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Longtime Ald. Pat O’Connor loses in 40th Ward runoff to political newcomer

40th Ward challenger Andre Vasquez, left, and Ald. Patrick J. O'Connor (40th). File Photos. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

One of the most senior members of the Chicago City Council lost his seat Tuesday to a former battle rapper, socialist and political newcomer.

Ald. Patrick O’Connor trailed challenger Andre Vasquez by more than 1,000 votes in the 40th Ward with 100 percent of precincts reporting. O’Connor, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s floor leader, fell behind early in Tuesday’s runoff race.

Another North Side incumbent, Ald. James Cappleman, held a narrow lead over Marianne Lalonde in the 46th Ward. He led by just 23 votes with 100 percent of precincts reporting.

Also on the North Side, Matt Martin held a commanding lead over Michael Negron in the 47th Ward race to replace outgoing Ald. Ameya Pawar. Martin had 62.5 percent of the vote with 97 percent of precincts reporting. Negron had 37.4 percent.

The challenge to O’Connor in the 40th Ward offered further evidence of a change election Tuesday in Chicago. O’Connor’s 36-year tenure as alderman is surpassed only by Ald. Ed Burke.

Interestingly, Burke won re-election to his 14th Ward seat back in February, despite facing a federal attempted extortion charge that cost him his coveted position as chair of the council’s Finance Committee.

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The differences between O’Connor and Vasquez couldn’t be clearer. O’Connor succeeded Burke as head of the Finance Committee. He has been a member of the council for nearly four decades and once had a role as a member of the Vrdolyak 29 — a group of mostly white aldermen led by former Ald. Edward Vrdolyak who opposed the policies of then-Mayor Harold Washington.

On Tuesday night, O’Connor said he had “no complaints” about the race.

“(Vasquez) is what the people have asked for and that’s what they’ll get and I’m fine with that,” O’Connor said. “I beat a guy when I got here. We all come in under our own power and we all leave under our own power, so I’m OK.”

Vasquez is a socialist and former battle rapper born shortly before O’Connor joined the council. He was endorsed by United Working Families and the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America — the local chapter of the national organization that supports Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Vasquez held his election-night party at Mary’s Attic, a gay bar above Hamburger Mary’s in Andersonville.

“Together, we took on the corrupt political machine at its worst and we won … They outspent us seven and a half to one. Not a smart investment!” Vasquez said.

Ward resident Roger Klich said he supported Vasquez for one simple reason: “He’s not Pat O’Connor.”

Klich said O’Connor frequently put the needs of the ward’s inhabitants second while consistently voting with Emanuel. Klich said he would like to see a democratization of the zoning processes and a slowdown of gentrification.

And if Vasquez doesn’t come through, Klich said he was comforted by the thought that “they can toss the guy out in four years if he doesn’t succeed.”

Vasquez’s neighbor, Keith Friedlander, worked on Vasquez’s campaign with his wife. Though Friedlander described himself as an introvert, he said Vasquez inspired him to get politically active after the election of President Donald Trump. He brought his sons, 8-year-old Morgan and 4-year-old Tristan, to the party to show them not only how democracy works but also to see what their parents have been up to for the past few months.

Excited by the fervor of the growing crowd and the shouts and claps when the mayoral race was called for Lori Lightfoot, Morgan and Tristan struck a pose for news cameras on the venue’s small stage, a massive “Andre Vasquez” banner for their scenic backdrop.

Back in the 47th Ward, voters had a choice between Martin, a civil rights attorney, and Negron, a former policy director for Emanuel.

Martin offered alternative ways to deal with the ward’s housing affordability concerns. He proposed scaling back property taxes and introducing a city income tax. He also suggested requiring new developments with 10 units or more in the ward to have 25 percent of their units set aside as affordable housing.

Negron said he thought those “bold” plans wouldn’t come to fruition. He said he opposed instituting a city income tax and said the next alderman should support Gov. J. B. Pritzker’s graduated income-tax plan.

In the 46th Ward, the fallout from the burgeoning City Hall scandal left Cappleman with the Zoning Committee chairmanship vacated by Ald. Danny Solis (25th). Cappleman tried last month to defer a vote on the massive Lincoln Yards project, which has pitted some aldermen against one another.

Skeptics, including his opponent, called the failed motion a “political charade.” Lalonde has criticized Cappleman for not pushing for more affordable housing in the project. She has also pushed her outsider status as the “science against the machine” candidate.

In the 43rd Ward, Ald. Michele Smith appeared headed to victory with 53.5 percent of the vote with 95.6 percent of precincts reporting. Her challenger, Derek Lindblom, had 46.5 percent of the vote.