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Sigcho-Lopez and Acevedo vow to democratize development in Pilsen, Chinatown

Byron Sigcho-Lopez and Alex Acevedo

Community activist Byron Sigcho-Lopez appears headed for a runoff against nurse Alex Acevedo in the race to replace retiring Alderman Danny Solis (25th), who unceremoniously disappeared from the City Council after being exposed as a central actor in a far-reaching City Hall corruption scandal.

With all precincts reporting, Sigcho-Lopez received about 29 percent of the vote, followed by Acevedo with 22 percent.

As chairman of the council’s zoning committee, the 22-year veteran Solis wielded broad powers to schedule or delay votes on developments in every corner of the city. But last month, after documents leaked with evidence that in exchange for Viagra and massage parlor visits, he resigned his committee post and has not shown his face at City Hall since.

The 25th Ward covers most of Pilsen, whose skyrocketing property values have drawn attention from outside investors and kicked up a backlash from affordable housing advocates who say gentrification threatens the neighborhood’s working-class Mexican-American majority. The ward also includes chunks of University Village, the South Loop, Chinatown and the 62-acre swath of riverfront land where Related Midwest was approved last year to begin building its The 78 mega-project.

The next alderman will have to contend with an ongoing lawsuit from Property Markets Group, the New York-based developer that proposed building a 465-apartment mixed-use complex on a vacant 8-acre site at the northeast edge of Pilsen. Solis re-zoned the property in 2016 to block the proposal, saying it didn’t include enough affordable units, and the developer sued the city in response.

Even before the allegations against Solis surfaced, the five candidates vying to replace him had already pledged to take the ward in a new direction. But in the last month of the race, the contenders have rushed to dodge any association with Solis, in part by promising to crack down on developers who try to speed their proposals through the city approval process.

Sigcho-Lopez and Acevedo both called on the city to hold up the approval process for The 78 until after the election.

Developers, usually eager to prop up their preferred candidate with campaign contributions, appear to be staying out of the race. Real estate interests this cycle donated just $34,000 among all five candidates, most of it from trade unions and other builder groups.

Sigcho-Lopez, a longtime leader of the Pilsen Alliance community group and the top fundraiser in the race, said he would require developers to include allowances for at least 30 percent affordable units in any new development, raising the 20 percent benchmark set by the Little Village affordable housing pilot zone when it was created last year. His top donors include the Chicago Teachers Union and Service Employees International Union, the same groups propping up Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s campaign for mayor.

“My message [to developers] is that we’re going to have a community-driven zoning process,” Sigcho-Lopez told The Real Deal as returns came in on Tuesday. “Projects are no longer going to be vetted by the alderman, or quid pro quo — they’re going to be vetted by the community.”

Another candidate, 25-year-old former teacher Hilario Dominguez, proposed putting zoning decisions in the hands of neighborhood citizen groups modeled after Chicago Public Schools’ Local School Councils. Dominguez is backed by U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, whose growing Southwest Side political operation helped sweep a class of young candidates into the state legislature last year.

The remaining candidates — Aida Flores and data scientist Troy Hernandez — also pledged to make the zoning process more transparent and democratic.

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