Nearly a month after Chicago’s historic runoff election, Democratic Socialist Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez narrowly defeated incumbent Ald. Deb Mell by just 13 votes.
The unofficial results were announced Tuesday afternoon and will be certified Thursday, marking a victory for the wave of Democratic Socialist lawmakers headed to City Council in May.
Morning Shift talks to three Democratic Socialist aldermen about the big issues in their wards and how they plan to change city politics.
What’s your reaction to Democratic Socialist Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez's victory?
Andre Vasquez: I think it’s amazing, not just because it’s more new blood into the council, not just because it’s someone who shares our ideology — but it really shows how tough these fights are and how narrow the margins are and how important it is for people to volunteer to be a part of it.
Daniel La Spata: I hear everything that Andre is saying, and I got the chance to watch her campaign because our wards are pretty close together. And to see how passionately she campaigns, how deeply she knows her stories and her community’s stories, and the way she tells it, she’s definitely the leader that her ward deserves.
Jenn White: Her win marks the end of a Chicago political dynasty. Incumbent Deb Mell was appointed to City Council to replace her father, who retired in 2013 after serving 40 years. And Alderman-elect Vasquez, you toppled incumbent Ald. Pat O’Connor in the 40th Ward. What do you think your victories say about how city politics are changing?
Vasquez: I think it says a lot about just the moment we’re in, that the public itself spoke. When you look at the mayoral race, all these variables factored in — that people wanted change, they wanted to move away from the old style of Chicago politics because it had not served them well. So I think it created an opportunity for folks like myself, like Rosanna, like Daniel, to make the case of what government can look like going forward.
The difference between Democratic Socialists and self-described progressive Democrats
La Spata: I would say what’s interesting to me is that I came to Democratic Socialism as a concept, as an ideology, relatively late in my political life. But it’s a set of values that I had been organizing with for years, through my work with the groups like the Logan Square Neighborhood Association and others.
We always believed in democratic control over the decisions that were facing our community. We always believed that we need public solutions for public problems.
Vasquez: It’s very similar. Sometimes what I get concerned of is that people try to categorize themselves rather than talking about the common ground and values we share. I’m someone who, as a product of the city, was gentrified out of the neighborhoods, went to four different public schools. I always felt that people need to be at the forefront and have a seat at the table.
On Lincoln Yards and working with the Lightfoot administration
Byron Sigcho-Lopez: We saw from day one how many of us are challenging some of these decisions of awarding $2.4 billion in TIF money without a democratic process. We’re talking about a group of people, that I think are the majority of the city, who believes the economy needs to be democratized. We said, ‘Delay the vote, do the principled thing so we can talk about equity … affordable housing … local hiring, and many other questions that are still pending.’
White: Well, Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot called on City Council to delay that vote until she took office … I wonder how you hope to work with her once you take office in May.
Sigcho-Lopez: I had a good conversation a few days ago with the mayor-elect about the importance of discussing a fair and adequate Affordable Requirement Ordinance that speaks to the needs of our city. But what remains the question is, the city also needs affordable housing. The city also needs employment that reaches the poorest neighborhoods in our community. The South and West sides continue to be disinvested.
So how do we make sure that these resources are distributed across the city so we that start addressing some of the key issues that we have in the city, which is an issue of inequality.
La Spata: I knew you were getting to equity there ... and equity is not an ideological conversation or a political conversation. It’s a conversation about what boils down to life and death choices for our communities.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity by Stephanie Kim. Click the “play” button to hear the entire conversation.
GUESTS: Alderman-elect Daniel La Spata (1st)
Alderman-elect Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th)
Alderman-elect Andre Vasquez (40th)
LEARN MORE: Chicago runoff election vote totals finalized today (WGN 4/16/19)
Chicago’s Political Revolution (In These Times — March 2019)