EDISON PARK — Ald. Mary O'Connor (41st) — expected by many to easily win a second term on the Chicago City Council — instead finds herself gearing up for an April 7 runoff against Chicago firefighter Anthony Napolitano.
O'Connor said she knew the election was going to be close, so it was not a shock to end up in a runoff with Napolitano.
"I know I have a good story to tell," O'Connor said. "The ward has made huge strides. I'll have to make sure that message is louder during the next five weeks."
O'Connor won 47.7 percent of the vote on Feb. 24, below the 50 percent mark she needed to eclipse to avoid a runoff. Napolitano, who was a Chicago Police officer for five years before joining the Fire Department, won 42.5 percent, according to results released March 3 the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.
Heather Cherone says O'Connor thought it would be a tight election:
Napolitano said he was working to maintain the momentum he claimed on Election Day.
"It's snowballing," Napolitano said. "All of our volunteers are excited."
Business owner Joe Lomanto, who won 9 percent of the vote, said he would remain neutral in the runoff in order to facilitate a discussion of the issues facing the ward.
Napolitano, who lives in Edison Park with his wife and three children, said his campaign was boosted by anger about the hundreds of flights every day over parts of Norwood Park, Edison Park and Edgebrook, where residents heard very little jet noise until a new east-west runway opened in 2013.
"People want to see change in this neighborhood," Napolitano said.
Napolitano also criticized O'Connor for not ensuring that the ward's trees were trimmed, snow cleared and roads repaired.
O'Connor said she understood residents' frustration with city services, but said the city's financial constraints had tied her hands.
However, O'Connor said services to 41st Ward residents had improved significantly since she took office, when she said the far northwest corner of city was an afterthought at City Hall.
"I know I've improved every service delivered in the ward," O'Connor said.
Much of O'Connor's campaign focused on her record in office, touting the $100 million invested in the ward's schools during her tenure, including three new elementary school annexes and a $17 million renovation project at Taft High School.
O'Connor said she thought voters would notice the projects underway in the ward, including school additions, sewer work and bridge repairs.
"I thought people would see it," O'Connor said. "The improvements seemed obvious to me. I'm confident I can get that message across to voters."
O'Connor, a frequent supporter of Emanuel, got almost precisely the same percentage of votes as did the mayor in a ward that many police officers, firefighters and city workers call home. The votes won by Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) and Garcia exceeded the number of votes cast for the mayor, results show.
O'Connor rejected a suggestion that the mayor's relatively poor showing hurt her bid for re-election.
"I'll work with whoever is elected, that's just who I am," O'Connor said.
Napolitano said he would remain neutral in the mayoral runoff.
"I won't be a rubber stamp for anyone," said Napolitano, who has promised he would focus on making the ward office more responsive and transparent, while improving city services.
O'Connor spent far more money than Napolitano in the first round of the election, and began the six-week period before voters return to the polls with a significant financial advantage, according to records filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections.
O'Connor reported $24,000 in contributions on Feb. 24, including $5,000 from Jack Aiello, a senior vice president at Garrett Popcorn, which has an eatery at O'Hare Airport, and $5,000 from Wally Park, which operates a remote parking lot at the airport, records show.
Napolitano, who was endorsed by the Chicago Republican Party, got $3,000 on Feb. 19 from the Illinois Opportunity Project, which is affiliated with Dan Proft, who ran for governor as a Republican, according to records filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections.
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