Heading into the 2019 election season, real estate interests appeared to be lining up behind veteran Alderman Danny Solis (25th), whose chairmanship of the City Council’s crucial Zoning Committee made him a coveted ally for anyone trying to build in Chicago.
The Belgravia Group, McCaffery Interests and the Chicagoland Apartment Association all made donations to Solis’ campaign fund, election records show.
But in November, Solis announced he would not run for re-election, and last month he ceded control of the zoning committee after being implicated in a scheme to use his power to help developers in exchange for personal favors.
The corruption scandal scrambled the wide-open race to replace Solis, pushing all five candidates to sprint away from Solis and his legacy of coziness with the real estate industry. All of them have pledged to make zoning more collaborative and transparent, and to either dissolve or democratize Solis’ Pilsen Land Use Committee.
Whoever wins will be empowered to chart a new course for development in the gentrifying Pilsen neighborhood and in parts of the booming South Loop. The winner will also preside over the 62-acre field where Related Midwest won approval for its The 78 campus. Two candidates, activist Byron Sigcho-Lopez and nurse Alex Acevedo, earlier this month called for the city to delay the approval process for The 78.
Unlike in the nearby 27th Ward, where developers have made at least $160,000 in contributions for a far less competitive race, real estate groups appear to have mostly stayed away from the contest to succeed Solis, according to an analysis of campaign donations by The Real Deal. Industry professionals appear to have spent just over $34,000 to influence the race, a fraction of the $392,000 raised by all five candidates as of Wednesday.
Acevedo, the son of former state Rep. Edward Acevedo, appears to have received more donations from the real estate industry than any of the five candidates, with at least a quarter of his $94,000 fundraising total coming from developers, brokers or building groups.
Most of Acevedo’s real estate donations came from builders and building trades, including $5,000 each from John James Construction and LiUNA Chicago Laborers, the union that also donated $250,000 to Susana Mendoza’s mayoral campaign.
Acevedo also received $5,000 from James Horan, who owned the property at 1061 West Van Buren Street before selling it to Ohio-based developer Pizzuti Companies. Pizzuti later teamed with Related Midwest on plans for a 300-unit apartment building on the site.
The Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters donated $2,500 to Acevedo’s campaign, and Heat & Frost Insulators Local 17 donated $2,000.
“I’m proud to be endorsed by the unions, like LiUNA, Operating Engineers, Carpenters and Plumbers, which continue to offer our communities careers and living wages upon which our residents can raise a family,” Acevedo wrote in a statement. “I have also been outspoken on our need for a full audit of the development process, including my call to review Chicago’s zoning process in the wake of Solis’ corruption.”
Former school principal Aida Flores received the second-most real estate donations in the race, with at least $8,000 of her $76,000 fundraising total coming from the industry.
But the bulk of that sum came from her sister, Century 21 agent Areli Flores, who donated $5,000.
“I really believe in what she’s doing,” Areli Flores said. “She’s a great human being, and she’s always worked hard.”
Flores also received donations of $1,000 each from DSO Properties and Jeffrey Malk of Keeler Real Estate.
Hilario Dominguez, a 25-year-old teacher endorsed by U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, landed the largest single donation in the race: $32,000 from Purple PAC, a group that has heavily supported Northwest Side Alderman Gilbert Villegas (36th) and Mendoza’s mayoral candidacy.
But as far as real estate industry donors, Dominguez has counted few supporters. Acme Refining, a McKinley Park scrap metal shop, donated $1,500 last month. He got another $1,000 from Wells Plumbing & Heating.
In all, about 5 percent of the $98,000 raised by Dominguez came from the real estate industry.
Sigcho-Lopez appears to be the top fundraiser in the race, with just over $106,000 donated so far, no thanks to real estate donors.
The community organizer raked in tens of thousands of dollars from public-sector unions like the Chicago Teachers Union and Service Employees International Union, the same groups buoying Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s campaign for mayor.
But TRD could not identify any developers, brokers or builder groups that have signed checks in support of Sigcho-Lopez’s campaign.
None of the nearly $18,000 in donations received by data scientist Troy Hernandez’s campaign can be directly tied to real estate professionals or interest groups.