31ST WARD — Challenger Milagros "Milly" Santiago has declared victory over longtime Ald. Regner "Ray" Suarez after a close race Tuesday.
"I'm happy with the hard work we did and the message of hope and change [we shared with] the people. I'm happy and in shock. We always thought it was going to be close because [Suarez] ran a good campaign and so did I," Santiago told DNAinfo Chicago.
All precincts were counted by 9:30 p.m., with unofficial results showing Santiago winning with 50.8 percent of the 8,173 ballots cast Tuesday.
Suarez, however, did not concede the race Tuesday evening.
"We are waiting for final results, and I want to be sure that all votes are properly counted and viewed. Due to some technical issues in a handful of precincts, all the votes will not be counted until tomorrow. In addition, there were absentee ballots returned over the weekend which have yet to be tabulated," Suarez said in a statement.
Santiago said she was confident that the final results would turn out in her favor, but understood why Suarez wanted to wait before calling the race.
"For him to give up after 24 years, it must be a very hard thing to take. He was popular, but he finally got a strong and aggressive challenger. So I think for him, it's a lot about him not wanting to let go," Santiago said.
During the Feb. 24 municipal election, none of the four candidates received more than 50 percent of the total 5,930 votes. Suarez, who received 48 percent of the votes, and Santiago, a former reporter who received 37 percent, advanced to Tuesday's election.
Knocked out of the race were Sean C. Starr, with 10 percent of the votes, and Irma Cornier, who received 5 percent.
Suarez, a Vietnam War veteran, was first elected to lead the Northwest Side ward in 1991. The 31st Ward includes parts of Hermosa, Belmont Cragin, Portage Park and Logan Square.
Suarez, the city's vice-mayor, has cited job creation and a decrease in crime as highlights of his two decades as alderman.
Suarez told the Sun-Times in January he was against a property tax increase but would like to examine TIF reform, a commuter tax or taxes on large financial transactions. He also noted his "proven track record" of bringing business to the ward, including 2,200 new jobs, and promised to require that new employers hire more ward residents.
Santiago accused Suarez of soliciting campaign contributions from local businesses in exchange for necessary permits or other assistance. She pledged to reduce foreclosures, advocate for senior citizens and strengthen crime prevention efforts with more neighborhood watch resources and a better understanding of gang recruitment.
In previous forums and debates, Santiago had pledged to defend the middle class against bad landlords, while Suarez called for more affordable housing.
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