WEST LOOP — Byron Sigcho Lopez and Alex Acevedo — the two candidates who made the April 2 runoff to replace disgraged Ald. Danny Solis in the 25th Ward — squared off one last time in the West Loop ahead of Tuesday’s high-stakes runoff election.
Early on in the Monday night forum, hosted by Neighbors of West Loop at Merit School of Music, the candidates were asked to tackle thorny issues that have surrounded their respective campaigns.
Asked about the ongoing investigation on alleged vote buying in the 25th Ward race,Sigcho Lopez said he welcomed the investigation and hoped it was completed “quickly.” The Illinois Attorney General’s office and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office are investigating a complaint that alleges supporters of Sigcho Lopez were buying votes in the Feb. 26 election.
Sigcho Lopez told West Loop residents that any suggestion that his campaign had any involvement in wrongdoing were “unequivocally false.” He later said his campaign has not been notified by officials of any investigations, but if wrongdoing is proven, he would take accountability and hold his staff accountable.
Acevedo, who previously said at another forum he would not accept developer donations, was asked why he later accepted campaign cash from developers. Acevedo said his donations came from a coalition of donors that included small businesses, friends and family. Acevedo said he thinks the largest donation he received to date was $10,000 from a union. Records show the largest donation he’s received to date was a $15,450 donation from the Mexican American PAC Inc., according to Illinois Sunshine, a website that tracks campaign contributions. He also received $15,000 from the Chicago Land Operators Joint Labor PAC and $11,000 from the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 399.
If elected, Acevedo said he would push to eliminate aldermanic prerogative to avoid any conflict of interest.
To date, Sigcho Lopez’s top donor is his wife, Loreen Targos, who donated $79,672 to his campaign. A number of unions have also donated to his campaign, including, SEIU Local 73 B-PAC , which donated $36,789, and the Chicago Teachers Union, which donated $27,500, according to Illinois Sunshine records.
At the forum, the candidates also dived into issues important to West Loopers, including development, green space and education.
Gentrification and development
On gentrificaiton, Acevedo, a former pediatric nurse who also worked as a community relations manager at Oak Street Health, said citywide small businesses are being forced out of the neighborhoods as storefront rents skyrocket. He called for an audit of the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund, a fund that allows developers to pay a fee to build bigger and taller projects in an expanded Downtown area. Eighty percent of fund dollars are then used to support commercial projects in blighted neighborhoods.
As an economic engine for the city, the West Loop has contributed much to the fund but most of those fund are leaving the area, Acevedo said. If elected, he promised to advocate for a higher percentage of dollars to stay in the ward to “protect mom-and-pop shops, to protect our sense of culture and our sense of community.”
Acevedo also pledged to host town halls on proposed developments in the neighborhood so residents can vet projects.
Sigcho Lopez, former executive director of Pilsen Alliance and a UIC educator, said gentrification and displacement have happened in the ward because projects are not being vetted by residents. He called for a community-driven zoning process that would tackle parking, density and other issues and would advocate for a higher percentage of affordable housing units in new developments.
“We are setting as high as 30 percent [for affordable housing units] but we certainly want to make that the residents are in these discussions to see how much affordable housing is fair in each community,” he said.
Sigcho Lopez proposed tapping into tax-increment finance (TIF) district dollars to ensure “small businesses and residents are thriving.”
For years, West Loop neighbors have pushed CPS to open a new high school that would serve Near West Side’s neighborhoods, including their own, and last summer, the district revealed a controversial $70 million plan to make it happen.
But they’ll need buy-in from leaders, including the area’s aldermen, to make the plan a reality.
Sigcho Lopez said he was committed to advocating for a new CPS high school in Chinatown and West Loop. But in order to tackle the educational shortfalls, leaders need to address under enrollment among the neighborhood schools.
“We talk about the bigger picture,” Sigcho Lopez said. “We have to make sure across the 25th Ward, across the city…that our schools have all the resources to give our children the best possible education.”
Acevedo also said he would advocate for a high school in the West Loop. He said CPS had made the commitment and he would hold the district accountable to make sure the school becomes a reality.
Acevedo said he aims to improve the quality of eduction across the ward by creating a coalition of principals and teachers which would advocate for more programming in neighborhood schools to “diagnose the root cause” of under enrollment in the ward. He also aims to work with local nonprofits to bolster services to schools.
In the Feb. 26 election, Sigcho Lopez won 29 percent of the vote, while Acevedo received 22 percent of the vote in the five way-race, according to the Chicago Board of Elections.
Hilario Dominguez won about 21 percent of the vote, Aida Flores received about 19 percent and Troy Hernandez received about 8.5 percent.
Because neither Sigcho Lopez or Acevedo — the top two vote-getters — received more than 50 percent of the vote, the race now heads to an April 2 runoff.
Sigcho Lopez is a second-time aldermanic candidate — he previously ran against Solis in 2015.
In 2014, Acevedo previously ran for his father State Rep. Eddie Acevedo’s 2nd Illinois House District seat, but lost the close primary race to Theresa Mah.
In November, Solis, then-chair of City Council’s powerful Committee on Zoning, announced he wouldn’t run for re-election after 23 years in office.
Before cooperating with investigators, Solis was the target of a federal investigation for receiving sex acts at massage parlors, the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra and campaign contributions in exchange for ushering deals through City Council, the Sun-Times revealed.
Solis was appointed to the 25th Ward seat in 1996.
The 25th Ward includes parts of a diverse collective of neighborhoods, including Pilsen, Chinatown, the West Loop, University Village, Little Italy, Heart of Chicago and the South Loop.
The runoff election is April 2.
Related 25th Ward coverage
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