Updated 11:53 p.m.
A community activist from Pilsen defeated the son of a former state legislator in the 25th Ward aldermanic runoff Tuesday, giving Chicago’s Southwest Side and Near South Side its first new alderman in more than two decades.
Following a heated race that included allegations of voter fraud, personal attacks and squabbles over campaign money, Byron Sigcho-Lopez wound up the clear victor in his race against Alexander “Alex” Acevedo.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Sigcho-Lopez had 54 percent to Acevedo’s 46 percent in a campaign to replace embattled Ald. Danny Solis.
Sigcho-Lopez, an educator and policy researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago, placed first in the Feb. 26th general election, with more than 29 percent of the vote. Acevedo, a registered nurse and son of former Democratic state Rep. Edward Acevedo, got 22 percent to earn a spot in the runoff.
“Community driven zoning will be the new norm. I am personally opposed to the alderman’s prerogative and we will make sure residents are at the forefront,” Sigcho-Lopez said in an interview before addressing supporters. “I look forward to being one of those champions in city council to push for reform.”
His supporters shouting his name and chants of “si se puede” (yes, we can) waited patiently inside a crowded restaurant in Pilsen for Sigcho-Lopez to claim victory. When Sigcho-Lopez addressed supporters, his parents saw him speak via Skype from his native Ecuador.
Sigcho-Lopez is the former executive director of the Pilsen Alliance, an organization fighting against gentrification. Four years ago, he ran against Solis and took about 18 percent of the vote. Acevedo ran unsuccessfully for his father’s seat in 2016.
After the polls closed, Acevedo thanked his supporters and vowed to continue working with the community to unify the ward following the heated race.
Last year, Solis decided not to run for re-election to represent the 25 Ward, which includes parts of Pilsen, the West Loop, Chinatown and Little Italy. In January, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the retiring alderman had been wearing a wire for the FBI to record conversations with 14th Ward Ald. Edward Burke, who has been charged with attempted extortion.
The burgeoning City Hall scandal has cast a shadow over the race, which has also been plagued by allegations of voter fraud.
The first allegation was filed with state and county officials eight days before the Feb. 26 election. The complaint accused Sigcho-Lopez’s campaign of stealing absentee ballots from two apartment complexes in Chinatown.
According to the complaint, Sigcho-Lopez supporters went to the complex to collect ballots that had not been completed. One Sigcho-Lopez backer told a resident she was required to vote for Sigcho-Lopez because the resident had previously accepted a meal offered by his campaign.
The second allegation was filed on Election Day by the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. According to the complaint, some voters casting their ballots at the Barbara Jean Wright Court Apartments said they were promised $20 gift cards in exchange for supporting Sigcho-Lopez. The Illinois attorney general is investigating the allegations.
Sigcho-Lopez’s campaign has denied the claims.
Corruption and vote-buying allegations aside, some of the biggest concerns in the ward are around development and gentrification. And both candidates tussled over how campaign donations from developers influenced the race.
WBEZ analyzed campaign contributions for both candidates and found that nearly 25 percent of the direct contributions to Acevedo during this aldermanic run have come from developers, despite an earlier vow that he wouldn’t take any.
Of the almost $177,000 Acevedo raised since October 2018, about $44,000 came from developers. Those contributions include a combined total of $10,000 from Jim Letchinger and his company JDL Development LLC.
Acevedo’s campaign has also received donations from Rodrigo D’Escoto, who was caught up in the UNO charter school scandal. His company was paid about $6.7 million for work on the Soccer Academy Elementary and Galewood schools, and the firm received a contract for about $3.1 million to help build a new high school, the Sun-Times reported in 2016.
Sigcho-Lopez, meanwhile, got most of his money from his wife, her family and unions, the analysis shows.
The flap over developer money has been much-debated because the 25th Ward has been rapidly gentrifying, and high-dollar new developments are pushing longtime residents out.
The ward is set to be home to The 78, a massive mix-use project in between the South Loop and Chinatown that’s in line to get $700 million in public tax dollars. The $7 billion development includes 500 on-site affordable housing units. Another 500 must be built in Pilsen and Little Village, the Sun-Times reported.
Another big development in the works that could be impacted by this election is the El Paseo trail, a plan to transform the abandoned BNSF railroad track into a trail similar to The 606 on the North Side. The four-mile El Paseo would run east of Pilsen to South Lawndale.
Residents near the proposed route are afraid their property taxes will increase so that they’ll no longer be able to afford to live there. They often cite a study of The 606, which found that project led to the displacement of mostly Latino families out of Logan Square. The study found that the trail accelerated gentrification and the nonprofit in charge of the construction didn’t have a way to handle issues brought by the community.
María Ines Zamudio is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter at @mizamudio.