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Aldermen Moreno, Arena lose their seats on Northwest Side

1st Ward aldermanic candidate and incumbent Proco "Joe" Moreno met with the Sun-Times Editorial Board Thursday, January 3, 2019. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st) | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Two veteran Northwest Side aldermen — one dogged by scandal — lost their seats on the City Council Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, three of their peers on the Northwest Side will likely find themselves in run-off elections once the votes in Chicago’s historic city election are tallied.

In the 1st Ward, Daniel La Spata held a commanding early lead against Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno. La Spata had 61 percent of the vote with 98 percent of precincts reporting.

Meanwhile, in the 45th Ward, Jim Gardiner led Ald. John Arena. Gardiner had 51.8 percent of the vote with 98 percent of precincts reporting.

La Spata’s supporters chugged beers and chowed on pretzels and sausage at The Radler in Logan Square. Spirits there were high as they intermittently looked up, wiped their mouths and checked the exit polls.

“I feel excited; I feel it’s a result of hard work and sacrifices by literally hundreds of people,” La Spata said. “It’s a sign that our community is rejecting the cover-ups that are inherent in Chicago’s machine.”

The race in the 1st Ward, where Moreno has been alderman since 2010, has been a rocky one. Both candidates endured scandals in recent weeks. First, Moreno’s name appeared in an explosive federal affidavit obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times, in which political power broker Victor Reyes griped to Ald. Danny Solis that other aldermen — including Moreno — had referred him business, but Solis had not. Moreno denied doing anything wrong.

Then, Chicago police opened an investigation into whether Moreno had filed a false police report claiming his car had been stolen. Police wound up arresting a woman who told the media she had been dating Moreno off-and-on and didn’t know why Moreno claimed his car had been stolen.

The following week, a photo surfaced of La Spata wearing a banana costume while posing with four black children, and men wearing monkey masks. La Spata’s campaign manager said the 2013 photo was taken during a “goofy, kind of a fun activity” that was part of La Spata’s bachelor party.

The race in the 45th Ward, where Arena is ending his second term as alderman, has been more low-key. He faced multiple challengers including Gardiner, a Chicago firefighter/EMT who also coaches basketball in the Chicago Public Schools.

While Moreno and Arena appeared to be facing defeat, Jessica Gutierrez looked poised to push Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th) into a run-off. Reboyras had 48.1 percent of the vote with 94 percent of precincts reporting.

Gutierrez, 31, portrayed Reboyras, 65, during their campaign as a machine politician who was too close to Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Gutierrez is the daughter of former U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez. A second challenger, Edgar “Edek” Esparza, said that’s what drew him into the race. Esparza drew 4.5 percent of the vote.

Jessica Gutierrez said she always wanted to get into politics. She left her Ph.D. program to help campaign for progressive candidates slated by her father’s successor in Congress, U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. Then, she decided to challenge Reboyras.

On Tuesday night, her staffers stood nervously in front of the TV screen at the bar at La Pena Restaurante in Portage Park, scanning the live coverage of the election’s low turn-out.

“I think it’s still early, and I think that she’s exactly the kind of fresh face and independent thinker we need in this ward,” said Joanna Wozniak, a resident of the ward.

Reboyras was first elected to his seat in 2003 but has worked for the city for 40 years.

In the 33rd Ward, Ald. Deb Mell was headed to a run-off, as she trailed Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez by 66 votes. Rodriguez-Sanchez had 42 percent of the vote with all the precincts reporting Tuesday.

Though Mell belongs to one of the most powerful families in Northwest Side politics, she insisted this year that, “I have my own record.”

Mell, 50, is the daughter of the powerful former 33rd Ward Ald. Dick Mell. First elected in 1975, 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.

Mell called complaints about her family’s dynasty “unfortunate,” but Rodriguez-Sanchez had complaints beyond the Mell family name.

“An alderman should be a community organizer, someone who can identify problems who can listen and develop strategies to help the most vulnerable people,” Rodriguez-Sanchez said.

In the 31st Ward, Ald. Milly Santiago also faced a run-off. She had 40.4 percent of the vote while Felix Cardona Jr. had 33.2 percent of the vote with all precincts reporting.

Also on the Northwest Side, Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) and Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) were headed toward victories. In the 39th Ward, to replace retiring Ald. Marge Laurino, attorney Samantha Nugent had 33.1 percent of the vote and ward committeeman Robert Murphy had 29.4 percent. They were the top vote getters in a four-way race with 95 percent of precincts reporting.