WICKER PARK — Daniel La Spata, one of two opponents hoping to unseat First Ward Alderman Joe Moreno in the February municipal election, bashed the Wicker Park alderman Wednesday in front of about two dozen residents.
“You deserve a representative who makes you feel encouraged and not exhausted, who at the end of the day is representing you and not whoever is putting money into his pockets that particular week,” La Spata told the crowd at Wicker Park Committee’s monthly meeting in the park field house, 1425 N. Damen Ave.
La Spata promised to be an alderman who will make people “feel inspired and not intimidated.”
Moreno was not at the meeting and did not respond to requests for comment on La Spata’s claims and candidacy.
But using his personal Facebook account, Moreno has been vocal on La Spata’s Facebook page, where he’s accused his opponent of taking money from “a white supremacist blogger” and belonging to “a cult that accepts anti [LGBTQ] leaders.”
“Bring it,” Moreno wrote.
La Spata responded to Moreno that he’s belonged to the Evangelical Covenant Church for the past 37 years. As for the claims of accepting money from a white supremacist blogger, La Spata told Moreno, “I would be glad to challenge them on their views. White supremacy, bold or insidious, has no place in America or this city.”
La Spata and Trevor Grant are both running against Moreno in the February 2019 election.
Originally from Plainfield, New Jersey, La Spata’s background is in community organizing with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, a local neighborhood group. He works at Friends of the Parks and is studying for a master’s degree at University of Illinois at Chicago in urban planning and public policy
Grant currently works as a data scientist for an IBM-backed startup and previously was a combat medic for the Illinois Army National Guard and served in Afghanistan from 2008-2009.
Though he was not at the meeting on Wednesday, he slammed both La Spata and Moreno.
Grant said La Spata comes across as “wishy washy” and his platform “seems like a graduate thesis.”
“Say what you will about Joe Moreno and his corruption, at least he believes in making money for Joe Moreno. Dan doesn’t seem to really believe in anything,” he said.
Appointed in 2010 by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley to replace Manny Flores, Moreno was elected by a landslide in 2011, earning some 73 percent of the vote against two challengers. Moreno retained his seat for a second term in 2015, after fending off three challengers with just under 51 percent of the vote.
In order to get on the ballot for the 2019 election, La Spata, Grant and incumbent Moreno will each need to get more than 473 signatures from registered 1st Ward voters. La Spata previously said he aims to collect “four times that” amount. Signature collection started on Aug. 28.
Moreno Outraising Opponents
According to The Daily Line, which is closely tracking the aldermanic elections, La Spata formed his campaign committee Neighbors for Daniel La Spata on June 7. Grant established his committee, Trevor Grant and Friends, on Sept. 11.
To date, Grant has not reported any donations from supporters.
Illinois Sunshine database records show that La Spata’s campaign fund has posted $22,306.47 in the most recent quarter ended June 30, and has raised $5,500 in donations since then.
By sharp contrast, the well-funded Friends for Moreno campaign committee, established in September 2007, has raised $511,574.96, based on the most recent quarter ended June 30. Since then, it’s reported an additional $6,500 from four donations.
The four most recent reported donations to Moreno’s campaign are from M. Fishman & Co., construction services company MZI Group, Spyridon Tsaparas and Andrew Pollack.
La Spata’s Biggest Supporters Are Moreno Enemies
Former Double Door landlord Brian Strauss and his two sons, Jackson and Conor Strauss, each donated $1,500 to La Spata’s campaign on July 18, making them La Spata’s second-largest donors after La Spata’s wife Alicia Locher, who contributed $5,000 on June 29.
Strauss and Moreno have been at odds since February 2017, when Moreno, a music fan and champion of iconic club Double Door, was upset that Strauss’ longtime tenant was evicted after a long court battle.
A few weeks after the eviction, as Double Door workers were moving out of the building at 1572 N. Milwaukee Ave., Moreno threatened Strauss in a cell phone video that was broadcast by CBS2.
“You are not going to get a dime out of this building. It’s going to be an empty building with no income for you or your family. End of conversation,” Moreno told Strauss at the time, adding, “You can come back to me on your knees, which is gonna happen.”
Strauss, whose building was “downzoned” by Moreno in an effort to make it less attractive to buyers, sold his building last fall for $9.1 million, and the space that formerly housed Double Door remains empty.
When asked why he is supporting La Spata, Strauss on Thursday said, “My main support for Daniel is that he is not corrupt, he’s not a bully, he is for the people. He believes in community-driven development. Developments that are approved by the people in the community — not just big campaign donors.”
During his talk with members of the Wicker Park Committee, La Spata called corruption “an old story in Chicago but too fresh of a story in the 1st Ward,” and recalled a community meeting he attended in 2014 to discuss the MiCa apartments, then known as a pair of planned twin towers.
“We collected over 3,000 petition signatures, not to say this development needs to specifically be this or specifically be that… All we wanted was one more community meeting where we could really deliberate the merits of this proposal,” La Spata said.
La Spata claims he went to Moreno’s office with other opponents to the tower plan to give the alderman “a phone book-sized list of signatures” against the project.
“He set it aside literally, just like it was a phone book. He said, ‘Thank you for your effort, this is moving forward, this is what I’ve already decided,” La Spata said.
La Spata said he later found out there had been donations to Moreno’s campaign by the developers of the now-called MiCa towers, and that fact cemented his desire to run against Moreno.
“I decided I am not going to take campaign donations from developers. I want people to know when I go to a meeting like that, I am a neutral party,” La Spata said.
On Friday, Moreno said he disagreed with La Spata’s account of the MiCa towers project.
“For the last eight years, I am proud of the thorough and open community process that I put in place where all residents have a voice. A vast number of community groups supported this project as it brought much needed economic development and provided affordable units on the site,” Moreno said.
The MiCa apartments offer 22 affordable units onsite, which represent 15 percent of the total apartments, a number Moreno said he pushed the developer to include.
“The ordinance calls for 10 percent. We go above and beyond that,” he said.
When asked about La Spata’s anecdote related to the phone book-sized list of signatures from people who wanted more time for the project to be vetted, Moreno said, “I take all of the comments I receive seriously. Whether it is a single email from a constituent or a number of signatures.”
La Spata ended his pitch to Wicker Park Committee members on Wednesday with an appeal for donations to grow his reach, “to bring this message to all 55,000 people of the 1st ward.”
Like La Spata, Grant also took issue with Moreno being so closely tied into the real estate development community.
“If you are going to make money being an alderman, selling out the neighborhood, you also have to take care of us. That’s the main part of why I am getting into this race,” Grant said.