The results of last month’s election show a neck-and-neck race for the City Council seat representing the 11th Ward ahead of the April 4 runoff.
Incumbent Ald. Nicole Lee was appointed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot last year to replace former Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson when he resigned after pleading guilty to federal tax evasion charges.
Lee became the first Asian American woman to sit on the City Council and now hopes to become the first to be elected, as well.
Lee came out on top in the contest’s first round with nearly 31% of the vote, but it wasn’t enough to avoid a runoff with Chicago Police instructor Anthony Ciaravino, who captured 29% — leaving votes that went to five other candidates in the crowded race up for grabs.
With Thompson’s conviction, it may seem as if the Daley family’s grip on the ward is slipping. But despite changes to the ward’s map and the growth of the Asian community in the last decade, the Daleys and their allies are still exerting influence.
The 11th Ward has a storied history in Chicago politics, having produced five mayors, including both Mayor Daleys. Mayoral candidate Paul Vallas could potentially be considered a sixth if he beats Brandon Johnson in the April 4 runoff and keeps the Bridgeport apartment Vallas rented to qualify as a resident.
Former Mayor Richard M. Daley, as well as his brother — Cook County Commissioner John Daley, who is also the Ward’s Democratic committeeman — have both supported Lee in the race. Lee’s father, Gene Lee, served as an aide to the former mayor. Gene Lee was convicted in 2014 of stealing from a Chinatown charity.
Ald. Lee said her father’s history made her initially hesitant to seek a term in the City Council seat, telling the Sun-Times that becoming a politician “wasn’t something she aspired to do” before she agreed to be nominated for Lightfoot’s consideration for the seat.
“I’ve spent a lifetime not trying to be in my father’s shadow,” she said.
Despite her father’s history in City Hall, she didn’t meet the former mayor until after she was appointed to the Council seat and was invited to join Richard M. Daley and his family for the White Sox opening day game last summer, the alderperson said.
Her challenger, Ciaravino has his own machine connections, with fund-raising support coming from companies affiliated with longtime Daley supporters Fred B. Barbara, a trucking and waste-hauling magnate, and Joseph Feldman, a developer and former publisher of the Bridgeport News.
Depositions in a city lawsuit show Ciaravino was previously assigned to Mayor Richard M. Daley’s security detail.
Ciaravino currently works for the police department as a crisis intervention team member and instructor for the Chicago Police Department, according to his campaign website.
In 2017, Ciaravino was the subject of a weapons complaint that violated department policies and resulted in an 11-day suspension, according to records with the Citizens Police Data Project.
He did not respond to requests for an interview with the Sun-Times.
Ciaravino has positioned himself as a law-and-order candidate and has received backing from the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, the union representing most rank-and-file Chicago police officers.
Ald. Lee said public safety is her top priority both citywide and in the ward, but also listed the continued economic development of the Halsted Street corridor south of 35th Street and along Archer Avenue between Halsted and Ashland as important for the quality of life of residents.
“So much of what I’d love to see happen is that we make this a really walkable neighborhood, and there’s no reason we can’t be,” she said.
The incumbent noted the diversity of businesses, particularly in Chinatown and Bridgeport, as evidence that the mix of cultures is making the 11th Ward thrive.
The ward is one of the most diverse in the city.
Redistricting last year made the 11th the city’s first majority Asian ward, made up of the communities of Bridgeport, Chinatown, Armour Square and parts of Canaryville and McKinley Park.
Ald. Lee said having a representative that reflects the Asian American community in the ward is important and represents decades of work by community leaders.
She pointed to comments Ciaravino made to a WBEZ reporter in an article published Wednesday in which the candidate said he didn’t believe that Asian representation was important. Ald. Lee called that a “disqualifying statement.”
“Not understanding why having representation for a community is important is sort of beyond me,” she said. “That allows us to have a political voice, and we’ve never had that in the 185-year history of this city.”
The incumbent won precincts along Archer Avenue, where many of Bridgeport’s newer Asian residents have flocked in recent years, and she also had a strong showing in Chinatown, where she came in close second behind Chicago firefighter Donald Don.
Don, who is also of Chinese decent, said he is staying neutral in the runoff.
If Ciaravino could claim Don’s share of votes there, Chinatown could be up for grabs, but Ciaravino received less than 4% of the votes in the two precincts that comprise most of the neighborhood on Feb. 28.
Ciaravino captured Bridgeport precincts south of White Sox stadium, suggesting he can pick up votes in precincts on either side of 31st Street, where he and Ald. Lee either nearly tied or she finished behind him.
The alderperson appears likely to get a bump from voters who live between Halsted Street and Racine Avenue where voters gave Democratic Socialist candidate Ambria Taylor her highest levels of support.
Taylor said she is not planning to formally endorse Ald. Lee due to differences in their politics, but she said “we’ve been encouraging people who voted for me not to vote for Tony Ciaravino.”