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Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2007 03:15 pm

Running with scissors

Mario Ingoglia says he’s ready to cut the funny business at city hall

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Untitled Document Wearing a thick black leather wristband and faded black T-shirt, Mario Ingoglia lounges in a swiveling office chair, most of his weight on one armrest. Seated across from him on the set of Metro Variety, Ingoglia’s cable Access 4 show, is George Bastin, a candidate for the Springfield City Council. Bastin is dressed in a dark suit and maroon tie. “You’re a sharp-dressed man,” quips Ingoglia, a tailor whose own fashion sense is more Johnny Cash than Giorgio Armani. Ingoglia is what might best be described as a throwback, a holdover from a time when real men drove real cars made of metal, and he periodically slips in the dialect of the 1960s and ’70s, punctuating his sentences with “man” and “brother.”
Even Ingoglia’s shop — Metro Tailoring & Alterations, located in the city’s Vinegar Hill neighborhood — appears to be a shrine to decades gone by. Few spaces remain unoccupied by collectibles, and the walls are filled with photographs. A black-and-white portrait of President John F. Kennedy hangs on one wall, a nighttime shot of the now-fallen World Trade Center on another. As a resident of the ward that Bastin sought to represent on the City Council, Ingoglia shares many of his concerns, including the need to step up police patrols, stop fly-dumping, hold taxes in check, fix neighborhood sidewalks, and repave streets. At no point during the half-hour interview does Ingoglia bring up his own write-in bid for mayor. But as a small-business owner, living in the heart of the city, Ingoglia believes that he is more in touch with Springfield’s working men and women than either Mayor Tim Davlin or Ward 10 Ald. Bruce Strom, frontrunners in the race.
In December, Ingoglia filed 465 signatures to be placed on the ballot for the consolidated primary election, but his application was tossed the next month when it was determined — first by the municipal elections board, then by a Sangamon County judge — that he had committed a fatal error in not indicating on his nominating petitions which office he was seeking.
But, as a leather specialist, the 48-year-old Ingoglia knows a thing or two about toughness — and he’s refusing to go away quietly.
Ingoglia, a first-time candidate, says his political inexperience is partially to blame for his failure to get on the ballot but figures he may have been a marked man because of his adamant stance on a controversial issue. From the moment he announced his candidacy, Ingoglia has vowed to relax Springfield’s indoor-smoking ban, which went into effect in September and was cited as the reason several local bars have gone out of business since the start of the year. After Ingoglia was thrown off the ballot, his backers assured him that they would be there for him if he ran as a write-in candidate, but whether ban opponents will keep their promises and support Ingoglia or they’re just blowing smoke remains to be seen. Ingoglia decided to toss his hat into the ring when it became apparent to him that Strom, a three-term alderman who is term-limited on the City Council, would face off against incumbent Davlin. He found both choices “lacking,” he says. “They’re both very similar styles of politicians — they both favor very similar causes, although one’s a Democrat and one’s a Republican,” he says. “I thought I could inject more of a working man’s perspective in the mayor’s race.”
Ingoglia, also a Republican, believes that had he remained on the ballot, he would have had enough support to knock Strom, the chief architect of the comprehensive indoor-smoking ban, out of Tuesday’s primary election, forcing a contest between himself and Davlin for the city’s top job. Still, Ingoglia understands that challenging Strom and Davlin, who are backed by the local Republican and Democratic parties, respectively, won’t be easy. Although Strom may be at a 10-to-1 cash disadvantage to Davlin, Ingoglia won’t be able to afford yard signs until after his first fundraiser, this week, but at the very least Ingoglia is to the local mayor’s race what Green Party candidate Rich Whitney was to last fall’s Illinois gubernatorial contest. He’s an alternative. Born in Castel Vetrano, Sicily, Ingoglia moved with his family to central Illinois in 1972 after living in New York City for a brief period. The Ingoglias wound up in quieter Jacksonville, Ill., which his father, Antonio, also a tailor, said reminded him of their homeland. Held back one year because he spoke no English, Ingoglia graduated from Jacksonville High School in 1977 and then spent two-and-a-half years at Southern Illinois University–Carbondale, studying criminal justice in the hope of becoming a corrections officer.
In 1980 he moved to Southern California, where he worked for such retailers as Nordstrom, Lord & Taylor, and Saks Fifth Avenue. There, he says, is where he was taught the philosophy that the customer is always right, and he is ready to adopt a modified version — replace “customer” with “citizen” — as the mantra of his administration should he be elected mayor of Springfield. Ingoglia, who is single, returned to Springfield in 1991 and opened his shop that same year. “I’m one chromosome from being the perfect man,” he jokes. “I can sew, but I can’t cook.”
Part of the reason he decided to run was the sight of his fellow small-business owners, restaurant and tavern owners, suffering as a result of the smoking ban. A nonsmoker (the cigar he flourishes is just for show), Ingoglia agrees that a statewide smoking ban is inevitable. In fact, an Illinois House committee passed one such measure just last week. But even if the Legislature passes a no-smoking law, it won’t go into effect right away, Ingoglia says, and he would like to give local establishments some relief in the meantime. Ingoglia supports issuing smoking licenses to bars — restaurants would be excluded — that restrict entrance to people over the age of 21. A similar effort, led by Ward 3 Ald. Frank Kunz, who owns a heating-and-cooling business, to amend the ordinance to permit smoking in establishments that promise to keep out folks under the age of 18, failed to gain the support of fellow aldermen. Even Strom, who championed the ban, acknowledged in an interview with Illinois Times last month that the smoking ban may be in jeopardy, depending on the composition of the next City Council. Ingoglia suspects that it was his opposition to the smoking ban that caused his petitions to be scrutinized so closely. In January, the municipal elections board, comprising Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin, City Clerk Cecilia Tumulty, Ward 4 Ald. Chuck Redpath, and Ward 2 Ald. Frank McNeil, who served as an alternate on the panel, took Ingoglia’s name off the Feb. 27 primary ballot.
Afterwards, he filed a “Declaration of Intent to be a Write-in Candidate” form with the Sangamon County clerk. Only candidates who file this form will have their votes tabulated. Anyone wanting to run as write-in candidate may file this declaration up until 5 p.m. on the Tuesday immediately preceding the election. Ingoglia believes that the objection to his petitions, filed by Carly Caminiti, a local anti-tobacco activist, was lodged on behalf of the American Lung Association, a key player in the push to turn Springfield smoke-free. Kathy Drea, the public-policy director for the lung association’s Illinois chapter, calls Ingoglia’s accusation that her group initiated the objection by proxy untrue. “I was fighting for the small guy in this regard,” Ingoglia says. “Unfortunately, if the ban starts in ’08 statewide, then a guy’s out money and business for almost two years.”
With his smoking stance, he says he is representing the middle class and supporting veterans who view the ban as having their rights taken away. “They fought a world war for us, and they cannot smoke freely in their private associations? Who’s to say to a gentleman who fought in World War II, and now is in the last leg of his life, [that he ] can no longer smoke in his own private club?” he asks. “But I don’t want to spend all day talking about that — that’s a dead horse.”

Once the smoking issue has dissipated, Ingoglia would make public safety a priority.
“Public safety occurs simply by observing the neighborhood,” he says, pointing out the Enos Park Neighborhood Association as an example of a proactive community-watchdog group. At the same time, he acknowledges that the Springfield Police Department needs to dedicate more detectives to solving unsolved murders. “They’re under fire right now because they have own their version of the good-ol’-boy network, but I didn’t appreciate what Bruce Strom said about Don Kliment,” Ingoglia says. (Strom has said that he would likely replace Kliment, the current police chief, should he become the next mayor.) “[Kliment’s] had a lot of obstacles thrown at him,” Ingoglia says. “They need to work with other agencies, whether it be the sheriff’s department or the U.S. marshal, because there are a lot of people caught doing local crimes that are already in those systems.”
Ingoglia is also “totally against” the idea of a combining the SPD with the Sangamon County Sheriff’s Office, and he was opposed to the merger of the county and city health departments.
Other issues he cites include building a firehouse in the city’s southwest corner, demolishing vacant homes, and holding absentee landlords accountable for the upkeep of their property.
In addition, Ingoglia has worked with the city’s homeless, an experience he calls eye-opening. He says that the city should take the lead in coordinating with social-service agencies to provide homeless individuals counseling and job-training services. As mayor, he says, he wouldn’t remove the homeless people sleeping outside the Lincoln Library. “They consider themselves a family,” he says. “I wouldn’t try to break that up.”

One group Ingoglia would love to have in his corner are the proprietors of bars and taverns. However, Steve Riedl, executive director of the Illinois Licensed Beverage Association, the trade group for many of the area’s watering holes and eateries and the organization opposing the ban most fervently, says that his group will be endorsing Davlin. “Mr. Ingoglia is a nice man,” Riedl says. “We deeply appreciate his position on this issue. However, one has to be realistic in these situations.”
Ingoglia is realistic about his chances and says he just plans to have fun with his campaign. For example, the yard signs he’s ordered — with the “i” in “Mario” replaced with a cigarette — will end up being collectors’ items, he says. He’s also planning to enter several classic automobiles he owns, among them a 1959 Cadillac coupe and a 1960 Nash Metropolitan sedan, as floats in this year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. Ingoglia is worried about one thing, however. Because he’s a write-in candidate, voters are going to have to make an attempt to spell his surname (pronounced in-GO-lee-uh). According to Sangamon County Clerk Joe Aiello, election judges are empowered by the courts to interpret the intent of the voter — which, he admits, could lead to problems. “Obviously if they put ‘Mario Smith,’ we’re not going to give it to him,” Aiello says. “If somebody just put ‘Mario’ down, then that’s a stretch and that becomes more subjective. I would recommend that the judges not count it toward him even though he might be the only Mario.”
The candidate’s solution: wristbands imprinted with Ingoglia’s full name that supporters can take into voting booths — which, he believes, could also become collectors’ items.

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com.
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