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Lightfoot Scores Major Victory, And Will Preside Over A Changed City Council

Lori Lightfoot started her campaign for mayor as a little-known underdog. But after a series of scandals knocked out or damaged several more established candidates, she waltzed to an easy victory over Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in Tuesday's runoff election.

Between the new mayor and a slew of new aldermen (and openings in key committee positions), the commercial real estate industry will likely be facing major changes.

Lori Lightfoot at her election night's victory celebration

Lightfoot, a former prosecutor and former head of the Chicago Police Board, won 74% of the vote, defeating Preckwinkle by a nearly 3-to-1 margin, a gap not seen since former Mayor Richard M. Daley beat a pair of unknowns in 2003. She won all 50 wards, and swept nearly all of the city’s roughly 2,000 precincts, save a few around Preckwinkle’s home base in the Hyde Park neighborhood.

The scale of her victory may give the new mayor-elect, the first African-American woman and first openly gay person to take over City Hall, a mandate to change how the city has been governed over the last few decades by Emanuel and Daley, both lauded by the commercial real estate industry for fostering pro-business climates.    

But what the election results mean for the industry remains unknown. The candidates criticized Emanuel’s effort to rush the approval of massive new developments like Sterling Bay’s Lincoln Yards and Related Midwest’s The 78, but the campaign was dominated by concerns over crime, police-community relations, education and other social issues. Although both Lightfoot and Preckwinkle repeatedly said they wanted to see more development on the south and west sides, not just the downtown and its peripheral neighborhoods, neither put forward detailed economic or budget plans.

“We will put the interests of our people, all of our people, ahead of the interests of the powerful few,” Lightfoot said during a victory celebration last night.

“We will break this city’s endless cycle of corruption,” she also vowed, an obvious reference to 14th Ward Alderman Ed Burke, longtime ruler of the City Council’s powerful Finance Committee, who was charged in January with pressuring the owner of a Burger King who needed a building permit to donate thousands to Preckwinkle’s campaign.  

Preckwinkle denied knowledge of Burke’s actions, but the damage was done. The taint of scandal surrounding city government got even worse when the Chicago Sun-Times reported 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis, a key Emanuel ally and head of the Zoning Committee, cooperated with federal law enforcement by recording numerous conversations with Burke. Preckwinkle quickly went from being one of the favorites in the crowded primary on Feb. 26 to finishing second to Lightfoot.

The scandals fueled an anti-incumbent fervor among much of the electorate, and brought in a new batch of aldermen. This could turn out to be as important as the outcome of the mayor’s race, as both Lightfoot and Preckwinkle said they would allow the council more freedom to choose committee chairs, a power usually reserved for the mayor.

The most striking change was probably in the 25th. Solis decided not to stand for re-election, and last night Byron Sigcho-Lopez, former executive director of the Pilsen Alliance, a Southwest Side organization that fights gentrification and protests the plans of developers that see Pilsen as the next hot neighborhood, handily won the ward’s runoff election.

46th Ward Alderman James Cappleman

Another notable change happened in the 40th Ward. Alderman Patrick O’Connor, the longest-serving City Council member except for Burke, lost to Andre Vasquez, a first-time candidate, musician and former campaign worker for Sen. Bernie Sanders.

O’Connor took over the Finance Committee after Burke gave up the chairmanship, and his loss leaves the key position open for other members like 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack, one of the leaders of the council’s Progressive Caucus and a backer of Lightfoot.   

Real estate leaders recognize big changes may be coming, but some say they still feel optimistic they can adjust, and even convince the many newcomers to ease up on demands to increase the percentage of affordable housing units in new developments, or stop the use of tax increment financing to projects like Lincoln Yards.  

"There are definitely more progressive aldermen, but we ultimately think many will realize that the things they are asking for will not help get things done," Chicago Association of Realtors Senior Director of Government Affairs Brian Bernardoni said.

He also has high hopes for Lightfoot.

"She's a fairly conservative prosecutor, and is definitely not a shoot-from-the-hip individual," he said.

That thoughtfulness is coupled with a solid housing agenda, he said. Lightfoot strongly supports the Realtors' efforts to modernize the city's building code, currently nearing approval by the City Council, as well as proposals to streamline the permitting process for construction.  

Furthermore, the anti-incumbent mood only went so far, and voters in several wards stuck to the familiar, Bernardoni pointed out.

30th Ward Alderman Ariel Reboyras, a strong ally of Emanuel, beat back a spirited challenge from progressive Jessica Gutierrez, the daughter of former U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez.    

The most important hold for the status quo may be 46th Ward James Cappleman, who took over the Zoning Committee when Solis stepped down. Ever since joining the council in 2011, he forged close relationships with housing developers and approved the construction of many new market-rate units in gentrifying Uptown, a profound change from former Alderman Helen Shiller, who blocked many builders and focused on creating heavily subsidized affordable housing.    

Cappleman was endorsed by the Realtors, and held a 23-vote lead over Marianne Lalonde, a scientific researcher who criticized the use of a local tax increment finance district to fund a luxury high-rise. Election officials have not yet counted mail-in ballots.

And some incumbents who fell last night were opposed by the Realtors. 

Stephanie Coleman, for example, soundly beat 16th Ward Alderman Toni Foulkes, who was strongly supported by the Chicago Teachers Union, and 45th Ward Alderman John Arena, one of the most vocal critics of Rahm Emanuel, lost his seat outright in the primary election. 

Overall, the Realtors endorsed 11 aldermanic candidates in the runoff election, and nine either won or were ahead pending the counting of mail-in ballots.

"Last night was a tremendous win for the Realtors," Bernardoni said.