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Burnett locks down 4 more years at reins of West Loop development boom

Alderman Walter Burnett and Chicago’s Fulton Market neighborhood

Alderman Walter Burnett (27th) cruised to victory against real estate broker Cynthia Bednarz on Tuesday in his bid for a seventh term representing the eclectic 27th ward, which spans a huge chunk of the city’s Near West Side including the exploding Fulton Market district.

With 96 percent of precincts reporting Tuesday evening, Burnett led with about 70 percent of the vote.

Burnett launched his political career in the Cabrini-Green area at the northeast edge of the U-shaped ward, but he’s spent the past decade shaping the hundreds of millions of dollars in new development coalescing into a new business district in Fulton Market.

Through eight years as a close ally of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the 55-year-old alderman has helped channel public dollars into landmark projects like the Morgan CTA Pink and Green Line station, which opened in 2012 and laid the foundation for Sterling Bay to build Google’s Midwest headquarters at 1K Fulton.

Developers like Sterling Bay, Shapack Partners and Thor Equities have since built or proposed more than 1 million square feet of office and retail space within a few blocks of the station, all thanks to zoning changes approved by Burnett.

His ward also spans half of the wealthy Old Town neighborhood on the Near North Side, as well as the River West area, where Burnett shepherded Tribune Media’s 37-acre River District mega-development through the public approval process last year.

But the aldermen has also taken steps to check the pace of new development. In 2017, he sponsored an expansion of the Affordability Requirements Ordinance that created zones where developers must promise reduced rents on at least 20 percent of their proposed units in order to score higher zoning for any new development.

The ordinance was intended “carve out a little piece for school teachers” to be able to afford the neighborhood, where most new apartments now rent for more than $4 per square foot, Burnett told The Real Deal in October. But some developers have lashed out at the new rule, saying it made new construction harder to finance.

Still, the ordinance hasn’t stopped builders and architects from paying to beef up his political operation. Real estate groups pumped more than $160,000 into Burnett’s campaign since the beginning of last year, records show.

His re-election Tuesday instantly makes him one of the most senior and influential members of the City Council, where a wave of retiring aldermen with more than 100 years of combined experience will make way for a sea of younger faces.

So far, Burnett’s name has not surfaced in any of the criminal allegations swarming around veteran aldermen like Ed Burke (14th), Danny Solis (25th) and Ricardo Munoz (22nd), leaving him without a direct public tie to the web of scandals consuming City Hall.

And Burnett faced a smoother path to re-election than other longtime council members who have bonded themselves to Emanuel, like Aldermen Pat O’Connor (40th) and Joe Moore (49th), who faced fierce challenges.

Burnett out-raised Bednarz during the last year by a 66-to-1 margin.

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