CHICAGO - Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara is demanding that three of his union’s strongest City Council supporters choose between their loyalties to his group and their allegiance to the firefighters union.
At a stormy meeting last week, Catanzara insisted that the three council members, all former firefighters — Nick Sposato (38th), Anthony Napolitano (41st) and Jim Gardiner (45th) — pledge their support to Erin Jones, a Chicago Police Department detective challenging incumbent state Sen. Rob Martwick (D-Chicago).
Martwick is a favorite of the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2, having championed a costly firefighter pension sweetener over Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s strenuous objections.
But Catanzara said his members want Martwick gone for having helped the Black Caucus push what Catanzara called a "ridiculously left-wing, radical Democrat" criminal justice reform bill through the General Assembly.
The purpose of last week’s meeting in Sposato’s Northwest Side office was to introduce Jones to the three alderpersons and convince them to defy Local 2 by backing her over Martwick.
But the meeting turned ugly when Catanzara threatened to run FOP-backed challengers against the three police union supporters if they didn’t back Jones.
"Our members want Martwick’s head on a platter. … He has to go. And you either are for our member or you are for Bob Martwick, who helped champion that bill. There is no middle ground. And if you do support Bob Martwick, there will be retribution in the elections next year. You’re just going to have to answer for that support," Catanzara said in a You-Tube message to his members posted Tuesday night.
"It erupted from there," Catanzara continued in his description of the meeting. "Alderman Gardiner walked out of the building and left, which I thought was rather childish. Alderman Sposato sat there and had a conversation, even though he didn’t like what was being said. And Alderman Napolitano started screaming that I was threatening him."
Catanzara said his remarks were "never a threat." He was simply explaining "where our membership is at."
"You either back the police or you don’t. And when it’s hard, we expect you to do it. You don’t get to do it and say it, only when it’s easy. You have to do it when it’s hard. This is the opportunity to do it when it’s hard," Catanzara said.
"Going against your local as a sitting alderman — whether you’re in that local or not — is not my concern. It might be theirs. But our members want Martwick gone. They cannot have it both ways."
Napolitano said the "old-school" values he learned from "three generations of police officers and city workers" in his family dictates that, what was said "between sisters and brothers in that room" should remain confidential.
But, Napolitano said Wednesday, "in my entire life, I have never let anybody talk s–t to me without me standing up for myself, my constituents and everybody I know. I’m just not the guy that you’re gonna come and threaten. It’s not gonna ever happen. People didn’t elect me to back down from anybody."
Sposato pulled no punches in describing what happened behind closed doors.
"I’m a police supporter. Probably the biggest police supporter. … He came in here like a badass, started threatening us. I got in an argument with him. It got to be a loud, heated debate. And I threw him out of my office," Sposato said.
"I’m very disappointed in him. I considered him a friend. But obviously, he doesn’t consider me a friend. So I guess we’re not friends."
As for Catanzara’s threat to take him out in 2023?
"Bring it on. I just want to know who this person is that you’re gonna find in my ward — this police officer who says, ‘Yeah. I’m gonna run against Nick Sposato.’ I’m not worried about it. It’s a threat that he can’t back up."
Sposato scoffed at Catanzara’s demand that all three former firefighters pick sides between the FOP and Local 2.
"I don’t believe I would have been an alderman, I don’t believe Anthony would have been an alderman, and I don’t believe Jim would have been an alderman without the support of Local 2. Therefore, that’s the union we’re most loyal to," Sposato said.
"Not only is it Local 2. Every union around supports Martwick. The only union that doesn’t support him is the FOP. He has a 100 percent labor record."
Martwick said he supported the police reform bill, but only after he worked closely with Catanzara to champion "keeping the most important protections for police officers in place," including collective bargaining rights and qualified immunity.
What about Catanzara’s threat to recruit and back challengers against the three alderpersons?
"It certainly doesn’t come as a surprise to me. He is now threatening, probably police officers’ most ardent supporter in the General Assembly," Martwick said.