Mell to tenants facing eviction: My campaign donor comes first
Albany Park tenants fighting eviction from their landlord have found strong support from neighbors, community organizations, and fellow renters.
But from 33rd Ward alderman Deb Mell, who’s collecting campaign cash from the property developer, support hasn’t flowed quite as freely.
"A concern of ours is not just the housing conditions and the evictions, but also the tenants' interactions with Deb Mell. We've asked her for help to protect tenants and residents of the ward, and she's expressed [instead] that her priority is to have a good relationship with the developer,” says Wendy Mironov of 33rd Ward Working Families.
Throughout the controversy, Mell has sidestepped using her influence to nudge the developer, Silver Property Group, into negotiations with the tenants.
For Working Families members, the reason is in political financial disclosures: Silver executives have given the alderman thousands in campaign contributions since she assumed office.
"Despite her claims that it's out of her hands, aldermen have plenty of tools to be effective facilitators in situations like these, if they so choose,” says Working Families’ Chris Poulos. “Unfortunately, Deb Mell has made clear that there's one situation she’d like to avoid at all costs—getting on the wrong side of someone who's handing her campaign donations."
Moreover, Mell has gone so far as to scold the tenants, suggesting that they were looking for a handout. During one discussion in August, Mell asked if the tenants were just complaining to get free rent, according to Poulos.
The Sunnyside tenants have a different take on their motivations.
"I've lived in Albany Park for 30 years. I've lived in this building for 12 years," said one tenant who attended a press conference outside the building last week. "I've always paid my rent on time and have never been short."
Now, like others who call the neighborhood home, he's worried that his days in the community are numbered.
"Maybe if the tenants came to her office with a stack of campaign checks, Mell would act on their concerns,” says Poulos. “But that's not a reality for people struggling to make rent."