Democratic Socialist aldermen-elect to shake up City Council

By Alexandra Yetter and Knox Keranen

Updated 5/3/2019 4:18 p.m.: Ald. Deb Bell (33rd Ward) conceded to Rossana Rodríguez-Sánchez April 27 in one of the closest aldermanic races of 2019. Rodríguez-Sánchez will be sworn in with other new City Council officials May 20.


Constituents in the 2019 aldermanic elections voted to bring in five Democratic Socialist aldermen to be part of the increasingly diverse, left-leaning City Council.

If Rossana Rodríguez-Sánchez wins the 33rd Ward race, which is still too close to call, she would become the sixth Democratic Socialist in the Council, joining Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) and newly-elected aldermen Daniel La Spata (1st), Jeanette Taylor (20th), Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) and Andre Vasquez (40th).

La Spata is eager to start his work. On the morning of April 10, he was outside City Hall standing in solidarity with other aldermen-elect against the TIF funding for the Lincoln Yards project being voted on by Council members.

“It was all aldermen-elect [protesting], which is a striking show of what we can expect Chicago democracy to look like,” La Spata said. “The city very broadly voted for change. People saw the moment in this election to reject the history of corruption.”

Despite only having a small number of Democratic Socialists in City Council, Communications Coordinator for the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America Zach Shearer hopes the new aldermen will be able to move the conversation left of the status quo.

For decades, Chicago DSA has battled over the word “socialist,” which has carried negative connotations since the Cold War, Shearer said.

Also protesting the TIF funding was Sigcho-Lopez, who said he has a lot on his plate.

Sigcho-Lopez is attempting to slowdown The 78 development plans, which advanced after an April 10 vote in which the City Council Finance Committee allowed the creation of a new TIF district to partially fund the 62-acre mega-development.

“A lot of residents don’t even know about this project and the massive amount of TIF dollars that it’s going to receive,” Sigcho-Lopez said.

The alderman-elect criticized developer Related Midwest and the City Council for rushing The 78 plans  without details on affordable housing or communication with the development’s residential neighbors, as reported Feb. 8 by The Chronicle.

“It is always going to be a challenge to find consensus in City Council,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “We have more independent voices. The progressive caucus is expected to grow to [about] 18 members. The mayor will not have a rubber-stamp council.”

Vasquez, who defeated longtime Ald. Patrick O’Connor, said he understands skepticism from continuing aldermen for his economic and political leanings but wants to collaborate, nonetheless. 

“I have my ideology, but ultimately we want to make sure we’re providing solutions as best we can,” Vasquez said.

Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th) is the most conservative member of the council, he said, but he said he respects views that align to the left of his.

“I am who I am; they are who they are,” Sposato said.

With  differing political approaches, Vasquez said disagreements are likely, but aldermen need to get past that to put the City Council’s “best foot forward.”

“All the stories are about the Democratic Socialists coming in. ‘Is there going to be a takeover? Is it going to be a fight?’ If we start with people viewing it that way, it doesn’t help us actually find solutions,” Vasquez said. “[Diversity] is better for our democracy because what comes with that is a diverse set of perspectives and a diverse set of urgencies based on different issues.”