Last month, Alex Acevedo came in second of the five candidates vying to replace disgraced 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solís. Providing a more conservative, homeowner-focused foil to his runoff companion Byron Sigcho-Lopez’s DSA-endorsed platform, Acevedo often reminds voters of his work as a nurse and with a neighborhood watch group.
Acevedo’s homeowner-focused platform is rooted in his family’s political history, which stretches back decades in Pilsen. His father is former state Representative Eddie Acevedo, a one time cop who, after getting slated to run by the corrupt Daley-linked Hispanic Democratic Organization, represented the area in the Illinois House of Representatives for over twenty years until 2016. That year, Eddie unsuccessfully tried to have his son be appointed to replace him in an old Chicago tradition—which another beneficiary of that nepotism, Cook County Commissioner John Daley, vetoed. Alex then ran in the election with Solís’s endorsement, eventually losing to progressive challenger Theresa Mah.
That election led to a rift between the Acevedo family and Solís, and in the 2019 aldermanic election Alex has been quick to distance himself from the incumbent and identify himself as a progressive, even doing so on campaign materials. But with his opposition to rent control and support from the Fraternal Order of Police, it remains to be seen whether he can break from his association from the old establishment in this race. (Sam Stecklow and Quinn Myers)
This interview, which was conducted before the February 26 election, has been edited for length and clarity.
What is the coalition that you’re building? What is the people power behind you?
It’s not just this campaign. I’ve lived in Pilsen for thirty-three years of my life.… It was one of those areas where no one wanted to come because gangs and violence plagued our corners, but we stood here. My family stood here. We went to our schools, played at our parks, shopped in our stores, I got my first job here—because we love it. But we knew there was a lot of hardships to overcome. That’s what pushed me to get involved in my community and build these coalitions.
One of the things that I was able to do, and I’m proud of, is creating the very first neighborhood watch coalition. About three and a half years ago, Pilsen was hit with [six] arsons in a row, week after week after week. We couldn’t find the arsonists. An undocumented individual actually ended up dying from smoke inhalation, people lost their homes. [Ed note: The Weekly was unable to independently verify that the person who died in the arsons was undocumented, or that Acevedo’s neighborhood watch coalition was the very first in Pilsen.] No one wants a community where there’s a cop on every block, or there’s a camera on every house, right? Because there’s no sense of privacy anymore, and you wouldn’t want to live in a world like that. So veterans, parents came together—there was only seven of us—came to the table and said, “What can we do to provide a better neighborhood, safer neighborhood?” Not one where it’s just like, we want to be security guards and walk down the street and say, “You’re doing that wrong,” or take a picture. No, but bringing back civic engagement.
We have over 7,000 people who are on our email list, who are on our phone tree, who are on our social media. We meet once a month. We use some of the information that’s given at CAPS meetings, but we’re not a police group; we work with them as a coalition, but we take their stats and some of the crimes that are being recorded, and we share the information with the stakeholders, the community at large, because we want people to come to us. There’s a lot of people who don’t call 311 or 911 or go to the local police, because they’re afraid of vengeance, something that’s going to come back to them, a retaliation because a gang member knows where they live. So they come to us and we report it anonymously.
On the other side is something I’m very passionate about: the coalition of health care. Our culture is home to [some] of the most silent killers: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attacks, diabetes.… These things need to be addressed, and there needs to be some type of remedies or support. What were we doing to connect [the health care resources of the 25th Ward] to the people and the alderman’s office? We weren’t doing much. [So] we provided basic screenings to the people for free, and if we noticed that their readings were off the charts, we followed up with long term care for them. We brought the services to schools, to parks, to small businesses, to churches.
The big picture more is the environmental coalition. Why? I’ve seen as a nurse in the ER rooms where we have kids brought in with lead poisoning. You’re like, lead poisoning? I didn’t even know that existed. But it does. These are six- and seven-year-olds living in affordable housing or outdated housing eating paint chips, drinking from faucets, and it doesn’t happen overnight. My coalition is focused on making sure that basic health care and environment are the main priorities not just of the ward, but the city of Chicago. How can we redevelop the Pilsen Industrial Corridor so that tomorrow looks promising, health-wise? We all want to have great businesses and good education, great jobs and opportunity. But if we don’t have good health care and a good environment, none of that’s going to exist.
So I’ve been talking to a lot of environmental groups, including the Illinois Green Alliance, who’s talking about building green development, smart development. What I want to be able to do is build a coalition of architects, of environmental folks, policy experts, and residents, where we can talk about how we can clean up the Cermak corridor, because people most people think that you can get a bulldozer there today, knock it down, and build a park tomorrow. That’s going to take years of remediation, but there’s things that we can do today where we can benefit today and that’s taking, you know, good policy, good research.
How would you ensure that you remain accountable to these coalitions, should you be elected?
One of the things I want to make sure [is that] I’m accountable. That’s the very first thing that people know that I’m accountable. I like the hashtag that we use, #AlwaysOnCall. Because as a nurse, you know, when you’re on your shift, you’re always on call, and you have to be there for the residents. But absolutely, when it comes to to business, when it comes to developers, there is going to be a certain process, right from the initial approval stage. If you want to build something, you want to provide a business here, the community is going to know about it to all the way to the end.
How we hold them accountable is measuring certain metrics—the results may be different on a case-to-case basis. But the process is going to be the same. So if you want to build green development here on Cermak corridor, and you come in and you say, “Hey, Alderman Acevedo, I want to build this”—that’s great. But let me bring my people with me too.
If you’re going to come in and you’re going to build here, why not spend some money and fund some of this public infrastructure? There are ways that we can do that today, because we can’t scale back, right? We can’t scale back from these high-rises that are already built, we’re not gonna knock it down to build a park. But we can say, hey, look, if you care about this community, and you want to stay here, how about investing in our parks? Invest in some of our schools, or invest in the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund to give to some of these small business owners or working class families that can’t afford to fix their facade, or upstairs or downstairs.
At the candidate forum hosted by the Chicago Housing Initiative, all of the candidates were asked if they support keeping the Pilsen Land Use Committee (PLUC), Danny Solís’s handpicked group that advised him on zoning changes for large developments. You said that you were in favor of keeping it and expanding it. Could you talk more about that?
People go, “What is PLUC?”, right? It’s something that was created by the alderman, and I believe it was created so that he can kind of wash his hands and put the blame or benefit on them, to say, “People don’t like it? Blame PLUC, don’t blame me.” But the people who are in PLUC, a lot of them have done great work for this community. [Pilsen Neighbors Community Council treasurer and longtime activist] Teresa Fraga, you know, we call her the godmother of Pilsen. She worked to bring Benito Juarez here, the first high school in Pilsen. Esther Corpuz of the Alivio Medical Center, which services not only residents, but undocumented families. Some of these folks are on it for the right reasons. I believe they have a true passion and want to benefit everyone who’s within our community.
But what I mean by expansion is that if we’re going to have PLUC, or some type of mirror group, we want actual residents to be a part of this. Like, hey, look, we can have five members who run these nonprofits, that’s fine. But let’s include actual residents here as well.… The residents are going to have just as much of a vote as the members of PLUC. I believe there’s a lot that we can learn from [the current members]—these folks are not just residents, but they’ve helped build Pilsen [to] what it is today. So we can’t discredit for some of the good work, but going forward people want transparency.
At the same forum, you said you were opposed to rent control and the Fair Housing Ordinance. What do you think are good solutions for maintaining affordability and stopping displacement?
Rent control is just not the solution for Pilsen and stopping gentrification, and I say that because if you look at the amount of homeowners in Pilsen that actually live here, it’s thirty percent. [Ed. note: as of 2016, it was 26.5 percent.] Seventy percent live in New York, Kentucky, LA—outside of our city, outside of our state. [Ed. note: The Weekly was unable to confirm this statistic.] If we implement rent control today, that thirty percent is only gonna drop, so you’re gonna see less homeowners who actually live here. People who are renters, most of the time, they’re here for a couple years and they go. We’re seeing a lot of the younger generation, millennials, who are here for school, or they love Pilsen because it’s hip, it’s an up-and-coming community. Which is great—we love to see diverse ages, races, ethnicities—but this is home to me, I want to raise my daughter here, where the air is clean, she can drink the water, she can go to a great neighborhood school. That’s where families come in. In order to keep working-class families here, we have to provide resources for home ownership. There’s a lot of resources there today most people don’t know about, but how we preserve [affordable housing] today is, what we can do as an alderman is work with the new [Cook County] Assessor. Let’s provide some property tax freezes for families that have been here for at least ten years, especially on the Paseo trail that we’re building.
There have been a lot of renters who have been displaced in the last few years—not younger people here for school, but long-time residents. Do you have any thoughts on ways to make Pilsen a place for those people in the community to come back to?
Absolutely. What some other wards are doing, and even some other cities, is they’re creating pool preservation through nonprofits. What they used to do back in the day that they don’t do today is, nonprofits would buy property—they would use city funding or state funding to buy property—and they would create affordable units, and they would help tenants with their credit scores with job placements. And over the course of the years, they would monitor that, and if the tenant is on the right track, [the nonprofit] actually sold the house to them. These are people who never thought in their lifetime that they would own a home. These are programs I want to bring back to the community—create that pool preservation, where it’s affordable units, but also give people an opportunity to buy to help them with management of funding, give them job placement opportunities, because that’s what everyone wants, right?
One of the biggest things that’s become controversial in this election is Danny Solís, and people’s associations with him. You’ve been very critical of him recently, but you were also endorsed by him in 2015. How would you describe that relationship prior to 2015?
When I ran for state rep, he endorsed me, but really, he wasn’t involved in my campaign, didn’t give me a single penny, no resources. Quite frankly, I don’t see what his endorsement included besides his way of saying, “Oh, I supported Alex.” But when I was unsuccessful at winning, the very next day, I hosted a clean-and-green, where we got neighbors together and cleaned the street. And I continued to do that—creating the neighborhood watch coalition and building things—and then I would be approached by people in the community, got calls from some reporters, got calls from some of Solís’s volunteers and precinct captains: “Hey, are you running against him?” I’m like, “Why? The election’s not for another three years.” “But why are you doing these things?” I said, “Look, when I ran for state rep, 5,000 people just in Pilsen came out to vote for me. They believe in me, and I can’t turn my back on them, so at least I can be of service for them.” And it continued to build, build, build, because I saw the neglect that Solís has been doing. All along, from development, to lack of accountability, to being there for people, and that’s when I knew that someone had to do it. You can’t sit on the sidelines.
I’m not my father. My father, he was a state rep, he served his time in public service, but he comes from a different industry: he was a police officer, I’m a nurse. He has a different story on why he ran for office, and I have mine. Growing up, I always told my parents, I didn’t want to get involved in politics and become a police officer, I wanted to get involved in being at the bedside with patients. I became a nurse because my grandpa was confined to a wheelchair for so many years—he had chronic diabetes—and he would call me and say, “Hey mijo, can you take me to the doctor?” And I’m eighteen years old and was like, “Grandpa, it’s Saturday, I want to hang out with my friends.” But I took him. I had a car, a Dodge Intrepid, and I would take him every other week, and it was the nurses who provided the advocacy for him.
Over the years, I don’t know what my father’s relationship with Solís was. But for me today, I was running before Solís decided he was going to retire. He was boasting: “Oh, more candidates, I’m gonna win.” But I stood strong, and I was listening to residents. I was out there knocking on doors. I was getting petitions. I was being vocal against Solís, because the people needed change.
Ellen Mayer is the former politics editor of the Weekly. She last helped coordinate coverage of the 2019 municipal elections for the Weekly, and covered the 25th Ward race.