Two Northwest Side incumbents who’ve benefitted from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s super PAC will try on April 7 to hold on to their seats in the 31st and 41st wards, while another alderman the PAC has opposed is seeking re-election in the 45th.
Chicago Forward, the super PAC that raised at least $4 million on behalf of the mayor, has financed mail ads benefitting Ald. Regner “Ray” Suarez (31st) and Ald. Mary O’Connor (41st) but opposing Ald. John Arena (45th).
Suarez, an alderman since 1991, is facing off against former reporter Milagros “Milly” Santiago in the 31st Ward, which runs through Albany Park, Avondale, Belmont-Cragin, Hermosa, Irving Park, Kelvyn Park and Logan Square. In the February election, Suarez captured 48 percent of the vote and Santiago 37 percent.
Suarez, the city’s vice mayor, has the backing of powerful Cook County Democratic chairman Joe Berrios. Santiago was endorsed by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez.
Chicago Forward supported Suarez in February, but didn’t think he needed runoff help as much as others, CEO Becky Carroll said, adding, “At this point it’s a matter of resources and where we can feel we can be most effective.”
Suarez touted a redevelopment plan for the old Marshall Field’s warehouse at 4000 W. Diversey, saying it’ll bring 1,600 jobs, “not one penny with any TIF assistance.” He’s also proud of $9 million in renovations to Kelvyn Park High School.
He chalked up the runoff to ward remapping that brought in new residents and a “very desperate” challenger.
“When people are talking lies about you, at times, people buy that,” he said.
Santiago accused Suarez of running the ward like a dictatorship where residents are being left behind while he amasses millions for his own political future. Neighbors tell her crime is up, she said.
“It’s time for him to leave,” she said.
O’Connor is battling firefighter Anthony Napolitano for the job she’s held since 2011 in the Far Northwest Side’s 41st Ward, covering Norwood Park, Edgebrook, Edison Park, Oriole Park and noisy O’Hare Airport.
Chicago Forward’s mailings supporting O’Connor in the runoff were sent independently, the alderman said, adding, “My message is much stronger, and I would prefer to have campaigned on my own.”
Napolitano accused O’Connor of keeping lockstep with the mayor, voting “98 percent of the time with the mayor. That’s not what we wanted here. We wanted a voice.”
O’Connor held out her track record of money for school annexes and sewers, saying, “If he’s alleging I’m a rubber stamp, I work with the mayor and I delivered. And I delivered on what people have said was important to them.”
Napolitano, whose largest donations come from unions, called the ward’s services “atrocious, and we’re paying so much money in tax dollars.”
He said the noise from O’Hare’s reconfiguration is maddening and O’Connor, vice chair of the aviation committee, hasn’t fixed it for residents.
But O’Connor contended she inherited O’Hare’s problems and has asked local, state and federal authorities to address them.
Arena, a member of the Progressive Caucus, took 46 percent of the vote while John Garrido, a Chicago Police lieutenant and lawyer, got 40 percent in February. The 45th Ward comprises Jefferson Park, Forest Glen, Gladstone Park, Portage Park and Old Irving Park.
In 2011, Arena bested Garrido by 30 votes, so both are scrambling to win voters.
The incumbent cites his master plan for Six Corners at Irving Park and Cicero to become a “regional shopping district” as a reason he should win.
Arena’s support comes from unions that have denounced the mayor.
Chicago Forward came after him, Carroll said, because it wanted to address his “support for increasing and supporting various taxes. We feel that’s a legitimate issue in this race.”
But Arena said Chicago Forward just wants someone who will do the mayor’s bidding. It wants aldermen who will ask the mayor, “What can we do for you, sire?” he said.
Garrido, who ran as a Republican for Cook County Board president in 2010, says the super PAC liked the third candidate, saying, “The perception is somehow I’m getting the mayor’s backing. It’s no secret the mayor’s office doesn’t like [Arena].”
Calling Arena “combative,” Garrido worried the alderman’s contentious relationship with City Hall affects ward services — side streets aren’t plowed as fast as neighboring wards, for example.
“Is that Arena’s fault because of his relationship with downtown, or did we just get overlooked?,” he wondered.
Contributing: Fran Spielman