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Dynasty dustups on Northwest Side: Gutierrez loses Council bid, Mell could, too

33rd Ward aldermanic candidate Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez shows her "I voted" sticker outside of polling station at the American Indian Center, located in Chicago's Kimball neighborhood on Election Day, April 2, 2019.| Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Two political dynasties were at stake on the Northwest Side in Tuesday’s election, and neither had much to celebrate by day’s end.

Ald. Deb Mell refused to concede defeat, despite finishing the night 24 votes behind in her bid to hold the City Council seat held by her family since 1975.

And in the nearby 30th Ward, Jessica Gutierrez, the daughter of former U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, lost an effort to continue her powerful political lineage.

It was a night of tough races on the Northwest Side.

In the 31st Ward, Ald. Milagros “Milly” Santiago was trailing badly in her bid onto her seat for a second term against Felix Cardona Jr., who worked in the Cook County assessor’s office under Joe Berrios.

In the 39th Ward, Samantha “Sam” Nugent beat Robert Murphy in battle for an open seat.

In the very diverse 33rd Ward, Mell tried to pick up steam after being forced into a runoff by Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez. The challenger is one of five members of the Democratic Socialists of America who made it to runoff elections this year.

With all precincts counted, Rodriguez-Sanchez led Mell 50.1 percent to 49.9 percent. But with the race so close, mail ballots could still play a big role.

Mell, surrounded by family and friends at Leader Bar, said she felt “really good” and did not plan to concede until all mail ballots had been counted.

“We did a really aggressive vote by mail campaign,” Mell said.

Earlier, Mell said she felt “we gave it our all.”

“We’re just going to wait and see,” she said.

Ald. Deb Mell met with the Sun-Times Editorial Board in January. File Photo. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times
Ald. Deb Mell met with the Sun-Times Editorial Board in January. File Photo. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Rodriguez-Sanchez, a first-time political candidate, beat Mell by just 83 votes in February. Mell narrowly avoided a runoff in 2015 — and Rodriguez-Sanchez worked on the campaign for the candidate who nearly beat Mell that time.

Rodriguez-Sanchez on Tuesday night called the election “nerve-racking but beautiful.”

“These people have decided to build something with me,” Rodriguez-Sanchez said. “I feel proud and excited and a little nervous.”

A fall for Deb Mell would mean that a member of the Mell political dynasty wouldn’t be running the ward for the first time in 44 years. Mell, 50, is the daughter of powerful former 33rd Ward Democratic committeeman and Ald. Dick Mell. Dick Mell famously jumped up on a desk during the tumultuous 1987 City Council meeting to decide a successor to the late Mayor Harold Washington.

Deb Mell, sister of former Illinois first lady Patti Blagojevich, was appointed to her father’s City Council seat in 2013 after Dick Mell announced he was stepping down. She was previously a state representative.

In the 30th Ward, which encompasses the Belmont-Cragin, Portage Park and Irving Park neighborhoods, Ald. Ariel Reboyras was trying to hang on in the hardest fought race he’s had since he was first elected in 2003. He was up against a formidable force in Jessica Gutierrez, the daughter of former U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez.

From left, 30th Ward aldermanic candidate and incumbent Ariel E. Reboyras and challengers Jessica W. Gutierrez and Edgar “Edek’ Esparza met with the Sun-Times Editorial Board Friday, January 4, 2019. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times
From left, 30th Ward aldermanic candidate and incumbent Ariel E. Reboyras and challengers Jessica W. Gutierrez and Edgar “Edek’ Esparza met with the Sun-Times Editorial Board Friday, January 4, 2019. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

With all precincts in, Reboyras led 51.9 percent to 48.1 percent.

Reboyras beat Jessica Gutierrez by just 27 votes in the February election. Reboyras, 65, was first elected in 2003 and was seeking his fifth term. He was also a key ally to outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel, something his challengers had worked to highlight. Jessica Gutierrez had called him a “rubber stamp alderman.”

In the February election, Reboyras narrowly beat Jessica Gutierrez, a community organizer who said she planned to try mobilize younger voters in the ward. Reboyras, in turn, ran a campaign calling Jessica Gutierrez the machine candidate.

Last week Jessica Gutierrez, 31, fought back against campaign text messages that called her “daddy’s little girl.” And she had a supporter in her battle against those messages: Ald Deb Mell. Mell said she, too, has fought against being called “daddy’s little girl,” which she called misogynistic.

In the 31st Ward, Santiago was nearly ten percentage points behind, but she refused to concede.

With 97 percent of precincts reporting, Cardona Jr. led Santiago 54.3 to 45.7 percent.

In 2015, Santiago defeated long-term alderman Ray Suarez, who was a Berrios ally.

31st Ward aldermanic candidates Milagros “Milly” Santiago (incumbent, left ) and Felix Cardona Jr. met with the Sun-Times Editorial Board Tuesday, March 12, 2019. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times
31st Ward aldermanic candidates Milagros “Milly” Santiago (incumbent, left ) and Felix Cardona Jr. met with the Sun-Times Editorial Board Tuesday, March 12, 2019. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

In the 39th Ward, Nugent and Murphy faced off for an open seat of retiring Ald. Marge Laurino. For the first time in more than half a century, voters in the Far Northwest Side ward didn’t see the name Laurino on the ballot.

With 95 percent of precincts reporting, Nugent led 55.6 percent to Murphy’s 44.4 percent.

Laurino’s retirement ended her family’s 54-year hold on the City Council seat and opened the door for a new voice in the ward. Laurino, 66, represented the ward for 24 years after taking over from her father, Anthony Laurino. He died awaiting trial on charges that he hired friends and relatives for no-show jobs.

Murphy nearly pushed Marge Laurino into a runoff four years ago. Murphy this time around had framed himself as the “independent, progressive” candidate with plans to clean up City Hall corruption. He’s supported by the Chicago Teachers Union as well as U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi and Cook County Clerk David Orr.

Nugent worked as former Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s director of operations. Nugent, the mother of three children in elementary school, was endorsed by Emily’s List, Chicago’s National Organization for Women PAC, U.S. Rep. Mike Quigly and Luis Gutierrez.