More heavily by the day, I would expect.


Twitter: @MarkBrownCST

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