With Moreno’s defeat, change coming to development-heavy 1st Ward

The alderman was a favorite of developers and landlords before being soundly defeated Tuesday

Chicago /
Feb.February 27, 2019 03:00 PM

From left: Daniel La Spata and Joe Moreno (Credit: Facebook)

The development boom in Wicker Park and Logan Square helped Alderman Proco Joe Moreno amass one of the biggest campaign war chests of anyone at City Hall. But it also could have contributed to his political downfall.

Political upstart Daniel La Spata had said he decided to run against Moreno after learning the alderman took donations from Henry Street Partners, the developers of the MiCa apartment towers in Logan Square, a project some neighbors did not support. La Spata said the campaign contributions “cemented” his decision to run, according to Block Club Chicago.

In one of the biggest upsets of Election Night, La Spata easily defeated Moreno on Tuesday, winning 61 percent of the vote to Moreno’s 39 percent.

La Spata’s campaign did not respond to a request to comment for this story, but in his victory speech Tuesday night he slammed the practices common under aldermanic privilege and vowed to fight gentrification.

“The fact that we trade zoning changes for campaign contributions, the fact that gentrification can be seen as something organic and natural, just as something that happens. That’s not right,” La Spata said, Block Club reported.

La Spata campaigned on a number of progressive issues relating to development and housing.

He is for rent control — an issue vehemently opposed by the Chicago Association of Realtors — and wants to strengthen the city’s Affordable Requirement Ordinance, according to his campaign website.

La Spata supports property tax rebates for some homeowners and wants to reform zoning practices. And he has said he won’t take campaign contributions from developers.

The real estate industry overwhelmingly favored Moreno in the race. Moreno, whose ward includes parts of Wicker Park, Bucktown and Logan Square, received at least $127,000 in contributions from developers, building trades and other real estate professionals since 2018, according to a review of campaign finance records by The Real Deal.

In all, Moreno’s re-election campaign had more than $589,000 cash on hand and raised $220,000 since 2018, 58 percent of it from real estate-related donors.

La Spata, a community organizer with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association and former Friends of The Parks executive, raised only $54,000 for the election, campaign finance records show.

About 8 percent of that total — or $4,500 — was donated from the family of Brian Strauss, whose eviction of beloved rock club Double Door from its longtime Wicker Park location drew the ire of Moreno. It was La Spata’s only real estate-related campaign donation.

The 1st Ward has seen much of the residential development boom that has swept the city in recent years, with firms taking advantage of the city’s transit-oriented development program to erect high-rises along Milwaukee Avenue. Logan Square has one of the hottest housing markets in the city, leading to soaring housing prices — and property tax assessments.

While Moreno did not respond to a request for comment from TRD Wednesday, he sent an email to constituents thanking them for their support. In it he called the ward a “destination for investments, with new transit-oriented developments converting vacant and dilapidated properties into vibrant economic centers that provide housing opportunities near transit, that support existing small businesses and that have created scores of affordable units, placing the ward in the (Top 2) citywide”

Not everyone has been on board with development in the ward.

A number of neighborhood groups have targeted developers and landlords they accuse of spurring gentrification. Prolific Logan Square developer and landlord Mark Fishman has come under scrutiny for raising rents and has been the subject of protests by groups like La Spata’s Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

La Spata wasn’t the only candidate with progressive housing policies to win Tuesday night. The mayoral race is now between Toni Preckwinkle and Lori Lightfoot, both progressives who have backed a number of policies sure to rile the real estate industry.

With Tuesday’s election in the books, developers and landlords could be bracing for sweeping change in the city for years to come.


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