To many observers (including me), one of the biggest surprises of Tuesday’s election was the resounding victory of 12th Ward alderman George Cardenas. The Daley loyalist was targeted by the Chicago Federation of Labor after he switched his vote on the big-box minimum-wage ordinance to help sustain the mayor’s veto; Carina Sanchez, his union-backed challenger, received more than $159,000 from organized labor, accounting for almost all of her campaign funds.

And unions went after Cardenas for another reason: he looked weak.

Four years ago, Cardenas won his seat with the aid of the Hispanic Democratic Organization. His opponent, then incumbent Ray Frias, dropped out of their runoff election, saying he’d lost the support of the ward’s voters. But after federal investigations into rigged hiring at City Hall—some of it tied to the organization and its leaders—the HDO was generally written off as too crippled to play a significant role this time around.

Despite the conventional wisdom, however, Cardenas won reelection outright, capturing 59 percent of the vote to Sanchez’s 28 percent—though only 4,372 voters cast ballots in the ward, the second-lowest total in the city.

On Friday, Cardenas said he knew he would win all along because he had delivered services to his constituents. He was evasive, though, when I asked him if he’d relied on HDO troops.

“There’s a big misconception about what that means,” he said. “Do you know what [the HDO] is? I don’t know. I have my volunteers. There may be people associated with HDO, but it doesn’t matter who they were associated with, because at the end of the day, it’s about whether you’re doing a good job.”