Cicero’s Dominick coasts to re-election in first-round triumph

The town president wins third term, tells vanquished Latino challenger: ‘Go scratch your ass’

February 26, 2013

Despite allegations of corruption and nepotism, Cicero Town President Larry Dominick nearly doubled the vote total of his strongest rival Tuesday and won a third four-year term.

With all precincts reporting, Dominick had 60.0 percent of the vote in the western suburb’s nonpartisan primary — more than the simple majority he needed to avert a runoff.

The campaign of Juan Ochoa, the race’s only Latino, was counting on heavy support from Hispanics, who constitute most of Cicero’s population. But Ochoa won just 30.5 percent of the vote. Joe Pontarelli, a former Cicero senior services director, trailed with 9.5 percent.

Dominick supporters, celebrating at an Italian banquet hall, said his victory margin proved that town residents are satisfied with his economic-development efforts and crime-fighting tactics.

But Ochoa blamed the results on “apathy” among fellow Mexican-Americans and said they lack “a belief in the democratic process,” having endured too much corruption south of the border.

“So when they come here, when we come here, some of us tend to believe that all politicians are the same and that, no matter who you elect, it’s all the same,” Ochoa said.

Told of that analysis, Dominick did not seem to agree. “Tell Juan Ochoa [to] go scratch his ass and move back to Berwyn, where he belongs,” the town president said. “Tell him that’s not a good thing to say about our people of Cicero.”

Dominick, 64, told WBEZ he hopes to keep the president’s post for “the rest of my life.”

On the way to his reelection, Dominick weathered a series of unflattering news reports and lawsuit filings. The Chicago Sun-Times linked a close Dominick ally who heads a local school board to a wholesale cocaine dealer and a motorcycle-gang leader with mob ties.

Another report by the newspaper revealed that the town had spent more than $3 million at a small hardware store in Berwyn, a suburb west of Cicero, while the shop’s owners contributed cash and in-kind support worth tens of thousands of dollars to Dominick’s campaign fund.

A series of sexual harassment and whistleblower suits, meanwhile, named Dominick as a defendant. Newspapers spotted dozens of Dominick relatives and family friends on the Cicero payroll. And WBEZ focused on town employees doubling as members of Dominick’s reelection campaign.

Ochoa blasted Dominick on those issues but had some baggage of his own. In 2007, Ochoa accepted an appointment by Gov. Rod Blagojevich to head the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, better known as McPier. He served three years in that post before Blagojevich went to prison on a federal corruption conviction.

During his Cicero campaign, Ochoa denied that politics influenced his McPier contracting and personnel decisions and insisted he ran a clean ship.

But Dominick kept reminding voters about his challenger’s tie to the disgraced former governor.

Dominick also accused Ochoa of recruiting Chicago gang members for his campaign. That charge, the topic of a mobile Dominick billboard and campaign mailings, proved to be at least partially untrue. One of the alleged gang members, for example, is a 51-year-old town resident who has worked for years within Ceasefire, an anti-violence group backed by the city of Chicago.

Among many extraordinary moments in the campaign, a Cook County judge in December ruled that the Cicero Election Board’s three members — Dominick and two other town officials seeking reelection on his slate — all had potential conflicts of interest. The judge replaced them with election-law experts from outside Cicero.

The reconstituted board considered objections to Dominick’s candidacy. Ochoa and another Dominick foe claimed that the incumbent shared ownership in a plumbing business that failed to pay town license fees and that he failed to pay permit fees for some garage construction at his home.

The board left Dominick on the ballot because, in part, the town never went after him over the business fees and never decided the garage work required a permit.

In January, a candidate on Ochoa’s slate blamed politics for a violent attack. Sharon Starzyk, who ran for town collector after filing one of the sexual harassment claims, suffered a head gash as she campaigned door-to-door, she said.

The campaign also included accusations of fraud and voter intimidation. The claims led Cook County Clerk David Orr’s office to request investigation by county and federal authorities. Orr also warned Dominick about “illegal campaigning” near an early-voting location and threatened to close that site.

Two weekends before the election, the Ochoa campaign videotaped uniformed town employees canvassing voters door-to-door. The Ochoa team called the canvass an effort to suppress the Latino vote.

The Dominick campaign disputed that characterization and tried to shift the focus to Orr, accusing the clerk’s office of failing to investigate town claims that mail-in ballot applications had come from vacant homes and properties.

Orr’s office said all the applications had come from registered voters and had passed a signature-veracity test.

Throughout the campaign’s final months, Dominick remained largely outside public view. On Saturday, just hours before a planned news conference to address “false charges” against him, Dominick’s team cancelled the event due to “scheduling conflicts.”

After the polls closed Tuesday night, Orr’s office reported a Cicero turnout of less than 33 percent, down from 38 percent in 2009, when Dominick won his second term.

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