Realtors staying out of mayor’s race, but doubling down support for friendly aldermen

Local and state Realtors groups are planning a one-two punch of advertising and direct contributions in ward races
By Alex Nitkin | March 22, 2019 02:00PM

From left: Alderman Pat O’Connor (40th), Alex Acevedo, Alderman James Cappleman (46th), and Alderman Leslie Hairston (5th) with a photo of downtown Chicago construction (Credit: Facebook and iStock)

An influential political group representing Chicago real estate brokers will cut checks next week for a dozen candidates, but none of them will be named Lightfoot or Preckwinkle.

Board members of the Chicago Association of Realtors political action committee decided during a meeting Friday they’ll sit out the April 2 runoff race for mayor, according to lobbyist and policy director Brian Bernardoni.

Bernardoni cited the association’s broad support for both candidates in its decision not to wade into the contest, which a late flood of endorsements and lopsided polls suggest could be a landslide victory for attorney Lori Lightfoot over Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

“If polling indicators are accurate, we look forward to working with [Lightfoot] going forward,” Bernardoni said. “But we recognize President Preckwinkle’s long commitment to social justice … and we seek to be a good resource to help her achieve her goals in Cook County.”

The Realtors association’s political arm advocates for a host of policies supported by brokers, developers, contractors and property owners. They include loosening affordable housing requirements, tweaking city ordinances to protect landlords from legal action and broadening the list of city’s building code to allow more kinds of construction materials.

The group also opposes the brewing effort to overturn the state’s ban on rent control, which Preckwinkle said she supports. Lightfoot come out against the policy in a WTTW debate on Thursday after sidestepping the topic during most of the campaign, a shift Bernardoni said he was “excited to see.”

But farther down on the ballot, real estate donors don’t plan to sit on the sidelines.

Chicago Realtors and the Illinois Association of Realtors are preparing a one-two punch to help shape the composition of the next City Council: The local chapter will furnish a round of direct campaign donations, while the state group ramps up its own independent advertising campaign to prop up preferred candidates and bash their opponents.

The local group plans to donate to the campaigns of eight incumbents: Leslie Hairston (5th), Roderick Sawyer (6th), Ray Lopez (15th), Howard Brookins (21st), Ariel Reboyras (30th), Pat O’Connor (40th), Michele Smith (43rd) and James Cappleman (46th).

“We know the incumbents, we’ve worked with them and we find their positions to be generally pro-real estate, pro-development and pro-growth,” Bernardoni said. “There’s no such thing as a perfect candidate … but these are definitely legislators we can work with, and in every case they’re better than the alternative.”

The group will also write checks for challenger Stephanie Coleman in her campaign against Alderman Toni Foulkes (16th), as well as Alex Acevedo and Samantha Nugent in their respective bids for the open seats in the 25th and 39th wards.

Leading up to the February election, real estate interests mostly held off on donations in the 25th Ward, where Acevedo and Byron Sigcho-Lopez advanced to the next round of voting. But during a debate Thursday, Sigcho-Lopez, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, repeatedly accused Acevedo of reversing an earlier campaign promise not to accept donations from real estate developers, according to Block Club Chicago.

“Byron made a commitment at the start of his campaign not to accept money from developers and corporations,” Sigcho-Lopez spokeswoman Rebecca Evans wrote in a statement Friday. “Instead, he’s focused on finding a sustainable, balanced approach that welcomes new development without displacing families who have called the 25th Ward home for generations.

A representative of the Acevedo campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Realtors group also will send a donation to state Rep. Melissa Conyears-Ervin, who faces outgoing Alderman Ameya Pawar (47th) in the runoff race for city treasurer, Bernardoni said.

The donations are expected to range from $1,000 to $5,000 each, in line with the group’s first round of contributions leading up to the February election.

At the same time, the Illinois Association of Realtors will spend up to $190,000 on print mailers and digital advertising in support of seven aldermanic candidates: Lopez, Reboyras, Coleman, Acevedo, Nugent, O’Connor and Cappleman.

The statewide group made its advertising decisions based on the candidates’ stated positions on rent control and “private property rights,” spokesman Jon Broadbooks said.

Realtors are staying out of the runoff races in the 31st and 33rd wards on the city’s Northwest Side, as well as the 47th Ward on the North Side and the 20th Ward on the South Side.