BRIDGEPORT — The race for alderman of the 11th Ward features a veritable Goliath of Chicago politics, Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson, facing a David: political upstart David Mihalyfy.
The Feb. 26 race pits Mihalyfy against Thompson, a member of the Daley family that has controlled City Hall and 11th Ward politics for much of recent history. While Thompson has a humongous advantage in campaign cash on hand ($180,000 to Mihalyfy’s $4,000), name recognition and powerful supporters, Mihalyfy hopes that the unfolding scandals at City Hall and incumbent fatigue can help him pull off an upset.
“I think it’s been a moment where people are pausing and re-examining the many practices and sets of behaviors that have gone on for years,” Mihalyfy said. “People are waking up to these behaviors, to this money changing hands and how representatives are working against our community’s interests.”
Thompson, the nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley and current mayoral candidate Bill Daley, is running his first-ever re-election campaign of his still-young political career.
He won the 11th Ward seat in 2015 after surviving a run-off race against current mayoral candidate John Kozlar — the first run-off in the ward’s history. Thompson was elected to the board of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District in 2012, but gave up the seat after winning the aldermanic race.
“It’s not defending a record to me,” Thompson said of his campaign. “It’s about promoting a record of a lot of positive accomplishments, starting first and foremost with communication, which I heard all throughout the campaign four years ago.”
Thompson touts the fact that he holds quarterly state-of-the-ward meetings, yearly budget meetings and community meetings on rezoning requests, of which there have been about three a month, he estimates. He’s addressed public safety by getting 19 new police cameras in the ward and is helping to budget for 200 police squad cars to be equipped with license plate-reading technology. He has also helped bring an $8 million expansion to Mark Sheridan Math & Science Academy, as well as other capital improvements to neighborhood schools, he said.
David Mihalyfy, 39, has lived in Chicago for 12 years, and has been a Bridgeport resident for about half of that time. A Michigan native, Mihalyfy moved to the neighborhood to be centrally located between his teaching jobs at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Chicago, he said. He now works as a home healthcare worker.
It was his job as a freshman writing professor at the schools that led him to research the student debt crisis and administrative malfeasance at universities, Mihalyfy said. He has written on the topic for publications like the left-leaning Jacobin, a socialist quarterly magazine, and has since been involved in four union drives at local colleges, Mihalyfy said.
Mihalyfy launched his first run for office, he said, because of his disdain for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s policies on taxes and education, and because of Thompson’s support of some of those initiatives.
“Like a lot of people are saying in the 11th Ward, we could be doing better,” Mihalyfy said. “Cost of living is going nuts, and we need to help people with it. We could be doing better with youth. That’s [through having] more activities. That’s uplift with neighborhood high schools.”
Mihalyfy and Thompson differ on policy issues.
On education, Thompson supported Chicago Public Schools’ now-scrapped plan to turn the National Teachers Academy in South Loop into a community high school. Mihalyfy wants a new high school but did not support the closing of NTA.
The biggest thing Mihalyfy wants voters to focus on, however, is Thompson’s status as a political insider during a scandal-plagued period in City Hall history. And Thompson said he is working to highlight his record that he said shows his independence from the less-popular practices of city government.
“Sometimes people do make a generalization,” Thompson said of the City Hall scandals and its impact on those not directly implicated. “I think you get painted with a broad brush, and you sort of have to define who you are and distinguish yourself.”
Thompson has not been implicated in the wiretap pay-to-play scandal that has tripped up his colleagues Alds. Ed Burke and Danny Solis. He didn’t go on record criticizing aldermen who flip, like some of his colleagues did. Still, Mihalyfy is trying to portray Thompson as part of the problem at City Hall.
Mihalyfy has filed a complaint with the state Board of Elections after noticing that some of Thompson’s campaign signs didn’t include the required “paid for by” line. He has also filed an ethics complaint against Thompson for what Mihalyfy calls a suspicious bank loan.
The 11th Ward Democratic Committee — run by Thompson and his uncle, Cook County Commissioner John Daley — took out an $80,000 loan from Washington Federal Bank For Savings in Bridgeport in late 2017, two months before the bank failed and its owner died of suicide. The committee didn’t make a payment on the loan until June 2018, according to a report in Crain’s.
To Mihalyfy, the loan looked like an unreported gift or campaign contribution, and speaks to the problem of money in politics.
“That behavior with money is part of the problem with politics, as Ed Burke shows,” Mihalyfy said.
Thompson said the loan was taken out to make improvements to the ward office. He said that when the bank failed, the 11th Ward Democratic organization took out another loan to pay off the Washington Bank debt.
“I take a little issue with [Mihalyfy] on this because it was a terrible tragedy,” Thompson said of the 56-year-old bank president’s death. “We went to another lender, paid off that loan, and now we have another bank.”
As for the campaign signs, Thompson said a printing error caused some of his signs to come without the “paid for by” disclaimer. The error was rectified by the printer, he said. The campaign has not heard from the Illinois Board of Elections on the matter, he said. Mihalyfy said he highlighted the issue to show a difference between the candidates when it comes to attention to detail.
“I think that’s an objective point of comparison about organization levels and skills between two candidates,” he said.
Thompson, who also works as a corporate real estate attorney, said the Burke scandal hasn’t led him to change his practices around how he juggles his private and public work responsibilities, because he has had safeguards in place for some time.
When he was first elected in 2015, Thompson said he gave up his partnership at powerful legal firm DLA Piper and switched to working as an “of counsel” attorney at Burke, Warren, MacKay & Serritella, meaning he still works for the firm but is neither a partner nor an associate. And when items involving his law firm appear before the city, Thompson said he abstains from votes, no matter the circumstances.
As much as the “Daley” name can help with recognition and fundraising, some voters still associate the family with patronage politics and machine government. Thompson, however, said he works hard to carve out his own legacy.
“Yes, I’m part of a wonderful family and my family has been in public service for a long time,” he said. “We think it’s a noble profession, but none of us take it for granted. I work my tail off to make sure we’re substantive in everything we do.”
Mihalyfy said he will spend the last month of the race knocking on doors and trying to get his message out by word of mouth, while Thompson has a number of campaign events planned.
Though the fundraising and name-recognition disparity might seem insurmountable, Mihalyfy said the current political climate and his message on ethics and good governance could be enough to help him win.
“It’s hard to fight such massive disparities in money,” Mihalyfy said. But I trust if voters hear my message, then I have a fair shot.”
The 11th Ward includes all or parts of Bridgeport, Canaryville, University Village and East Pilsen.
For a full guide to the 2019 municipal elections, check out Chi.Vote here.
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