CHICAGO — In the 11th Ward on the city’s South Side, the blessing of the Daley family would, typically, be enough to ensure a political candidate’s success.
The city’s most prominent political clan has, in one way or another, exerted heavy influence over the ward’s aldermanic office for well over a half century.
Nicole Lee, the incumbent alder who Mayor Lori Lightfoot appointed last year after her predecessor’s federal tax conviction, is the first Asian American woman to serve on the City Council, and she enjoys the support of the Daley family.
Mayor Richard M. Daley and his brother, Cook County Commissioner John Daley, who also serves as the committeeman of the 11th Ward, hosted a fundraiser for Lee last month in Bridgeport. Lee’s father, Gene Lee, was an aide to the second Mayor Daley before he was convicted of embezzlement in 2014.
At her election night party in Armour Square last Tuesday, Lee told supporters:
“Thank you to the Daley family for their faith in me, for their confidence, for their support, for taking this forward.”
“Now is the time for us to come together as a community,” she added. “Because we’re going to show the rest of the city of Chicago what the best ward in the city of Chicago looks like and how we fight.”
Along with John Daley, those attending Lee’s election night party included Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas, former 11th Ward Ald. James Balcer and acclaimed chef and restaurateur Kevin Hickey, who is part of the team working to restore the Ramova Theatre at 35th and Halsted streets.
But even with the Daley family’s backing, Lee was not able to cross the 50%-plus-one threshold and claim her first election victory on Tuesday.
The field was crowded — Lee faced six challengers — and less than half of the ward’s more than 26,000 registered voters cast a ballot, according to the Chicago Board of Elections. Tuesday’s election was close, too. Less than 20 votes separated Lee and Anthony Ciaravino, a Chicago police officer from Canaryville, who each garnered a little more than 30% of the vote.
Lee, a lifelong Chinatown resident who was an executive at United Airlines before her appointment to the City Council, will now face Ciaravino in the April 4 runoff election.
“It makes me feel outstanding,” Ciaravino said Tuesday night outside his election night party in Canaryville, the white, working-class enclave just south of Bridgeport. “It makes me feel like the idea we had in its infancy has blossomed. People are believing it. It’s a movement.”
Lightfoot appointed Lee to the City Council last year after the previous alder, Patrick Daley Thompson — the nephew and grandson of the two mayors Daley — was convicted of filing false tax returns and lying to federal regulators. Thompson, a former attorney who was previously a commissioner with the Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, was later sentenced to four months in prison.
Thompson’s conviction coincided with the City Council’s once-a-decade redrawing of the boundaries of Chicago’s 50 wards. The 11th Ward was shifted to include Chinatown, home to the city’s booming Chinese American population. As a result, the southern half of the Canaryville neighborhood was cut out of the 11th Ward.
Before he was convicted, Thompson wrote in opposition of ward redistricting plan, telling 11th Ward residents: “Dividing areas or neighborhoods based on race is indeed racism.”
The 11th Ward is home to scores of police officers and other city and county employees, especially in Bridgeport on the east side of Halsted Street. Mayoral candidate Paul Vallas also claims residency in that part of the neighborhood.
Data released Wednesday by the Chicago Board of Elections show that Ciaravino, who was endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, garnered most of his votes on the east side of Bridgeport and in Canaryville. Lee, meanwhile, received most of her support in Chinatown and on the north side of Bridgeport. However, Donald “Don” Don, a Chicago firefighter who also ran for the City Council seat, received significant support in Chinatown.
The Daley family’s influence over the 11th Ward City Council seat goes back generations.
Michael Bilandic won the 11th Ward’s City Council seat in 1969 after Mayor Richard J. Daley, at the height of his power as Democratic Party boss, encouraged him to run. Seven years later, Daley died in office and Bilandic replaced him as mayor.
Patrick Huels was appointed to the City Council seat after Bilandic’s ascension, and Huels eventually became floor leader for Mayor Richard M. Daley. Huels, though, was forced to resign in 1997 after he was accused of taking a $1.2 million loan from a company that did business with the city. Daley appointed Balcer to represent the 11th Ward after Huels’ resignation, and he held the seat until his retirement in 2014.