Grudge match in North Side’s 1st Ward offers newsy names, while race in affluent 43rd puts money up for debate

It would be the comeback story of the year if disgraced ex-Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno can unseat Ald. Daniel La Spata in the 1st Ward. And in the wealthy nearby 43rd Ward, Ald. Timmy Knudsen is trying to prevent his appointment from fizzling out as one of the City Council’s shortest terms.

SHARE Grudge match in North Side’s 1st Ward offers newsy names, while race in affluent 43rd puts money up for debate
First Ward candidates (clockwise from top left) former Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno, Ald. Daniel La Spata, Stephen “Andy” Schneider and Sam Royko.

First Ward candidates (clockwise from top left) former Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno, Ald. Daniel La Spata, Stephen “Andy” Schneider and Sam Royko.

Provided; Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file photo; provided; and Royko photo by Christopher Dilts

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One of the City Council’s most liberal voices is facing a rematch in next week’s election against the man who spiraled down to one of the chamber’s ugliest exits in recent memory.

It would be the Chicago comeback story of the year if disgraced ex-Council member Proco “Joe” Moreno can unseat Ald. Daniel La Spata four years after the Democratic Socialist took the 1st Ward throne amid Moreno’s alcohol-fueled implosion.

They’re both also up against Sam Royko, son of the famed newspaper columnist Mike Royko. The newspaper scribe’s son touts community connections throughout Logan Square, West Town and Wicker Park as deep as those of Stephen “Andy” Schneider, the preservationist magazine editor who’s also on the ballot.

And in the affluent nearby 43rd Ward, the Council’s youngest member is trying to prevent his recent appointment from fizzling out as one of the chamber’s shortest terms.

To do that, Ald. Timmy Knudsen — tapped by Mayor Lori Lightfoot last September to replace retiring former Ald. Michele Smith — will have to overcome what could be one of the most expensive aldermanic campaigns ever mounted in Chicago history.

Retired attorney Rebecca Janowitz, reprising a 2019 run in the ward spanning Lincoln Park, Old Town and the Gold Coast, has pumped $750,000 of her own money into her political war chest — about eight times the campaign cash that four other familiar neighborhood challengers have managed to put together.

As seen citywide, candidates in both wards point to one priority: improving public safety.

From ‘corrupt’ to crime in 1st Ward?

La Spata’s opponents have tried to paint him as a “defund the police” proponent who leans too far left for 1st Ward voters.

While the incumbent says he doesn’t bother with “slogans or ideologies,” La Spata stands for “reimagining what public safety investment looks like.” That includes investing more money in mental health workers across the city as opposed to hiring more police officers.

La Spata, who has raised more than $124,000 for his re-election bid, told the Sun-Times he’s cleaned up a ward office that’s now “180 degrees different from what it was” under Moreno.

“It had a reputation for being one of the most corrupt, opaque wards in the city in terms of zoning and infrastructure,” La Spata said.

Moreno defended his tenure, saying constituent services under his replacement have “gone straight down” while crime has shot up.

After a reckoning with alcoholism that had led to a series of bizarre headlines — including flashing his aldermanic star to intimidate a woman in a parking dispute and later a drunken crash in the Gold Coast — Moreno says he’s committed to wrapping up “unfinished business” four years after being voted out.

“I make no excuses at all in my personal life,” Moreno said, crediting two years of counseling to get his life back on track. “I’m always going to be energetic and aggressive for the things the 1st Ward needs.”

Moreno, who has worked as a consultant, entered the year with about $81,000 in his campaign fund, trailing the other three candidates, including Sam Royko, who’s put together about $100,000.

An attorney, Sam Royko said he was inspired to run after his wife was carjacked two years ago in broad daylight at the intersection of Division, Ashland and Milwaukee — and they found the response from La Spata’s office “totally inadequate.”

“We felt like we didn’t have an advocate [in La Spata,] so we advocated for ourselves across the city,” said Royko, whose father made a career of skewering Chicago politicians in print at the Chicago Daily News, Sun-Times and Tribune.

“I think he’d appreciate why I’m doing it,” Sam Royko said. “His problem with politicians came when they lost focus on the community and the blue-collar everyday person.”

Schneider, the editor of Screen Magazine and president of Logan Square Preservation, entered the year with $89,000 for his campaign to “build more bridges.”

Schneider, who spearheaded the effort to save the historic Grace United Methodist Church, said La Spata “approaches community engagement as if downtown issues are more important.”

“I’ll be the alderman with a broom and a shovel, working alongside my neighbors,” he said.

Money an issue in affluent 43rd Ward

Knudsen, 32, touted the work he’s done on the ground in the 43rd Ward during his five-month audition for a full term, including reallocating the ward menu budget to install more security cameras.

“My skill set is based in negotiation and finding consensus,” said Knudsen, the former director of the Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals, who has raised well over $165,000.

His campaign has slammed Janowitz for pouring three-quarters of a million dollars into knocking out the ward’s first openly gay alderperson.

Candidates in the 43rd Ward (clockwise from top left) Steve Botsford, Ald. Timmy Knudsen, Steve McClellan, Rebecca Janowitz, Brian C. Comer and Wendi Taylor Nations. 

Candidates in the 43rd Ward (clockwise from top left) Steve Botsford, Ald. Timmy Knudsen, Steve McClellan, Rebecca Janowitz, Brian C. Comer and Wendi Taylor Nations.

Botsford photo provided by Wildwood Studio; Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file photo; provided; provided; and Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Janowitz, 69, doesn’t apologize for being “incredibly fortunate” as a result of an investment she made 30 years ago in a company that made special trackers for solar panels.

“I certainly didn’t earn it in any of my jobs, but it didn’t come from crypto,” said Janowitz, who used to work in Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s 4th Ward office. “Now, I’m investing in myself and my community.”

Real estate developer Steve Botsford, 33, who’s raised more than $53,000 for his campaign, said he’s seen a wave of friends and relatives fleeing for the suburbs as crime rises in the city, an issue cutting into business’ bottom lines.

“We need to find more tax breaks for our small business leaders,” Botsford said.

Marketing executive Wendi Taylor Nations, 59, who has raised more than $27,000, said she decided to run after the city’s crime wave became personal at the Armitage Brown Line station last summer, when a man assaulted her.

“I’m not fearful. I’m angry. And I want to be part of solution, to make our beautiful community a safer one,” Taylor Nations said.

Sheffield Neighborhood Association president Brian C. Comer, 48, had about $9,000 in his campaign fund to start the year, which he’s using to share a message of “innovative thinking” on public safety.

“Too much of the CPD budget goes to top brass and lawsuit payouts. We need to use that for better trained boots on the ground,” he said.

Business owner Steve McClellan, 41, said his unfunded run is unmatched by any of the other candidates when it comes to “tangible projects,” such as the one he led for a new playground and sports field as a member of the local school council at LaSalle Language Academy.

“Everyone else says these things; I’ve done the work,” he said.

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