With 16 incumbent aldermen retiring or leaving this term, it was a given that come May at least one-third of the Chicago City Council chamber will be represented by new faces.
But progressives sought to pick up more seats on the council while some powerful business interests funneled money to support their own candidates.
Here are three takeaways on where the potential future of City Council stands.
1. Most incumbents were reelected.
Unlike incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot, nearly two-thirds of the City Council will remain unchanged as voters reelected their current incumbent aldermen — allowing them to avoid a runoff election and hold onto their seats.
But this comes on the heels of several aldermen — particularly along Chicago’s lakefront on the North Side — announcing they would not seek reelection or resigning from their positions early.
While the council will be losing decades of institutional knowledge with those resignations, Democratic political strategist Delmarie Cobb told WBEZ’s Reset she hopes the exodus will usher in a new City Council that pushes forward more progressive accomplishments.
“The magic number is 26,” Cobb said, referring to the majority of aldermen needed to pass legislation. “And the closer we get to 26, the happier I am in terms of progressive aldermen.”
2. How progressive will the new City Council go?
Groups across the political spectrum tried to use their influence to pick up the seats that were up for grabs. Among them is the Get Stuff Done PAC, which was formed last year to “elect pragmatic candidates to the Chicago City Council.”
Helmed by Michael Reummler, a former campaign adviser to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the political action committee has poured over $1 million into City Council races.
Its efforts paid off with a majority of the candidates they supported outright winning their races or heading toward potential runoff elections.
But the independent expenditure committee appears to be falling short of its efforts to unseat 25th Ward Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez.
The first-term alderman was part of a wave of progressive faces elected to the City Council in 2019. Endorsed by United Working Families, the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America, Sigcho-Lopez remained ahead of challenger Aida Flores, a Chicago Public Schools assistant principal, by a little more than 350 votes, according to unofficial results Wednesday afternoon.
The Get Stuff Done PAC spent over $220,000 in media and mailers to oppose Sigcho-Lopez and support Flores.
“Billionaires thought they could buy this election but the people cannot be bought. The largest Latino ward in the City cannot be bought,” Sigcho-Lopez said in a statement after declaring victory Tuesday night.
Flores had not called to concede as of Wednesday evening, Sigcho-Lopez’s campaign said. According to the Chicago Board of Elections, a little over 1,300 mail-in ballots are outstanding in the ward.
The Get Stuff Done PAC suffered a clear loss in the 12th Ward, where the United Working Families-endorsed Julia Ramirez trumped Ald. Anabel Abarca, who was appointed in December by Lightfoot and had received over $70,000 in support from the PAC.
The progressive political group United Working Families aimed to grow its ranks to more than one-third of the City Council this election. While 13 of their candidates won or appear headed to a runoff, six of their candidates failed to advance.
That includes Mueze Bawany, a Chicago Public Schools teacher who failed to unseat 50th Ward incumbent Ald. Debra Silverstein to represent the Far North Side ward. Bawany received scrutiny when offensive tweets, that have since been deleted, surfaced in the final weeks of the campaign.
While it remains to be seen how far the council’s progressive tilt will lean, Connie Mixon, an Elmhurst University political science professor and director of its urban studies program, told WBEZ’s Reset it’s certain a shift is occurring.
“What that means for who the next mayor is, is anybody’s guess,” Mixon said.
3. Mayoral relationships
Under Lightfoot, the City Council had shed its reputation as a “rubber stamp” council that largely goes along with the mayor’s priorities. That came after Lightfoot heavily campaigned in 2019 on a message of reforming City Council and so-called aldermanic prerogative.
Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd Ward, endorsed Lightfoot in 2019 and stuck by her as she sought reelection this year even as some of his colleagues threw their support behind her leading rivals. Speaking at Lighftoot’s election night party Tuesday in River North, Waguespack said the first-term mayor shook up the status quo at City Hall.
“When I look at the last four years, we tried to transform a lot of institutions and a lot of programs that had been lingering and stale for many, many years,” Waguespack said. “And this mayor had to come in and change those systems. And that upset the applecart of the City Council.”
With either former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas or Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson now headed to the fifth floor of City Hall, it remains to be seen how the next City Council could advance — or stall — the next mayor’s priorities.
Jaime Dominguez, a Northwestern University political science professor, told WBEZ’s Reset he anticipates aldermen would have more animosity with Vallas if he’s elected. But Johnson’s success with progressives is not guaranteed either, Dominguez said.
“I think the challenge for him is going to be whether or not he can hold them together,” Dominguez said. “Because if you have a balkanization of the progressives at the City Council level, then that could doom Brandon Johnson on important initiatives that he wants to put forward.”
Tessa Weinberg covers Chicago government and politics for WBEZ. Follow her @Tessa_Weinberg.