Chicago’s Close Aldermanic Races Have Unofficial Winners

Ballots are counted at the Board of Elections on Tuesday, April 16, 2019.
Ballots are counted at the Board of Elections on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. Becky Vevea / WBEZ
Ballots are counted at the Board of Elections on Tuesday, April 16, 2019.
Ballots are counted at the Board of Elections on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. Becky Vevea / WBEZ

Chicago’s Close Aldermanic Races Have Unofficial Winners

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The final ballots have been counted in Chicago’s runoff election, and three races that were previously too close to call now have unofficial winners.

Incumbent aldermen Leslie Hairston, 5th Ward, and James Cappleman, 46th Ward, will likely hold onto their seats, while challenger Rossana Rodriguez is expected to become the new alderman of the 33rd Ward.

The last day to count ballots was Tuesday, and the results are expected to be officially certified on Thursday afternoon. Jim Allen, spokesman for the Chicago Board of Elections, said the incoming mail had “slowed to an absolute trickle” this week.

Hairston held off challenger William Calloway by securing 176 more votes. But in the two other races that have yet to be called, less than two dozen votes separate the winner from the loser.

According to the preliminary final numbers posted late Tuesday, Cappleman had 25 more votes than challenger Marianne Lalonde, while Rodriguez held the lead with 13 votes more than incumbent Deb Mell.

Both races are expected to have at least a limited recount. All four candidates — including Mell and Lalonde — filed the necessary paperwork for a court challenge earlier this month.

Despite the close margins, however, Allen said it’s not likely a recount will change the results.

“Typically, in these 50-50 races, where they’re really tight, whatever you find on one side, you’re probably going to find on the other,” Allen said. “Given the precision of the voting equipment now, the chances of overturning a lot votes have diminished greatly from what they were two dozen years ago.”

Rodriguez said she’s confident the results will hold, calling the final tally “a little surreal.”

“I’m really happy and really proud of what we have achieved,” she said. “It’s really hard for somebody who is new to actually get a seat from an incumbent, and we’re talking about the Mell family and the Mell dynasty that has been here for 40 years.”

Mell’s father, Richard Mell, served as 33rd Ward alderman from 1975 to 2013. His daughter was appointed to the seat and narrowly won her first election in 2015.

Cappleman, on the other hand, was first elected in 2011. This year, he faced five challengers and was criticized during the runoff for his role in the approval of two controversial megadevelopments known as Lincoln Yards and The 78, which will get more than $2 billion from taxpayers to build massive new neighborhoods along the Chicago River.

Cappleman took over as interim chair of the City Council Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards when retiring Ald. Danny Solis, 25th Ward, was revealed to have worn a wire in a federal corruption probe that rocked City Hall just weeks before Election Day.

“Once I became the new chair of zoning, I became one of ‘them’,” Cappleman said, noting that this election became about much more than him or the issues in the 46th Ward. If a recount doesn’t change the final results, Cappleman said he wants to work with Lalonde and the other four people who challenged him in February.

“Certainly, no alderman likes to have a challenger, but it’s my core belief that when anyone’s in a tight race, you become better through the process,” he said. “I think I’ve become stronger and better and I‘ve learned a lot, and I want to continue to have a working relationship with all five challengers.”

Neither Lalonde nor Mell returned calls seeking comment.

Becky Vevea covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @beckyvevea.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Rossana Rodriguez’s first name.