Raineri goes to bat for Columbus, Balbo

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Raineri (second from right) rubs elbows at the Columbus Day Parade.

A longtime government official turned political consultant, Enza Raineri helped save three cherished icons from the trash heap of history by adhering to her crisis management playbook.

What’s an ethnic group to do when its icons are under assault?

There’s the traditional approach, which relies heavily on anger-fueled protest marches. Then there’s the Enza Raineri way.

If you were to codify the crisis management playbook of this longtime government official turned political consultant, it would read something like this:

  • Get your facts in order: Be prepared to let them know exactly where you’re coming from and why this issue is so important to you.
  • Leave your anger at the door: No one responds well to bullying. Treat your opponents with dignity and respect.
  • Tailor your approach: Get to know each opponent individually, and craft a strategy that meets them where they are.
  • Speak with one voice: Don’t muddy the waters with different people coming at the same issue from different directions.
  • Cultivate and leverage connections: A phone call to the right person at the right moment is worth a thousand angry emails.
  • Build coalitions: Elected officials count votes. The more of them you have in your corner, the more likely it is you’ll be heard.

“Press releases and press conferences play an important role, as long as they’re coordinated and respectful,” says Raineri, who served as president of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans from 2017-19. “But the most effective work often takes place behind the scenes.”

Raineri brought her A game to the negotiating table when the Cook County board seemed bent on changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day in 2020. Initially, it looked like the vote would go 14-3 in favor of the change, so JCCIA President Ron Onesti reached out to Raineri for help.

“Enza has 30 years of experience working in county government and a lot of contacts, and she understands how the wheels of government turn,” Onesti says. “She was extremely generous with her time and advice, worked through her contacts to set up meetings with every single commissioner and handled herself with the utmost professionalism in every meeting.

“She wasn’t just familiar with the elected officials; she was very aware of their political backgrounds, their positions,” Onesti adds. “We strategized before every call over the exact approach to take. We found that many of them hadn’t been spoken to like this before, and they really appreciated it.”

According to Raineri, the credit goes both ways. “Ron and I are on the same page when it comes to approaching these types of problems. He was able to attain a new sense of respect for our community with his informed, positive and passionate approach.”

Raineri also credits then-County commissioners Larry Suffredin and Peter Silvestri with invaluable assistance during strategy sessions, and she lavishes praise on the county board’s African American delegation, with whom they cultivated crucial alliances. “God bless them all,” Raineri says. “They understood that what happened to us could happen to anybody else.”

In the end, the board voted 14-3 in favor of retaining Columbus Day. And that wasn’t the only time Raineri helped snatch a cherished icon from the trash heap of history.

“I went to work one day in 2017, and I see on the front page of the Sun-Times that (then-Park District Board Chairman) Ed Burke was calling for the removal of the Balbo monument,” Raineri reports.

As the president of the JCCIA at the time, Raineri was bombarded with demands to organize a protest, but she had other plans. Knowing that Burke and other high-ranking park district officials would be at an upcoming event honoring Burke’s wife, she put in an appearance.

“I went up to (then-Park District President) Mike Kelly and struck up a conversation with him about the monument, explaining our concerns,” she says. “Lo and behold, Ed Burke appears over my left shoulder and says, ‘Are we talking about monuments?’ and I said, ‘Yes, sir, we are.’ He said ‘Do X, Y and Z.’ I did it, and the monument is still standing without any further issue because of that two-minute conversation.”

Not long afterward, when then-Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanual signaled his intention to change the name of Balbo Drive, Rianeri brought the event to the public official. “I hosted a St. Joseph Table at the mayor’s office, and I invited key people that he would recognize: Michael Cabonargi, who was vice chairman of the state Democratic Party at the time; Joe Gagliardo, who was the former corporation counsel for the city of Chicago; and others,” she reveals. “He took one look around the room and thought, ‘Oh, you’re a part of this group.’ He was asked about Balbo Drive two weeks later, and he said it was a dead issue.”

Raineri’s passion for her Italian heritage was cultivated during a childhood spent in, of all places, Albany Park.

“My parents were born in Sicily, and I didn’t speak English until I started kindergarten,” Raineri reveals. “We lived in a two-flat with my grandparents, aunts and uncles living upstairs, and we’d have family dinners every Sunday. The neighborhood was very integrated, but I thought the whole world was Italian until I was in grade school.”

After earning a bachelor of arts in public relations from Roosevelt University, she transitioned quickly from the private sector into public service, starting out as a public information officer for the clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County in 1989 and retiring 30 years later as an associate clerk of the court for the suburban bureau.

“I joined the office on the heels of the Greylord and Incubator scandals. Those were extremely challenging times,” she says. “It was our job to put safeguards in place and make sure everyone toed the line so we could rebuild public trust and never breach it again. I think history shows that we were successful.”

Raineri had worked on countless campaigns over the last three decades, so when she retired from the clerk’s office in 2019, the natural next step was to put all of that political and governmental experience and know-how to good use as a consultant.

“I specialize in advocacy, campaigns and networking,” Raineri explains. “It’s my job to help people reach their goals, whether it’s in public service or communications, and to mentor them through the process.”

Her wealth of experience was crucial to her success in the challenging months of the Balbo controversy.

“That was another trial by fire for me, and back then, I was pretty much alone in my thinking,” she recalls. “I was glad to be able to share my expertise with Ron and help him turn no’s into yes’s on the county board.”

Raineri was honored at the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans first annual Government Relations Luncheon. For details, click here.

The above appears in the November 2023 issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.


About Paul Basile

Paul Basile has been the editor of Fra Noi for a quarter of a century. Over that period, he and his dedicated family of staff members and correspondents have transformed a quaint little community newspaper into a gorgeous glossy magazine that is read and admired across the nation. They also maintain a cluster of national and local websites and are helping other major metropolitan areas launch their own versions of Fra Noi.

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