Rey Colon is seeking re-election to the 35th Ward aldermanic seat on a record that includes lots of new local development and a no vote on the city's notorious parking meter privatization deal. Two challengers are running against him.
Some of the most visible changes in Logan Square, on Chicago's Northwest Side, can be seen along the neighborhood's commercial corridors, where a bevy of splashy new restaurants, bars, and small retail outlets have taken root over the past few years.
For Ald. Rey Colon, whose 35th Ward encompasses much of the community, such projects -- along with park improvements and school construction -- are campaign touchstones, concrete examples of what he argued at an aldermanic candidates' forum last night was his successful stewardship of the ward.
"[W]e're being recognized not only in the city of Chicago, but around the country as a community and as a destination that people want to come to," Colon told the audience of several dozen neighborhood residents yesterday. "So, I'd like to believe I had something to do with that."
If new, local developments are a critical part of the alchemy that makes any aldermanic re-election campaign a successful one, Colon appears well positioned to win a third term to City Council this year over Nancy Schiavone, an attorney, and Miguel Sotomayor, who works for the state tollway authority, the two people challenging him.
In addition to local development, the two-term alderman has the distinction of being one of five council members who voted against the Daley administration's parking meter privatization deal in 2008, as well as the Chicago Children's Museum's plan to move to Grant Park.
Such votes should serve Colon well in a ward that appears to have more than its share of progressive-minded voters, as evidenced by the "del Valle for Mayor" signs that are not difficult to find in Logan Square, an active Green Party whose candidates for political office have staked out positions to the left of many Democrats, and, especially, by the area's community organizations, which have mounted robust campaigns for affordable housing and immigration reform, among many other issues.
And 35th Ward voters have shown they aren't afraid of bucking the machine. Colon's own political trajectory is from the local Democratic Party's independent wing: to win his first term on the council in 2003 he defeated Vilma Colom, a protege of 33rd Ward Ald. Dick Mell. (Full disclosure, the SEIU State Council, which sponsors this website, has endorsed Colon's re-election bid.)
You could sense the strength of Colon's hand at last night's aldermanic forum. Criticism of the alderman came up just a few times, and it mostly came from Schiavone; she challenged Colon about a special service area in the ward and to put more information about aldermanic menu money online. But the critiques were offered politely and dropped quickly.
And while the challengers drew out some distinctions with Colon, the three candidates seem to agree on a number key issues. Each said, in so many words, that the city's business services needed to be streamlined; the ward's next alderman needs to find ways to support a diminished community police program; and that using tax increment financing dollars to help small businesses get their start was a critical part of the ward's recent successes in attracting new retail and restaurants.
That said, Schiavone and Sotomayor seem to be running aggressive campaigns. Both have sent out mailings, as this reporter, a resident of the 35th, can attest, and Sotomayor has a robocall going around. The call does not mention Colon by name but does imply that "special interests" are backing him. The SEIU State Council, meanwhile, has a mailer out lauding Colon for his no vote on the meter lease.
One thing Colon, or whomever is elected to represent the 35th this year, should plan for is more debate about the area's shifting demographics and the displacement that often comes hand-in-hand with new development. While Latinos still comprise the single largest ethic group in this part of the Northwest Side, their numbers have slipped in recent years. More than 10,000 Latinos moved from the area between 2000 and 2009, according to census data, even as the area's white and black populations increased.
The trend has given rise to demands for more affordable housing in the ward and battles, most prominently with regards to the Zapta Apartments project, about it as well (Colon supports the Zapata homes). Take a look at what all three candidates said last night about affordable housing:
As the community continues to develop and change, access to housing is an issue that isn't going away. Colon, by the way, was one of 19 aldermen who voted yesterday to advance the Sweet Home Chicago ordinance, a bill that would earmark more tax increment financing dollars for affordable residential projets.