Open seat in 25th Ward; incumbent faces one challenger in 27th Ward
February 1, 2019

By Eva Hoffman

With the retirement of 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis, the race to succeed him is wide open. In the 27th, incumbent Walter Burnett and a newcomer will battle for the seat.

Alexander “Alex” Acevedo.

25th Ward

A pediatric nurse and community organizer, Alex Acevedo spent the last ten years delivering mobile health care to seniors and people with disabilities, providing public safety workshops, and organizing youth programs. He was born and raised in the 25th Ward.

Acevedo addressed gentrification, saying, “We have to think about multiple factors and underlying causes of gentrification. Affordable housing and healthcare are first and foremost.”

Acevedo advocates curbing gentrification by addressing the community’s economic needs. “We need circular economies that create local jobs and allow for wealth creation at a local level,” he said. “Let’s implement locally based business incubators to grow local businesses and give them access to financial resources and coaching.”

To prevent the El Paseo trail project from bringing gentrification and pushing out longtime residents, Acevedo advocates supporting local business in this corridor. “It is crucial that we freeze property taxes for residents living along the trail who own homes,” he said. Acevedo also proposed incorporating sustainable construction and the arts community into the project. “My commitment as alderman would be to have a holistic, community-driven approach to this project, with regular hearings, comment periods, and input from residents,” he said.

Acevedo has had conversations with the Archdiocese and the community regarding St. Adalbert Church, a historic landmark. “I believe there is an opportunity to revitalize the arts community by transforming the site into an affordable studio space for artists,” he said.

Regarding pollution from the area’s old coal plants, Acevedo said, “We need to demand reparations for the years of health and environmental degradation caused by polluting sites and push for green energy, green space, and re-vitalization of the industrial corridors of the 25th Ward.

“I am against businesses like distribution centers replacing the generating plant and bringing diesel trucks that create more pollution and pose a safety risk to children at nearby schools,” he said.

Acevedo also addressed gerrymandering in the Taylor Street/Little Italy area, which now is divided among three aldermen. “The Little Italy community deserves to have one alderman and fair representation as a neighborhood,” he said.

Weighing in on police protection, Acevedo said, “We need to partner with communities and bring back the trust between police officers and neighbors. We need dedicated beat officers that develop relationships with residents and restore programs like the Officer Friendly program. I started the Pilsen Neighborhood Watch group and grew it from seven members to over 7,000. We have to encourage neighborhoods across the city to engage in partnerships and a smart allocation of CPD resources that will prioritize restoring community trust in the police.”

To fix sidewalks and potholes, Acevedo said he also must address the lagging follow-up on City service requests at the ward and City level. “I will lead a 21st century alderman’s office that responds efficiently to service requests,” he said. “I will also advocate for a community-led process that prioritizes green development. Not only is the green economy good for the environment, but it will continue to bring opportunities for organized labor with sustained job creation.” He also wants more bike lanes and sidewalks to encourage pedestrian traffic that benefits families and small business growth. “I am fully committed in pushing for green development and will hold developers to high standards on energy efficiency and sustainability,” he said.

Acevedo supports heavy accountability and transparency for TIFs (tax-increment financing funds) as well as studying TIF economic and social return on investment across the city to assess their effectiveness in Chicago.

With regard to rent control, he said, “the people of Chicago recently spoke up in favor of rent control at the ballot box, but rent control is not a silver bullet. We need to explore multiple options for renters and homeowners that prioritize the possibility of enabling home ownership to keep communities together and create a circular economy. Increasing affordable housing and implementing options like first time homebuyer loan and credit programs would go a long way.”

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Hilario Dominguez.

After attending Johns Hopkins University, Hilario Dominguez returned to his alma mater, Whitney Young Magnet High School, to teach science. An experienced organizer, Dominguez works to promote affordable housing and end violence.

Rising rents, gentrification, and higher property taxes are forcing out longtime ward residents. As alderman, Dominguez said he will work to create “a people-driven zoning process that balances new development with affordable housing, protecting renters and property owners in neighborhoods like Pilsen, Chinatown, and the West Loop.”

He also wants to ensure the El Paseo bike path benefits the community instead of becoming another factor that forces people out. “We need a community benefits agreement, where we can clearly state how this will add to the neighborhood and write in protections for people who live nearby,” he said. Dominguez said he would work to pass legislation similar to the 606 Ordinance, designed to keep long-term homeowners and renters in place; although that ordinance did not pass, he called it a “great example of what can be done.”

About the Roman Catholic Archdiocese’s plans to sell St. Adalbert Church at 1650 W. 17th St., Dominguez stated clearly the buyer should not demolish the church to build luxury condos. “If the church is sold, I will advocate for the building to be turned into affordable housing with transit-oriented development,” he said. “Any decision should be led by the people in a community-driven process.”

Concerning the neighborhood’s old coal plants, Dominguez said, “There’s no question that our communities have suffered negative health impacts from old coal plants. It is also clear to me that it should not be up to these same residents to pay for a City-funded cleanup.” Dominguez wants to bring a new warehouse and distribution center on one site, on the condition its owners fund cleanup efforts. “I will also work to ensure that, if a new warehouse is built, it contains future economy jobs like the manufacturing of solar panels,” he said.

If elected, Dominguez would be one of three aldermen representing the Taylor Street/Little Italy community. “Splitting Little Italy into three wards may be good for politicians, but it’s bad for residents,” he said. “The aldermen elected this year will be responsible for drawing new lines, and I will work to ensure that communities stay together.”

One of the city’s hottest issues is crime and gun violence. “As alderman, I’ll work to bring more resources to the 25th Ward, including job training and opportunities for residents and police to bridge the divide and find concrete solutions to reduce violence,” said Dominguez. “Efforts to limit the number of weapons available have been hampered by weak gun laws in places like Indiana, only a 30-minute drive from the 25th Ward. If we’re serious about reducing the number of illegal guns, we need to get serious about investing in our communities.”

His commitment to infrastructure includes implementing a participatory budgeting process, where voters decide where the money is spent. “This, combined with more participation in the zoning process, will lead to a more balanced community,” he said.

Dominguez expressed some concerns about the Chicago’s TIF system. “There is a limited amount of money that the City has, and locking a portion for developers to use instead of Chicago Public Schools or any of the resource-starved programs in the city doesn’t best serve residents,” he said. Dominguez supports the TIF Surplus Ordinance, which would ensure officials direct money toward schools, not developers.

Finally, Dominguez favors lifting a ban on rent control, though that would requires lawmakers to pass a bill in Springfield. “In the meantime, I plan to develop a new zoning process where the community has a real voice in deciding what is built in our neighborhoods,” he said. “I previously worked with The Resurrection Project to protect families and help ensure they could remain in their homes, and I will continue the fight to make sure that more affordable housing comes to the ward.”

Aida Flores.

An educator, principal, mother, and native Chicagoan, Aida Flores champions the needs of children, families, and the 25th Ward. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University, a master’s degree in teaching from National-Louis University, and a master’s in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. In her career, Flores has served as a history teacher, founded a dual language academy in Boston, and upgraded a struggling high school in Chicago from Level 3 (the lowest possible rating) to Level 2 in a single school year.

Flores, who became a mother at age 14, also became her high school’s first student to earn the Bill Gates Millennium Scholarship and graduated high school with distinction. “I am an example of redefining what a statistic should look like and demonstrating what is possible when a child has a village to nurture and support her,” she said.

Because of scheduling conflicts, Flores was unavailable to comment on specific plans for addressing issues in the ward.

“I am running for alderwoman because our city can do better,” she said. “I am a resident who wants excellent educational opportunities, a safe community, and leadership that is compassionate and an advocate for us.”

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Troy Antonio Hernandez.

A data scientist with IBM, Troy Antonio Hernandez is a community volunteer and 16-year Pilsen resident. He serves as a director of the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization (PERRO) and holds a PhD in statistics from UIC.

Hernandez advocates City subsidies to facilitate owner-occupied low-income housing. “The current proposal subsidizes property developers,” he said, referring to a proposed Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund, which Hernandez says would allow developers “to pay into a fund to not build on site. This will exacerbate gentrification. Incentivizing owner-occupied housing helps potential middle-class homeowners and low-income folks,” he said.

Gentrification along the El Paseo bike path also can be minimized, Hernandez said. “For the area surrounding the four blocks in Pilsen where it is along residential space, we can provide a property tax freeze for low-income or senior homeowners,” he said.

Asked about the St. Adalbert Church sale, Hernandez said, “I believe in the separation of church and state. The Archdiocese has made it very clear that they don’t want political campaigns to interfere with their parishioners.

“That said, the architecture is stunning and should be preserved,” he said. “If the Archdiocese is unable to maintain the church as a sacred site, then hopefully the community can find an NGO [non-government organization] to put it to good use.”

As director of PERRO, Hernandez has examined environmental problems caused by the old coal plants in the ward and recently organized a PERRO-hosted meeting with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

He pointed to Pilsen’s shuttered coal-fired plant, purchased by Hilco Redevelopment Partners, the same company that plans to put a distribution center at the old Crawford generating plant. Hernandez released a statement encouraging outgoing Alderman Danny Solis to require the fleet at the facility to be 100% electric vehicles, thus creating green jobs.

Hernandez also took issue with the gerrymandered ward maps, particularly in Taylor Street/Little Italy, currently divided among three aldermen. “This should end so that neighborhoods can speak with one voice in City Council and so that aldermen are held accountable to a few specific constituencies.” 

Hernandez disagrees that the ward needs more police. “The 2016 spike in murder notwithstanding, violent crime has fallen precipitously in Chicago and in the rest of the country.” He noted the 12th District police headquarters’ location in the middle of the ward, with UIC police headquarters’ site nearby (though not within) the ward due to gerrymandering, and Taylor Street’s state police presence.

His views on infrastructure are based, in part, on studying transportation during his PhD program at UIC. “I would hold public meetings with CDOT explaining their recommendations and getting feedback from constituents,” he said. “The 25th Ward’s menu money would be used optimally based on all interested parties.

“I’d like to see the water taxi make its way to Pilsen,” he said. “I’d like to try pedestrian and bicycle boulevards where they make sense. Self-driving cars and electric scooters are coming, and we need to be ready for them with appropriate rules and regulations.”

Hernandez said the City needs to replace the lead service lines that connect most homes in Chicago to water mains, noting water main replacements going on around the city present the ideal opportunity for this work. “With the streets and sidewalks already torn up, many of the permit and construction costs can be minimized,” he said.

Hernandez supports a curb or ban on TIFs. “If we end the TIF program, we can get pensions up to a healthy funding level without having to increase property taxes,” he said.

Hernandez does not favor rent control. “One’s rent may be temporarily held down, but as soon as one’s building gets converted into condos there will be no apartments available since no one will leave their rent-controlled apartment willingly,” he said. “Rent control will prevent new immigrants from ever coming to Pilsen again, thereby exacerbating gentrification.”

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Byron Sigcho-Lopez.

An immigrant who made Pilsen his home, Byron Sigcho-Lopez is executive director of the Pilsen Alliance. He holds a master’s degree in economics from UIC, where he is completing his PhD in policy studies in urban education.

If elected, Sigcho-Lopez said he would champion policies and act to ensure the 25th Ward remains a welcoming home for working families. “Many people want improvements to the neighborhood,” he said. “The issue is displacement of long-term residents. On the legislative front, I support the Develop for All and Homes for All ordinances that CHA has proposed.”

Sigcho-Lopez proposes property tax exemptions for long term residents. “In Pilsen we have a 21% affordable mandate that has not been fulfilled,” he said. He proposes setting aside 30% affordable housing on new projects.

“Community driven zoning will allow us to have conversations with developers about affordable housing,” he said. “As alderman, I will have the ability to downzone 25th Ward homes to their current size, ensuring developers undergo a community driven zoning process that protects homeowners and seniors from skyrocketing property taxes and displacement.”

About the Paseo bike path, Sigcho-Lopez commented, “Amenities like the Paseo can uplift communities if they are built with current residents in mind. The 606 path was a force for pushing out long-term residents on the North Side due to rampant developer speculation, which drove up property costs. We have to continue pushing for policies to prevent these issues.”

Lifting the ban on rent control is another way to ensure developers do not have carte blanche to buy up entire blocks without considering the community. “We collected hundreds of petitions to lift the ban,” he said. “All stakeholders in our communities have an incentive to come to the table with solutions that keep our neighborhoods affordable, our families stable, and our communities vibrant and strong.”

Sigcho-Lopez weighed in the sale St. Adalbert Church sale. “There is a school involved,” he said. “What’s going to happen with the school if the church gets repurposed? We need a plan for the kids.”

Regarding the area’s old coal plants, Sigcho-Lopez said, “Both the Fisk and Crawford sites would be ideal locations for a ‘Green New Deal’ with investments in green energy technology and job training for local residents.” He opposes a distribution center, largely due to the tremendous burden diesel truck traffic creates.

Sigcho-Lopez spoke about gerrymandering in the Taylor Street/Little Italy area. “To retain power, our City Council has often carved up communities into smaller segments,” he explained. “The next redistricting will be in 2020, so whoever gets elected this year will have influence. I’m committed to working to ensure every community in the ward is represented fairly and adequately.”

Crime continues to create concern in the ward. “While Chicago spends $4 million a day on policing, Chicago fails to spend even $4 million a year on violence prevention,” said Sigcho-Lopez. “As alderman, I will ensure that stakeholders are brought to the table to ensure violence reduction. When communities come together around issues of police accountability, rapid response times, and violence prevention, as well as local jobs and training, we can begin to create a culture of community safety,” he said.

He also touched on the need for tax dollars to support small business infrastructure via community driven zoning. Sigcho-Lopez cited his past success in connecting local entrepreneurs with a developer. “Back of the Yards Coffee and 5 Rabbits will be opening here in Pilsen, thanks to that process,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “Hilco, who just bought the site of the Fisk Power Plant, should expect a community driven process and do a community benefits agreement.”

Sigcho-Lopez said officials have misappropriated TIFs for too long while communities and schools starve for resources. “I support declaring a TIF surplus to fully fund our public schools and curbing any new TIFs until the program undergoes serious reform,” he said.

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Cynthia Bednarz.

27th Ward

Cynthia Bednarz is a residential real estate broker, business owner, and 27th Ward homeowner since 2000.

She weighed in on non-industrial uses in the Kinzie Industrial Corridor’s Planned Manufacturing District (PMD), saying she believes community and business leaders should determine the PMD’s future.

Bednarz cited the Ogden-Ashland area PMD, which had a high concentration of industrial businesses at its creation in 1998. “Almost all of them are gone, and hundreds of residents are already living in this area aside few industrial firms,” she said. “The PMD should only be retained where compelling evidence is presented that industrial businesses would be threatened by its repeal,” she said.

Traffic safety forms another concern, especially after last year’s incident that killed a bicyclist at a Madison and Halsted construction site. “As alderman, I will introduce an ordinance requiring construction vehicles to install side-guard rails and panels covering the space beneath trucks’ undercarriages to prevent people or bicycles from being dragged underneath,” she said.

As for education, with two daughters in the Chicago Public Schools system, Bednarz has connected with parents across the ward. “The West Loop needs a new high school,” she said. “If the Chicago Police Academy building becomes available, this would be an ideal site for a new West Loop high school.”

Concerning West Loop developers who avoid building affordable units by contributing to the Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund, Bednarz said, “Here’s a lesson from Chicago’s history. We cannot concentrate affordable housing in low-income or moderate-income areas. If we do, it is likely that we will have a concentration of community challenges.

“We must spread affordable housing throughout our city and embrace our diversity,” she said. “I will not allow developers in high-income areas to ‘buy-out’ of the ten percent requirement. They must do ten percent affordable units on-site. Also, we must freeze property taxes because this is a main driver of escalating housing costs. I will not support property tax increases, and I will make affordable housing a major priority.”

On the subject of TIFs, Bednarz commented they should continue only to remediate blighted conditions and revitalize economically disadvantaged communities. “City Hall projects must be physically connected to low-income census tracts as defined by U.S. standards,” she said.

“For every TIF project over $500,000, I will require two public nighttime hearings,” Bednarz noted, adding that, for all $500,000-plus TIF projects, she will require a community benefits agreement to help gain construction jobs and contracts for 27th Ward residents and businesses, especially minority- and women-owned construction firms.

“I will also seek to decommission unnecessary TIFs, returning more revenue to our schools, health facilities, parks, CTA-METRA, police, fire, and infrastructure improvements,” she said. Bednarz intends to help community leaders create neighborhood infrastructure plans and hold meetings to solidify these goals.

Bednarz supports building the CTA Green line Damen station but said officials must verify project costs and revenue sources. “I also want to verify who is getting the construction jobs and contracts for this station,” she said. “This $65 million project must have a written community benefits agreement.”

In addition to planning the CTA Green Line Western station, Bednarz would work to reduce traffic by modernizing CTA buses on Halsted, Madison, and Lake Streets and on Ashland, Damen, Western, Kedzie, Grand, and Chicago Avenues. She also wants heated and lit bus shelters.

“I want to build a Near West Side METRA station near the Ashland Avenue-Kinzie Street intersection that can serve residents, businesses, and jobs in the West Loop, while also spurring economic development west of Ashland Avenue,” she said.

In addition, Bednarz said she would work to gain federal funding to fix the dangerous Lake Street elevated structure from Talman Avenue to Kedzie Avenue.

Bednarz does not favor rent control. “We must build more units for affordable housing demand and market-rate demand,” she said. “We must freeze the property tax to avoid skyrocketing housing costs. We must get City Hall’s financial house in order and avoid raising taxes, fees, and penalties unnecessarily.”

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Walter Burnett.

The incumbent, Walter Burnett Jr., has served as alderman of the 27th Ward since his first election in 1995. Born in Chicago, Burnett lived with his family in the former Cabrini Green housing complex. His father, a local precinct captain, inspired his political career. Burnett attended both Harold Washington College and the University of Illinois at Chicago and went on to earn his bachelor’s degree from Northeastern Illinois University. In 2013, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White appointed Burnett as Committeeman of the 27th Ward Organization. He is serving his sixth term as alderman.

Burnett said he supports the city’s plan to allow non-industrial uses in the Kinzie Industrial Corridor, while slightly relaxing regulations in the remaining area without deviating significantly from what already is there.

In the wake of the bicyclist killed in 2018 at Madison and Halsted Streets near a construction site, and with a significant increase in both pedestrian and vehicular traffic all over the West Loop, Burnett said he would continue to work with contractors and the Department of Transportation, police, and community to increase traffic safety.

Burnett agrees the West Loop needs a new high school. “The population has grown, and it’s always good to have school choices and convenience,” he said. “I will support a new high school and with TIF funds, if needed.”

An affordable housing advocate, Burnett said all developments within his ward must have an affordable component to the project. Over the years, however, West Loop developers have opted to pay “in lieu of” fees, contributing to the Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund rather than building affordable units in their developments. Regarding whether this was good or bad for the ward, the alderman replied that it was both.

“Those funds were helpful to other City projects in our ward,” he said. “We need help with those developments on the West Side. The City has made the pilot program,” referring to a recent ordinance that could eliminate the “in lieu of” fee option in the Affordable Requirements Ordinance. “They have to build affordable housing where we need development.”  Burnett cited an affordable unit built recently at 727 W. Lake Street.

When asked if he would support a curb or ban on TIFs, Burnett replied he would see what proposals come forth.

About infrastructure, Burnett would like to see new and enhanced el stations, new streets and parks, sewer lining projects and sidewalks to enhance the areas that have not had infrastructure improvements in a while. He also wants new lights and speed bumps. “All of those things that we have been doing in the 27th Ward for years,” said Burnett.

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