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Real estate industry bracing for changes as Chicago goes to polls

Lobby and elevator banks at City Hall (Credit: iStock)

The real estate industry is bracing for changes and skeptical about the future, as Chicago voters will cast ballots Tuesday for a new mayor and will decide on aldermen races around the city.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel shocked just about everyone in September when he announced he would not seek a third term in office. Emanuel presided over the city at a time of significant growth, and was generally seen by the industry as pro-development.

Now, 14 contenders are vying to replace him, and not many have the same pro-development credentials.

The real estate industry responded by plowing millions into the mayor’s race, with most developers backing Daley family scion Bill Daley. Lawyer Gery Chico, whose legal career included real estate work, received significant contributions from brokers, while trade unions gave big to current state Comptroller Susana Mendoza.

Still, on the whole, the industry didn’t commit fully in the race, with some segments waiting for the outcome of election to see which two candidates might face each other in an April 2 runoff election, which seems the likely outcome since no candidate has polled above 15 percent recently and at least half the votes are needed to win outright on Tuesday.

Even in a city with powerful mayors like Emanuel and Mayor Richard M. Daley before him, many industry insiders say the people with the most power over development are aldermen, who under the unwritten rule of “aldermanic privilege” have virtual final say over which projects move forward in their wards and which don’t.

Neither Alderman Brian Hopkins (2nd) nor Alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd), whose wards are home to significant development activity, has an opponent on Tuesday.

But Alderman Walter Burnett, whose 27th Ward includes much of the booming Fulton Market area, is facing a challenge from real estate broker Cynthia Bednarz. The industry has gone all in for Burnett, donating more than $160,000 to his campaign fund since the start of 2018.

Disgraced Alderman Danny Solis (25th) already had announced he would not be running for reelection when bombshell news surfaced that he was under federal investigation and wore a wire against colleague Alderman Ed Burke (14th). Five candidates are vying to replace Solis, and while the industry had been a generous supporter of the embattled outgoing alderman, developers are staying away from any of his potential successors so far.

When the City Hall corruption scandal news broke, Solis resigned from his post as chairman of the City Council’s Zoning Committee, thrusting Alderman James Cappleman (46th) into the role as the council’s chief gatekeeper for development. He faces five challengers Tuesday, many of whom have criticized Cappleman for being too accommodating of development.

And even though he’s facing federal extortion charges as a result of Solis’ secret recordings, Burke still remains on Tuesday’s ballot. The 50-year veteran of the council has two challengers, Jaime Guzman and Tanya Patino.

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