Editorial: Nicolosi poor choice

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The Winnebago County Board Republican Caucus and Chairman Scott Christiansen (R) appointed the least-qualified candidate for State’s Attorney in the person of Phil Nicolosi. He’s never prosecuted a felony. The manner in which the appointment process progressed dripped of one thing­—money.

While well-spoken and a nice man, Nicolosi became the chairman’s choice only a short time before the press conference to announce the appointment. Until that time, Chuck Prorok, with 29 years of experience in the State’s Attorney’s office, was the heir apparent to Paul Logli’s 22 years. Logli strongly recommended Prorok.

Run by Phil’s brother, Paul Nicolosi, Buckley Holdings/Buckley Partners/The Principal Group gave $31,400 in loans and contributions to Christiansen’s campaign. Of the $15,000 in loans, Christiansen’s most recent D-2 campaign disclosure report reflects an outstanding debt of $5,000 to Buckley Holdings; $300 has been repaid and $9,700 forgiven.

When this paper asked if these campaign contributions affected his decision, Christiansen replied, “No, absolutely not.”

The rejected candidates, Prorok, City of Rockford Legal Director Patrick Hayes and federal prosecutor Mark Karner, did not contribute one penny to Christiansen.

During candidate interviews, Nicolosi told the Republican Caucus that raising money would not be a problem for his campaign in 2008 if he were appointed.

Republican Caucus Chairman Rick Pollack (R-13) was appropriately nervous and pale when he almost whispered Nicolosi’s name as the caucus’ choice.

Several sources reported constant and last minute pressure came from Christiansen’s old friends Sheriff Dick Meyers (D), the Scandrolis and Gasparinis for Nicolosi.

When asked about this during Nicolosi’s press conference, Christiansen said he had a few conversations with these folks but nothing significant.

Carl and Joseph Scandroli/Scandroli Construction contributed $9,200 to Christiansen.

Citizens for Marc Gasparini contributed $8,061 to Christiansen.

If you doubt friendship, Marc Gasparini sat with Paul Nicolosi at the County Board vote that confirmed Phil Nicolosi.

If you doubt friendship further, friends do business with friends.

We’ve reported about these friendships: “Nearly a year ago, the Buckley Companies announced a planned $9 million multi-use office building on the southeast corner of Church and Chestnut across from the site of what will be the new federal courthouse. Neither project has broken ground. According to a Buckley press release, the project is to include ground-level retail, five floors of office space as well as residential units and underground parking.

“The local daily reported Dec. 1, 2005: ‘[Paul] Nicolosi said the Buckley Companies is discussing a potential tax increment finance district with the city to help fund the project. … We believe that financing will not be an issue.’

“Winnebago County records show 324 and 320 Chestnut St., and 312 S. Church St., as being owned by Church & Chestnut Development, LLC; Church & Chestnut Development F1, LLC, Member; Buckley Capital Real Estate Fund I, Limited Partnership, Member; Desert Creek Capital L.L.C. AKA Buckley Capital, LLC, General Partner; Paul Nicolosi, Member; Gino Galluzzo, Member; Gasparini Partnership, Member; Don Gasparini, Partner; John Gasparini, Partner; Church & Chestnut Development F2, L.L.C., Member; Joseph Scandroli, Member; Carl Scandroli, Member.”

Scandroli Construction may sound familiar to readers. They are part of the general contractor team in a joint venture with Bovis Lend Lease Inc. of Chicago and Ringland-Johnson Construction Co. of Cherry Valley for the new Winnebago County jail.

Yes, Nicolosi’s nomination was about who could raise the money for the 2008 elections, and the Republicans didn’t want to lose that spot they have held for 21 years­—qualifications be damned.

Nicolosi’s appointment was poor strategy on many levels, but stick with the money.

Obviously more qualified with everything in the State’s Attorney’s office than Nicolosi, Prorok could have raised significant funds if Logli backed him. Look at what Logli did for the jail tax.

Obviously more qualified in administration than Nicolosi, Hayes had strong success in several judicial campaigns and has a good relationship with state Sen. Dave Syverson (R-Rockford). He could raise money.

Known as a very hard-nosed prosecutor, Karner, with his state and federal experience, was far and away the best man for the job. Strangely, the Republicans didn’t think he learned very much about administration holding those offices. I think his avid approach to prosecution scared the Republicans­—my, he might have been a local Patrick J. Fitzgerald.

To win, Karner needed the backing of the entire Republican Party and probably would have received cross-over money because of his qualifications. The party could have risen to the occasion. On qualifications alone, he stands head and shoulders above Nicolosi and the considered Democratic challengers Barb Vella and Joe Bruscato.

Bowing to the popularity contest and dollars down the road, Christiansen stained a good record. While this paper did not endorse him and thought his administration would be a disaster, he was starting to impress. He had a good record working with the City of Rockford and other municipalities, especially concerning the ongoing efforts to bring passenger rail to the area. He’s doing good work with renewable energy at the airport’s Freedom Field.

While completely legal, the Republicans’ and Christiansen’s pursuit of money is reflective of the national Republican Party and its scandals. Yes, “All politics is local,” as Tip O’Neil said.

The herd vote of 23-3 is a black mark on every County Board member who voted for Nicolosi. They empowered the good ol’ boy network, when they had a chance to stand up and give us hope. The County Board laid down in fear.

Remember that at the next election. Great praise should be given to Paul Gorski (D-5), Pete MacKay (R-5) and George Anne Duckett (D-12) for voting against business as usual or worse in the future of the Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s Office.

In the course of an afternoon, I saw Phil Nicolosi in action as the attorney for the Village of Rockton. It was just traffic court, misdemeanors. Re-read “Strange days in court on trespassing charges” in our July 25-31 issue, and assess his competency. Maybe it was the presence of the media looking at the Whittington trespassing case. Nevertheless, throughout the afternoon, I was embarrassed for him. Other attorneys were embarrassed for him. Assistant state’s attorney’s scrambled to cover for him. The judge was angry with him. He’s a nice, well-spoken young man, but he will need a massive amount of help in his new role. I’m sure the good ol’ boys will step up.

A local media person said to me, “Rockford is the good ol’ boys, and it will never change.”

Locally and nationally, the Grand Old Party equals the Grand Ol’ Boys’ Party, and they party on at our—and ultimately their own—expense.

I hear Paul Logli might have some choice things to say at the next County Board meeting about all this. Should be interesting.

from the Aug 8-14, 2007, issue

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