The environment inside the auditorium at Benito Juarez Academy Wednesday night was heated. Dozens of supporters cheered and chanted for their preferred candidates.
On one side of the stage stood Alex Acevedo. On the other side stood Byron Sigcho-Lopez. The two men are vying to become the next alderman of the 25th Ward.
From the beginning of their first head-to-head debate, Acevedo and Sigcho-Lopez attacked each other.
“You cannot take money from developers and special interest groups,” Sigcho-Lopez said about his opponent.
Acevedo pounced on his opponent about an ongoing investigation into an alleged vote-buying scheme during the Feb. 26 municipal election. The Illinois Attorney General’s office is working with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office to investigate, officials said. But no other details have been provided.
“This is a pledge to the people indicating that if there’s any illegal activity or any fraud that was caught during this past campaign or during early voting that you pledge to disqualify yourself from this race,” Acevedo said while holding a document and walking across the stage to hand it to his opponent.
In last month’s election, none of the five candidates looking to win the seat got more than 50 percent of the vote, the amount required to win outright. Sigcho-Lopez, who received 29 percent of the vote, and Acevedo, who received 22 percent, were the top two vote-getters. They face each other in an April 2 runoff.
This year’s 25th Ward race has been plagued with accusations of vote fraud and machine-style political attacks. Wednesday night’s forum was organized by dozens of nonprofits based in Pilsen. Many community activists and leaders have said the election has created a lot of negativity in the community.
Regardless of who wins, residents of the ward, which includes parts of Pilsen, the West Loop, Chinatown and Little Italy, will get a new alderman for the first time in 23 years.
Last year, powerful Ald. Danny Solis, 25th Ward, made the surprise announcement that he would not run for re-election. In late January, it was revealed that the retiring alderman had been wearing a wire for the FBI to record conversations with Ald. Ed Burke, 14th Ward, who is facing a federal corruption charge. The Chicago Sun-Times later reported that the feds had earlier been gathering salacious evidence in an investigation against Solis himself.
Sigcho-Lopez unsuccessfully challenged Solis in 2015. Sigcho-Lopez is the former executive director of Pilsen Alliance, an organization fighting against gentrification. In this year’s race, he has been endorsed by the Chicago Teachers’ Union and the Chicago Sun-Times.
Acevedo is a registered nurse who formerly worked as a community relations manager at Oak Street Health. Acevedo is the son of former Democratic state Rep. Eddie Acevedo and unsuccessfully ran for his father’s seat in 2016. Acevedo has been endorsed by the Chicago Tribune and several labor unions.
María Ines Zamudio is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @mizamudio.
Correction: Acevedo is a former employee of Oak Street Health.