In one of the biggest upsets this election year, former Telemundo and Univision reporter Milagros “Milly” Santiago (31) not only defeated the City Council’s longest serving Hispanic alderman and current Vice Mayor, Ray Suarez, she also managed to weaken 31st Ward Democratic Committeeman Joe Berrios’ longheld control over the Northwest Side ward.
Suarez’s defeat was the latest blow to Cook County’s leading democrat; his daughter, Toni Berrios, lost her 2014 reelection bid for the state legislature and his hand-picked candidate for the 36th Ward, Omar Aquino, lost to Gilbert Villegas.
Santiago’s win also puts Berrios in a vulnerable position of potentially losing his party chairmanship. First appointed as the Ward’s Democratic committeeman in 1987, Berrios subsequently lost the seat, after the Harold Washington-backed candidate, Raymond Figueroa, beat his candidate for alderman, and then ran against and beat Berrios in the Committeeman elections the following year. Berrios regained control over the seat in 1991, the same year Suarez joined the Council, and has held on to his Committeeman seat ever since.
Santiago hasn’t said whether she will run against Berrios for committeeman next year, but she hopes to avoid any animosity. “I hope [Berrios] reaches out to me and congratulates me because in the future we will have to work together,” Santiago told Aldertrack. “This is how politics is […] We ran a very aggressive but very good campaign and this is a new day. We just have to learn how to flip the page and start a new era with better services.”
Santiago first declared victory on Election Night after all of the ward’s precincts reported her with a 131 vote lead over the 24-year incumbent. But Suarez refused to concede the race until all absentee and provisional ballots were counted and Berrios, who was by his side that night, reportedly vowed to take legal action to ensure an accurate ballot count. However, Suarez never filed a recount and his campaign was absent from the Board of Elections’ final two absentee counts.
Although the Board of Elections certified the results last Thursday, declaring a Santiago win by 79 votes, Suarez has yet to call Santiago to concede. Instead he admitted defeat on his Facebook page the following night:
From the bottom of my heart I want to thank the voters of the 31st ward who have allowed me to serve as Alderman since 1991. Serving as your Alderman has been the greatest honor of my life. This is afterall my home, my community, and I take pride in the progress we have made over the years.
Once again, thank you for your trust and support over the last 24 years. You have been more than just voters; you are my neighbors, my friends, my family. My wife and I will continue to live in the neighborhood and we look forward to watching the ward continue to grow and flourish under the new Alderman.
As with all new aldermen, Aldertrack interviewed Milly Santiago to get a sense of her goals and objectives. The following is a summary of our interview with her last week.
Legislative Platform: Much of Santiago’s platform will focus on making her office more transparent to residents and businesses, something she says Ald. Suarez failed to do during his long tenure in office. “People felt disrespected. They didn’t feel like they had a voice,” Santiago said people were frustrated with Ald. Suarez for expediting public projects and zoning changes with little input from the community. Santiago plans to implment participatory budgeting in the 31st Ward, which lets residents decide how aldermen should spend their allotted menu money. Santiago says she also wants to improve public safety and spur economic development in the ward.
Potential Caucus Alignment: Although she ran as a progressive candidate and shortly after pushing Ald. Suarez into a runoff, Santiago received the endorsement of mayoral candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, whom she featured on her Election Day palm cards. But Santiago told Aldertrack that she is not making any formal commitments to join the Council’s Progressive Caucus.“I want to come to the City Council very open minded. There are a lot of great ideas from these caucuses,” Santiago explained that she would need to see how the progressive agenda and that of the Latino Caucus align with the needs of her constituents.
Biggest Obstacles: Santiago says the biggest obstacle she’ll likely face as alderman is how to deal with the city’s budget. “The city is going through a fiscal crisis and there is going to be tough decisions ahead,” Santiago said. “We need to find new forms of revenue.” She said property taxes would be a “last resort” because the city can’t “punish homeowners on fixed incomes.”
Ward Office/Logistics: Santiago says she is in the process of collecting resumes and has not yet decided on a chief of staff.