LINCOLN PARK — The hard-fought race to lead the 43rd Ward is a squeaker as incumbent Ald. Michele Smith led challenger Caroline Vickrey by just 98 votes.
With about 96 percent of the precincts reporting, Smith was leading with 50.4 percent compared to Vickrey with 49.6 percent.
The runoff election pits Smith against Vickrey in a race that has focused on development in the ward and turned nasty at points over the past six weeks. Smith and Vickrey were separated by 6 percentage points in the February election that resulted in the two battling in a runoff.
Vickrey addressed her supporters at a bar at 1141 W. Armitage Ave. and, in an interview, said "it's not going to be over tonight."
She said she is confident absentee votes yet to be counted will trend towards her campaign. Running against an incumbent "we feel like it's a victory already."
Smith, a first-term alderman, ran on a platform of moving business forward in the ward, touted her partnership with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and her work on solving the city's pension crisis.
Vickrey, a former attorney who served on the boards of a number of neighborhood groups, campaigned on improving transparency in ward and the development process.
Paul Biasco breaks down the race:
Much of the debate over who should be the next alderman has focused on the ward's largest development, the former Children's Memorial Hospital site, and how Smith has handled the redevelopment process.
Smith worked with the developer of the site to finalize plans for the project, and the most contested aspect, two 21-story apartment towers, and helped push the project through City Council a year ago.
She has called the project a "neighborhood crossroads" that will help bring more residents to the area and support local businesses, especially those along Lincoln Avenue that have struggled since the hospital closed.
Opponents of Smith claim the process lacked transparency and was representative of a number of other smaller developments in the ward over the past four years, including the Walgreens that's set to open on Armitage Avenue and the Lincoln Elementary School annex.
Smith held numerous community meetings to discuss the project, but two neighborhood groups near the six-acre site never agreed to the project and have since tied the project up in a lawsuit.
Vickrey was on the Mid-North Association's board when the group filed the lawsuit, but is not longer involved in the suit.
The lawsuit is still in the courts and the hospital site remains vacant, as it has since June 2012. There was a period for more than a year where talks completely stalled as Smith refused to discuss the redevelopment site until the Lincoln Elementary school got an overcrowding fix.
The school annex was announced unexpectedly without any community meetings in November 2013, and led to outrage, including a fist fight.
If elected, Vickrey said she would like to get the neighborhood groups and developer back to the table to further compromise on the plan.
Whoever wins will have two major development projects on their hands that were proposed within the past year but have sat idle during the election process.
The first is a 225-unit apartment building that was proposed for Lincoln Avenue in January 2014.
The second is a 17-story condominium project that is slated to replace the Market Place Foodstore if approved.
Smith has the backing of Emanuel and has a significant fundraising advantage thanks in part to the mayor, his PAC, Chicago Forward and a number of the mayor's top donors.
That has allowed Smith to flood neighborhood mailboxes with fliers on a near daily basis over the past few weeks with negative campaign ads claiming Vickrey has a plan to install a "Lincoln Park tax" on vehicles entering the ward.
Vickrey said she has no plans for such a tax.
The candidates have each received a handful of endorsements from former aldermen in the ward as well as their former opponents in the February election.
Both Jerry Quandt and Jen Kramer are backing Smith.
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