CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot ignited controversy — and the ire of Ald. Bryron Sigcho Lopez (25th) —after talking about the state of Pilsen Thursday.
Speaking at a daylong “Innovation Summit,” Lightfoot intended to praise Pilsen’s resurgence, but according to Sigcho Lopez, she insulted residents instead.
“What’s the difference between Pilsen now and Pilsen 10 years ago? Pilsen 10 years ago was a neighborhood we all would have been a little concerned about being in after dark,” Lightfoot said. “Pilsen now is a vibrant, thriving neighborhood.”
Sigcho Lopez, who represents the majority Latino neighborhood, said Lightfoot’s comments were “out of touch” and “insulting.” The neighborhood has served as a historic port of entry for Mexican immigrants, and longtime residents have resisted its gentrification.
Despite those efforts, more than 10,000 Hispanics had left Pilsen since 2000, a 26 percent drop, according to a 2016 UIC study.
Sigcho Lopez, a freshman alderman who was on the front lines of fighting gentrification as the former head of Pilsen Alliance, said the mayor’s comments only showed “one side” of development. They didn’t address the struggle of longtime residents trying to stay in the neighborhood.
Pilsen suffered for decades “from corruption and a public official who was in the pocket of developers, so to talk about only one aspect without talking about the tremendous effect that development has had in the community is out of touch,” Sigcho Lopez said, referencing his predecessor, disgraced former Ald. Danny Solis, whom he sparred with often.
A bombshell Sun-Times report last year revealed Solis became a mole for the feds, secretly recording Ald. Ed Burke (14th) after the feds accused Solis of receiving sex acts at massage parlors, Viagra and campaign contributions in exchange for ushering deals through City Council.
Ten years ago, Pilsen was home to thousands more Latino residents, Sigcho Lopez said.
“To say that this was a community where people were concerned to be after dark, those comments are not only out of touch but they are not in line with how the community feels. Most of the people feel that it’s a beautiful community that most want to continue to be a part of but cannot afford” as rents and property taxes rise, Sigcho Lopez said.
Lightfoot was asked Friday at an unrelated event to respond to Sigcho-Lopez’s criticism, and began by noting that her remarks at Thursday’s Innovation Summit “were not fulsome.”
“I absolutely understand and appreciate the concern and the sensitivity around this issue in Pilsen and in other neighborhoods across the city,” Lightfoot said.
“We are living with a history of development, whether it is housing or otherwise happening in a neighborhood without any intentionality around that,” she said. “What that has led to is displacement.”
Lightfoot said she is committed to “learning the lessons of the past” to help long term residents stay in their neighborhoods that experience growth.
“Development doesn’t have to mean displacement,” Lightfoot said, citing efforts along the 606 Bloomingdale Trail and in Woodlawn. “I think we have a track record of demonstrating that.”
The mayor and Sigcho Lopez have been at odds before during their first year in office. The alderman voted against her first budget, and later criticized her for publicizing who opposed her.
Sigcho Lopez said Lightfoot should apologize and take it one step further by addressing the effects of gentrification that push longtime residents out.
“We are asking Mayor Lightfoot, what is she going to do? When we talk about striving communities, we have to wonder for whom, and we have to wonder what are we doing to make sure the opportunities reach the residents who have been here a long time, especially the Mexican-American residents who built this community and deserve to be part of these opportunities,” Sigcho Lopez said.
“I hope that the mayor acknowledges that her comments were out of touch and hope that she expands on this and makes a commitment to increase more affordable housing, to have development where the community has a say-so and to have real transparency,” he continued. “We are yet to see that.”
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