The Southwest Side 12th ward, mostly Latino, covers parts of Brighton Park, McKinley Park, Back of the Yards and Little Village. It’s struggling with overcrowded housing, foreclosure filings, struggling schools and rising crime. Despite these challenges, incumbent Ald. George Cárdenas’ campaign staffers predicted a victory without a runoff, and they were correct.
Cárdenas won his first aldermanic election in 2003 with help from the Hispanic Democratic Organization, a roving campaign army that eventually dissolved amid a federal probe into patronage hiring by Mayor Daley’s administration. Cárdenas won his 2007 re-election handily.
But this year’s race was tougher. The strongest of the four challengers appeared to be Streets and Sanitation worker José Guereca, a former Army soldier who received tens of thousands of campaign dollars from State Sen. Tony Muñoz, the ward’s Democratic boss. Muñoz, a former Cárdenas ally, was a fellow HDO beneficiary. Guereca also got support from Teamsters Local 700 and the Chicago Firefighters Union.
Another tough challenger was coffee-shop owner Jesús “Jesse” Iñiguez, head of the United Southwest Chamber of Commerce who ran poorly against Cárdenas four years ago. This time he got help from Ald. Ricardo Muñoz (22nd Ward) and County Board Commissioner Jesús “Chuy” García (7th District), making the race a skirmish in a decades-old war between Southwest Side progressives and regular Democrats. Other important support came from the Service Employees International Union. Iñiguez campaign staffers predicted they would advance to the runoff as Cárdenas and Guereca competed for the same machine voters.
But Iñiguez himself lost some votes to the Green Party’s Alberto Bocanegra Jr., who raised a lot of money for the race. Bocanegra had backing from water district commissioner Frank Avila and immigrant rights organizer Jorge Mújica.
Also on the ballot was María “Chula” Ortiz, a suburban bus employee with little money or visibility.
Ald. Sharon Denise Dixon struggled to build a strong political organization after narrowly winning her seat in a 2007 runoff. When Chicago police officers arrested her on drunken-driving charges in 2009, some residents of her ward smelled blood. Seventeen got on the ballot to challenge her, making the contest the most crowded of any Chicago ward race in two decades.
A judge determined the officers had no probable cause to arrest Dixon and, last month, she filed suit against three of the cops, saying they wrongly accused her. These developments didn’t seem to give her big boosts. The mostly African American ward, which includes North Lawndale and parts of other West Side neighborhoods, is struggling with poverty, abandoned lots, unemployment and low high-school graduation rates.
In 2007, Ald. Michael Chandler lost his seat to Dixon despite support from Mayor Daley. In this rematch, Dixon said Chandler ran straw candidates to help force her into a runoff. Chandler denied that accusation but the two will infact face-off again to decide the fate of the seat.
Ald. Daniel “Danny” Solís has been Mayor’s Daley’s closest Latino ally on the City Council for years. In 2007, nevertheless, Solís barely avoided a runoff. This year the incumbent seemed to have an even tougher race.
Daley appointed Solís to the seat in 1996 to replace Ald. Ambrosio Medrano, who pleaded guilty in the Operation Silver Shovel scandal and served more than two years in federal prison. Solís was a player in the Hispanic Democratic Organization, Daley’s most powerful campaign army until federal authorities started looking into City Hall patronage hiring. Solís also co-founded the United Neighborhood Organization, a group that now runs charter schools.
Solís now chairs the council’s powerful Zoning Committee. In that post, he helped broker a deal last year that could lead to several new Walmart stores in Chicago.
Solís helped open gates to development and gentrification, which angered some residents of Pilsen, one of Chicago’s oldest Mexican neighborhoods. The ward also includes Tri-Taylor, Chinatown, and an area near the University of Illinois at Chicago. Solís also took shots for withholding support for proposed city regulation of emissions from two coal-fired power plants, one of which stands in the ward.
Challenger Ambrosio “Ambi” Medrano Jr., a city Department of Transportation worker and son of the former alderman who went to prison was expected to do well because of his backing from organized labor. But it is construction contractor Cuahutémoc “Temoc” Morfín, an immigrant rights activist who came within a dozen votes of forcing Solís into a runoff in 2007, who will get the chance to face Solís in the runoff this time around.
The 26th ward had one of the youngest candidates on the ballot. 18-year-old Devon Reid, a student at Wright College, went up against an experienced politician, Roberto Maldonado. Maldonado spent 15 years on the Cook County Board of Commissioners before being appointed 26th ward alderman by Mayor Richard Daley in 2009. Maldonado won the race with 82% of the vote. This was Maldonado’s first election for alderman but he raised $200,000 to spend on the race. Reid raised about $3,000 in cash and in kind contributions. He says most of that came from his foster family.
Scott Waguespack has won a second term to the city council with 66 percent of the vote. He hopes to help lead a progressive caucus that will include some of the incoming aldermen. He said, “The old way of doing business, clout, really hurt this city in the long run. It is unsustainable. We can no longer do that kind of business.” He urged the city council to challenge the mayor’s policies more often than it has in the past.
Waguespack was first elected in 2007 and was considered part of a group of new independents who would question and challenge the policies of Mayor Richard Daley. There weren’t that many challenges, but Waguespack is one of the aldermen who voted against the now largely reviled parking meter deal. Waguespack says that deal crystalized for voters all the ways city hall isn’t working. He says aldermen have focused solely on their wards to the detriment of the citywide issues.
Waguespack was facing a challenge from David Pavlik, who currently works in the governor’s office of management and the budget. Pavlik was getting support from 33rd Ward Ald. Dick Mell, who lent some his political workers to the campaign.
Chip Mitchell and Robert Wildeboer contributed to this report.