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City Council shakeup: Newcomers could reshape Chicago housing and development

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Meet the new class of aldermen that ran—and won—by challenging the status quo

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The historic win by Lori Lightfoot as Chicago’s first black woman elected as mayor isn’t the only shakeup at City Hall. The 2019 election saw dozens of City Council seats change hands—including positions, unexpectedly, in key wards. An anti-incumbency sentiment favoring change over experience, ruled the day.

The result is the most diverse City Council since the ward system started in the 1920s with more Latino and people of color elected and the fewest number of white alderman. Politically, it’s diverse too. The council comprises a mix of surviving Rahm Emanuel allies, independents, outspoken critics from the Progressive Caucus, and a newly emerging Democratic Socialist Caucus.

Issues related to development, affordable housing, and tax increment financing (TIF) propelled many first-time candidates to victory and the residents that put them there are expecting results. While it’s still too early to fully grasp how the new City Council function and some races to still too close to be decided, it’s safe to assume that the era of the Emanuel rubber stamp has officially come to a close.

Here are eight aldermanic newcomers that have the potential to dramatically reshape the city’s housing and development landscape.

Daniel La Spata
1st Ward: Wicker Park, West Town, Logan Square

In one of the biggest and earliest upsets in the 2019 election, political upstart Daniel La Spata defeated well-funded, developer-friendly 1st Ward Alderman Proco Joe Moreno. La Spata, a democratic socialist, made housing his central issue. Specifically, the unprecedented development of Wicker Park and Logan Square. It paid off with the challenger winning 61 percent of the vote to the incumbent’s 39 percent.

“I have seen the way gentrification has displaced a lot of the neighbors that I care about. It’s created a lot of tension and a lot of trauma,” said La Spata when asked about the real estate boom taking place in the 1st Ward on Chicago Tonight. “It stems from a development process that puts corporate interests over community ones.”

Marianne Lalonde
46th Ward: Uptown, Buena Park, Lakeview

Incumbent pro-transit-oriented development alderman and recently appointed Zoning Committee Chair James Cappleman was locked in a close, runoff battle against challenger Marianne Lalonde. The neck-and-neck race was a powerful illustration of Chicago’s appetite for political change—especially in the wake of the controversial Lincoln Yards zoning vote.

Although that development is located far from the 46th Ward and Cappleman did his best to double on-site affordable housing and even defer the zoning vote, the project has earned the alderman criticism from residents, the Chicago’s Teacher Union, and Lalonde.

Lalonde came up 25 votes shy of unseating Cappleman and ended her challenge to the recount results in early May.

Maria Hadden
49th Ward: Rogers Park

Political newcomer Maria Hadden defeated longtime incumbent Joe Moore. Hadden made “development without displacement” her number one campaign issue, vowing not to take contributions from developers. The topic of affordable housing resonated strongly with voters—perhaps with even greater urgency given Moore’s position as chairman of the city’s Committee on Housing and Real Estate.

Not without his own sense of irony, departing alderman Joe Moore sent out an April Fools’ newsletter touting a fictional “Howards Yards” development, lampooning Lincoln Yards and hot-button issues such as affordable housing, overdevelopment, and tax increment financing.

Byron Sigcho-Lopez
25th Ward: Near West Side, South Loop, Chinatown, Pilsen

Development was understandably at the forefront of the 25th Ward race to fill the vacant seat of Danny Solis—the disgraced former alderman and Zoning Committee Chairman accused of abusing his power in exchange for cash gifts, sexual favors, and Viagra.

Voters selected democratic socialist Byron Sigcho-Lopez to lead them. Sigcho-Lopez, who once headed the anti-gentrification Pilsen Alliance community organization, promised a more transparent and less autocratic approach to development.

“Community driven zoning will be the new norm,” Sigcho-Lopez told WBEZ on election night. “I am personally opposed to the alderman’s prerogative and we will make sure residents are at the forefront.” The new alderman will oversee development in portions of the hot West Loop and riverfront megaprojects like the Riverline and The 78.

Jim Gardiner
45th Ward: Portage Park, Edgebrook, Forest Glen, Jefferson Park

While many freshly elected aldermen campaigned for more affordable housing, the opposite seems to hold true in the 46th Ward on Chicago’s Northwest Side. Here, Alderman John Arena lost to first responder Jim Gardiner. The incumbent’s steadfast support for a 75-unit mixed-income housing complex might be to blame, Block Club speculated.

Despite Arena’s repeated claim that the ward needs more affordable housing, large numbers of Jefferson Park neighbors organized against the proposal slated for 5150 N. Northwest Highway—arguing that the project would bring crime to the area. Opponents even crowd-funded a lawsuit aimed at halting the zoning process.

“There was a concern in the community, I think they felt that they didn’t have an opportunity for their voices to be heard,” Gardiner said in a Chicago Tonight interview when asked about the backlash his opponent faced. “They didn’t think that the transparency was adequate.”

Andre Vasquez
40th Ward: Lincoln Square, Edgewater, West Andersonville

Another longtime incumbent was sent packing when democratic socialist and AT&T area services manager Andre Vasquez won out over 30-plus-year Alderman Patrick O’Connor in a runoff.

When it comes to development, the alderman-elect says he is against the $1.3 billion Lincoln Yards TIF and supports boosting Chicago’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO) to require developers to offer 30 percent affordable housing in new projects.

“People across the city were tired of the machine politics, of the corruption, of our money being given away to developers and corporations,” Vasquez explained to WGN News after his victory. The former rap battler also told the Chicago Sun-Times that he was inspired by Alderman Arena’s resolve when it came to standing up for affordable housing.

Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez
33rd Ward: Albany Park, Avondale, Irving Park, Ravenswood Manor, North Center

Democratic socialist and first-time political candidate Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez defeated incumbent Alderman Deb Mell by a razor-thin margin in Chicago’s 33rd. Mell conceded in late April after a recount showed she was just 13 votes behind.

An outspoken critic of the Lincoln Yards deal, candidate Rodriguez-Sanchez said she supports a community-driven zoning process and the creation of a city-wide plan to build affordable housing in areas where aldermanic prerogative has blocked those types of developments in the past.

In a Sun-Times questionnaire, the challenger accused the incumbent alderman’s support of luxury developments in Logan Square for accelerating the displacement of lower-income families. “[Mell] is personally credited by developer-donors with helping to expel residents,” Rodriguez-Sanchez told the newspaper.

Jeanette Taylor
20th Ward: Back of the Yards, Washington Park, Englewood

On the South Side, newly elected 20th Ward Alderman Jeanette Taylor will be the City Council’s fifth democratic socialist (sixth if Rodriguez-Sanchez is declared winner of the 33rd Ward). Taylor wants ward residents to have a bigger say when it comes to developments around the University of Chicago and—more importantly—the proposed Obama Presidential Center.

Taylor campaigned on a promise to hold the Obama Foundation accountable and have the organization sign a community benefits agreement guaranteeing that lower-income residents will not face displacement when the center opens in the Woodlawn Area. In the Englewood portion of the 20th Ward, Taylor sees gentrification and housing affordability as a major concern.

“[Englewood residents] feel like the Whole Foods and the Starbucks that’s come, it’s not for them, and they see a lot of their neighbors moving out because they can’t afford it,” the alderman-elect told South Side Weekly.