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Ben Joravsky's Guide to the Aldermanic Runoffs

Chicagoans will choose their City Council representatives in 14 wards on Tuesday. Here's a close-up look at five of the races.



"Please leave a message; at our convenience, we'll ignore it."

As the days roll down toward the titanic April 5 aldermanic runoffs, the big issue in the 24th Ward is phone calls.

As in neither candidate—Alderman Sharon Denise Dixon and her challenger, former alderman Michael Chandler—returns them. Dixon doesn't return them now, and Chandler didn't return them when he was alderman four years ago.

I know—seems trivial considering the monumental debt, over $1 billion and climbing, that our city and schools confront as we move from the reign of one emperor to another.

My god, this city loves its political bosses.

And yet it's a necessity that aldermen—who are, above all other things, service providers—return the calls of their constituents. Otherwise why even have the office?

Though now that I think about it . . .

Before I go on, let me take a moment to give you a little civics lesson about our electoral process.

Yes, electorate, I know you're confused—I hear the question all the time: Didn't we already have an election?

We certainly did. On February 22, Rahm Emanuel won the mayoral contest, and a bunch of people won for aldermen.

But the rules say no aldermanic candidate wins unless he or she gets over 50 percent of the vote, and in 14 of the city's 50 wards, no one did.

Hence the April 5 runoffs.

Now back to our story.

In the 24th Ward, 23 candidates filed petitions to run for aldermen. Five were knocked off the ballot for one nominating-petition violation or another, leaving 18 candidates.


Chandler and Dixon made it to the runoff not because they were so outstanding but because they were the only names voters recognized.

"The way I look at it is that Chandler had his voters and Sharon had hers and all the rest of us were just trying to be heard," says Valerie Leonard, who came in fourth.

Neither Chandler nor Dixon received anything close to a majorty—Dixon won 19 percent and Chandler 13.

The big complaint against both is that they're unresponsive to constituents. "They don't even return phone calls," says Richard Barnett, a longtime independent in the area.

Ah, yes, the unreturned phone call from an elected official—something I know a lot about, having had hundreds if not thousands of them over the last 20-something years.

As I see it there are three basic reasons politicians don't return calls: One, they're sulking over some ancient grudge. (Hear that, congressman Luis Gutierrez?) Two, they're afraid of having to answer tough questions about whatever it is they're up to. (That would be you, state senator Heather Steans, though sooner or later you're going to have to talk about your charter school legislation.) Or, three, they're disorganized to the point of chaos.

In my opinion, Dixon and Chandler have hit the trifecta—it's a little of all three.

The shame of it is that the ward—roughly bounded by Jackson Boulevard on the north, Cermak Road on the south, Cicero Avenue on the west, and Douglas Park on the east—is one of those poor, high-crime, bottomed-out districts that desperately need a proactive, energetic advocate.

And what they get is something else.

Over the years, the ward's disenchanted voters have driven out of office one incumbent after another.

In 1991 they tossed out William "Big Bill" Henry, in part because he was vindictive, mean-spirited, and corrupt. They replaced him with Jesse Miller, but four years later they canned Miller in part because he seemed uninterested in providing basic city services.

Miller's replacement—the aforementioned Chandler—was a building department inspector who vowed to clean up the mounds of garbage left behind by a dump operator named John Christopher.

Actually, Christopher was an undercover mole set up in the late 80s by the FBI to nab aldermen who were taking bribes to allow illegal dumping in their wards.

One of the aldermen caught in the act was Henry, who died of cancer in 1992 before his case came to trial.

It took about six years before the city and feds cleaned up the two giant mounds of refuse at 915 S. Kildare and at Roosevelt and Kostner (nicknamed Mount Henry) that Christopher and the feds left behind.

As Chandler pointed out when he was running for reelection in 1999, the city would never in a million years tolerate such egregious abuse in a wealthier, whiter neighborhood.

Chandler served three terms before the voters drove him out in 2007 for Dixon, a relatively unknown community activist who impressed everyone with her determination when she went door-to-door throughout the ward looking for votes.

"I allowed myself to lose touch with the people," says Chandler. "It won't happen again."

In the 2007 election, Dixon was aided by Barnett, who also helped Miller beat Henry, and Chandler beat Miller, and is now trying to help Chandler beat Dixon.

"Mike [Chandler] forgot why he was elected," says Barnett. "That's why I went against him. The community comes first."

Dixon's chief spokesman, Frank Watkins, says Barnett stopped supporting Dixon because she wouldn't let him bully her. "He wanted to be the aldermen behind the scenes," says Watkins. "And Alderman Dixon wouldn't let him."

Barnett says he cut his ties to Dixon after she made it clear she was neglecting the people responsible for her upset victory. "Frank said I wanted to be boss? That's a hoot," says Barnett with a laugh. "Here's what happened. Three weeks after she got elected she kicked out her volunteers. Power went to her head."

Personally, I wish that Watkins and Barnett—a couple of veteran activists who have been involved in local politics since the late 1960s—were the candidates.

If nothing else, they always return phone calls.

For his part, Chandler says he's learned the error of his ways and will never ever get out of touch with his people again. "You can have my cell—everyone can have my cell," he says. "It's a new day."

And what does Dixon say?

Well, I can't tell you because she didn't return my calls.

Wait, wait, hold the presses, this just in: Guess who called back over two weeks after I called her and just hours before this story went to print?

You guessed it—Alderman Dixon!

"Sorry, Ben," she said. "I got your message, it wasn't my staff's fault. I've just been very busy."

And what about your reputation for not getting back to constituents?

"I think I do a good job—I've just been inundated."

OK, there you have it. Better late than never.

The hoopster or the lawyer?


Back in the glory days of the 60s and 70s, independent aldermanic giants represented the 43rd Ward.

They were unafraid to stand up to Mayor Richard J. Daley—the original Boss—who was in many ways as intimidating as his son.

This was Lincoln Park, where presumably folks were wealthy enough not to worry about losing city services and so could indulge themselves in independent activism.

There was, let's see, Billy "the Kid" Singer, who came out of Senator Robert Kennedy's anti-Vietnam war, pro-civil rights presidential campaign and spent almost a decade batting his head against the City Hall wall until he figured, the hell with this, and became a lawyer/lobbyist for a high-priced corporate law firm.

As they say, if you can't beat 'em . . .

After Singer came Martin Oberman, who ranted and railed so much against City Hall waste, abuse, and idiocy that even his independent allies got tired of hearing him.

Back in 1984, when I was a kid reporter, I wrote an epic account of Oberman's political philosophy that was so long I don't think even Oberman finished it.

The gist of the Oberman philosophy was that Chicago politics was not so much corrupt as illogical, and once voters realized the illogic of their ways, they would change it.

As opposed to my philosophy, which is that Chicago's system is rigged for the benefit of insiders and the public is too stupid and/or scared to do anything about it.

Oberman left the council in 1987 and the ward hasn't had a true-blue independent ever since, as its voters have largely become apathetic, ignorant, and complacent.

The current alderman is Vi Daley, who pretty much voted for every dumb idea that popped into Mayor Daley's mind, including his much-reviled parking meter leasing deal.

In 2007 Michele Smith, a former federal prosecutor backed by Oberman and his old allies, forced Daley into a runoff.

Smith ran as a reformer who was willing to challenge Mayor Daley. Vi Daley ran as a service provider who could get things done because she got along with the mayor.

As if obedience is the price one pays for garbage collection.

I'm convinced—based on dozens of conversations with Lincoln Park residents—that a lot of folks voted for Vi Daley in part because they thought she was related to Mayor Daley.

She's not.

Alderman Daley decided not to run for reelection, and in the February 22 election, nine candidates ran to replace her. Smith finished first with 38 percent of the vote, followed by Tim Egan, an administrator at Norwegian-American Hospital, who got 28 percent.

I like Tim Egan. He's funny and outgoing, and a huge basketball fan. He played for Morton East High School in Cicero and in college for the University of Wisconsin–Superior. He had a tryout with the Rockford Lightning in the old semipro CBA league.

"When the Lightning cut me, they told me if I was six-foot-ten, I'd make a million a year," says Egan. "I told them I was six-foot-five so I'll take $500,000."

If it came down to voting for the guy to watch March Madness with, I'd vote for Egan hands down. Unfortunately for Egan, the big issue in the 43rd isn't basketball, it's development.

At the moment, locals are up in arms over a proposal to redevelop the old Lincoln Park Hospital, at Webster and Lincoln, into a 12-story, 152-unit residential high-rise with a medical office and Fresh Market grocery store.

Let's pause to reflect on the irony of development in Chicago. The communities that desperately need it—like North Lawndale—don't get it. The communities that don't really need it—like Lincoln Park—get too much.

Smith's against it in part because she's for a more balanced approach to development. And because the locals voted against this particular deal in a referendum on February 22. And because she thinks the grocery store should go just down the street at Children's Memorial Hospital. (More on that later.)

Egan favors the Lincoln Hospital deal on the grounds that any development is better than no development and the developer's already made adjustments. He says that residents who complain will come to appreciate that they can walk down the street to buy their groceries.

My view is that if Lincoln Park locals want to elect whoever will green-light whatever development comes their way, more power to them. I don't live there.

My greater concern has to do with the possible development deal involving Children's Memorial at Fullerton and Lincoln.

In about a year, Children's operators will move to the facility they're constructing in Streeterville, and the issue will be what to do with the massive complex they're leaving behind.

In December hospital officials announced they were drafting a TIF eligibility study, which is the first step toward creating a new Tax Increment Financing district.

And here's where things get relevant to folks outside the ward.

As you must know by now, when the aldermen create TIF districts they jack up your property taxes and divert the money from schools and parks in an effort to spur development and eradicate blight in low-income communities like, just to pick one, North Lawndale.

Lincoln Park is not—repeat, not—a low-income community. It's one of the richest neighborhoods in town. Only because the TIF law is so riddled with loopholes can Lincoln Park get a TIF district in the first place.

In 2007 the City Council approved $8.5 million in TIF money to Grossinger Auto Group to help build a new dealership in the "poor and blighted" intersection of Clybourn and North Avenue, which is actually one of the hottest real estate corners in town.

That was such an outrageous perversion of what TIFs are supposed to do that even developers were calling me to write about it.

Alderman Daley championed that deal and the council backed it on the grounds that when it comes to TIFs the local alderman gets his or her way—as in a zoning change request.

To her credit, Smith was against the Grossinger TIF and has in general been an outspoken advocate for TIF reform. Egan, well, he's kind of new to the issue—though he says he wants TIF reform too.

But when it comes to the possibility of creating a TIF at the intersection of Lincoln and Fullerton, both are waffling—essentially saying they need to see the proposal before offering an opinion.

I suppose that's the responsible—or logical, as Oberman might put it—position to take.

I was hoping for a cage rattler who'd say no TIFs nowhere in Lincoln Park!

But like I was saying, the days of the independent giants have passed.

A race to replace the former reformer.


For as long as just about anyone can remember, Helen Shiller's been the alderman of the 46th Ward, fighting for political control of Uptown against a strong faction of residents who hate her guts.

But this time around, Shiller's not on the ballot; she decided not to run for reelection, which means many of her longtime haters are seething because she deprived them of the satisfaction of running her out of office.

I feel your pain, Helen haters—Mayor Daley did the same thing to me.

In her absence, up is down and down is up, as two Shiller critics—James Cappleman and Molly Phelan—are in the runoff to replace her.

But before we get to them, a word or two about Alderman Shiller.

Since she first won election in 1987, her campaigns have been epic battles with one special twist—class warfare.

For better or worse, Shiller was determined not to have the poor and the working class completely gentrified out of Uptown, which required making sure that much public money was reserved for affordable housing.

On top of that, she tended to treat any objection from middle-class residents—like complaints about obnoxious drunks in a working-class bar—as an assault on the ways and habits of poor people.

Plus, trust me—she can be really stubborn and quick to interrupt people she's arguing with.

So for lots of reasons she could drive her opponents batty.

On the other hand, she spent the better part of the 90s fighting Mayor Daley at budget time, when she pleaded for more money for social services.

Go get 'em, Helen!

But in 2003 she raised the white flag. She supported Mayor Daley, and he supported her. And together they put together the Wilson Yard TIF deal. God help us all.

In the end, it was almost sad to watch Shiller defend whatever goofiness the mayor was proposing, including the parking meter lease and his Olympic boondoggle, which included a 20,000-seat tennis arena in Lincoln Park, right next to the bird sanctuary.

One of my favorite Olympic moments came at a hearing in the summer of 2009, when Shiller and other Olympic boosters tried to reassure bird-watchers and other naturalists that they could turn Lincoln Park into a construction zone without scaring off the birds.

There are two schools of thought on Shiller's evolution. One says it's all part of the political maturation process, as rabble-rousers realize that you can get more by working with the Man than by fighting him.

And the other—as Mick Dumke, my old reporting partner, so eloquently put it: "She fought the good fight for so long that we have to give her a little slack for going soft down the stretch."

(By the way, Mick will be returning to the Reader in a couple weeks—welcome back, my brother!)

As for the Wilson Yard, which is on the site of an old CTA rail yard at Montrose and Broadway—Shiller and Daley earmarked $54 million to build 178 units of housing (including 98 units for seniors), ten storefronts, and a new Aldi grocery store.

Oh, yes, and a new Target.

The local reaction to the project varies according to one's worldview. There are those who think the project is another example of TIF abuse. (Count me in.) Others think TIF abuse is just the price you have to pay to get some affordable housing. (Count a lot of my liberal friends in there.) And still others hate it because they don't want any more low-income housing in Uptown. In short—more class warfare.

Oh, yeah, then there are those who know nothing about nothing, especially TIFs, but just love that Target. Based on conversations I've had over the years, I'm starting to think that this faction is the majority.

You'd think that the Shiller-Daley peace accord would have silenced a lot of the Helen haters, who love the mayor almost as much as they can't stand the alderman.

But, no, it only seemed to piss them off, because it made her that much harder to beat.

Which brings us back to Cappleman and Phelan.

Neither has ever supported Shiller. Cappleman, a social worker, ran against her in 2007 on the grounds that she was too soft on crime and gang violence in the area.

He was also against the TIF project, though he said he wouldn't have minded a TIF for the area had it been a more balanced development.

In 2008 Phelan, a lawyer, helped put together a lawsuit filed by residents against the Wilson Yard project, arguing, among other things, that the area does not merit a TIF because it's not really blighted.

By then, however, most of the project had been completed. And Cook County circuit judge Mary Rochford dismissed the suit on the grounds that the residents took too long to file it.

The delightful twist to this runoff is that Cappleman and Phelan both realize that in order to win they have to pick up support from Shiller's backers, who would normally vote against them.

So each is trying hard to say something nice about Shiller.

"There are some values that Helen Shiller has that I admire," says Cappleman. "She believes in standing up for her principles."

"Helen stands up for what she believes," says Phelan.

Or maybe it was the other way around.

More to the point, they're bending over backward to show that they really, really do care about the plight of the poor.

"I've always been a liberal," says Cappleman. "I've always stood up for the poor and disenfranchised. My entire life I have believed it's right to speak up for the disenfranchised—like Alderman Shiller."

As for Phelan, whose specialty is real estate law, she says she inherited a strong belief in social justice from her mother, who was a social worker, and her father, who was a federal prosecutor. "A lot of people thought the Wilson Yard lawsuit was about affordable housing—but it wasn't," says Phelan. "We filed to correct a continuation of an injustice in the TIF law."

Amen to that.

If I lived in the ward, I'd probably go with Phelan.

Nothing against Cappleman, but as we head into the Emanuel era—Boss II, or Boss III if you're counting old man Daley—I'm looking for someone, anyone, who might on occasion have the courage to take a stand in the City Council.

You know, sort of like the old Shiller did.

Give Phelan credit for this: it took guts to file suit against Mayor Daley's favorite slush fund.

And as we all know, guts are in short supply in the City Council.

In an old Machine beachhead, not one but two good choices.


Alderman Patrick Levar, the quintessential Democratic Party hack right down to his pinky ring and lumbering gait, has represented the 45th Ward for almost 24 years.

But this year Levar stepped down, probably because he realized he'd have one hell of a hard time getting reelected.

Of the six people who stepped up to run for his seat, I'd say that at least three of them are true-blue reformers, including John Arena and John Garrido, who are facing each other in the runoff.

How in the world did this bastion of Democratic Machine politics become a safe haven for reformers?

Part of the answer has to do with the steady migration of people priced out of Lincoln Park and Lakeview, and moving north and west to Jefferson Park and Portage Park, the two communities at the heart of the ward.

The other is the tenacity of local political activists like Ron Ernst, Bob Bank, and Anna Klocek—she finished third in this year's campaign—who've been pounding away at Levar for years.

In any event, voters in the 45th face a unique dilemma. Whereas most voters in Chicago have to hold their nose and pick the worse of two evils, folks in the 45th Ward have to decide between two genuine reformers.

To make matters even more confusing, they're both named John.

On most issues, the two Johns—uh, maybe it's not a good idea to refer to them like that—see eye to eye. They both denounce Mayor Daley's TIF scam of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Both call on the city to put more cops on the local beat, and both promise to open up discretionary spending to community suggestions.

If Arena has a specialty, it's economic development. A native of Aurora, he moved to the area in 2000 from Lakeview, set up a graphic arts business with his wife, joined the Portage Park Neighbors Association, and got involved with economic development issues.

For years he's been calling me and other reporters pleading for coverage about their ongoing effort to recruit business and fill the empty storefronts along Milwaukee Avenue near the six-corner intersection of Milwaukee, Cicero, and Irving Park.

"The ward office needs to be more aggressive in marketing the area," says Arena. "In the past, we'd contact the alderman's office, but they weren't working with us."

Ordinarily, I'd be happy to support Arena—but for several reasons my heart's with Garrido, a 39-year-old lieutenant in the police department who was born and raised in the community.

He reminds me of a lot of northwest-side cops and firefighters I've met over the years—they're sick and tired of the waste, clout, and corruption they see every day. Get them to talk over a few beers off the record and they sound like the second coming of Dick Simpson.

Over the summer I met Garrido by chance and he helped me pick apart the police department budget, figuring out where the fat's buried and how it can be trimmed in order to get more cops on the beat. I'd like him on the council if for no other reason than to watch him grill the police brass during budget hearings.

"The cuts have to start at the top," he says. "We're so top-heavy, so many layers between [patrol] and the commanders."

In the first round, Garrido won 32.5 percent of the vote and Arena got 22.5 percent.

Garrido would look like a shoo-in, but he's got one little problem.

It's still very much a Democratic ward, and he's a Republican, who's fairly conservative on social issues.

He's prolife, progun, and against gay marriage—though he's quick to say he has nothing against civil unions and would be more than happy to march in the Gay Pride parade. "Let's go—this year," he says. "Me and you. We'll have our own float."

In 2010 he ran for Cook County Board president in the Republican primary, losing to Roger Keats.

In that race he was chastised by Republican officials for having cast a ballot in the Democratic primary of 2008.

His defense? He voted for Hilary Clinton in order to essentially sabotage Barack Obama's presidential campaign, by doing what he could to extend the fight between the two Democrats.

A strategy endorsed by Rush Limbaugh, among others.

When Keats began attacking him for voting Democratic, Garrido defended his Republican roots in a post he wrote for the Illinois Review, a Republican blog. "I am a Republican, have always been a Republican, and will always remain a Republican," he wrote. "In 2008, I joined over 100,000 Republicans in Ohio, 119,000 in Texas, and 38,000 in Mississippi who voted for Hillary Clinton to put Republicans in the best position to win in the general election."

In the 2008 presidential election, 67 percent of the voters in the 45th ward voted for Barack Obama.

OK, it's not a good idea to follow Limbaugh strategy if you want to win an election in Chicago, one of the Bluest cities in the country.

Not surprisingly, Arena's having a field day with the issue. "This is not about partisan politics—as you know, alderman is a nonpartisan position," says Arena. "But if you say you're a Republican in one election and then you say you're an independent in another, that doesn't make you an independent—that makes you a panderer."

The Service Employees International Union—which has endorsed Arena—is hammering Garrido with a series of mailings throughout the ward.

Garrido says he's not—nor has he ever been—the kind of union-bashing Republican who, like Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, wants to strip public employees of their collective-bargaining rights. "I support collective bargaining—that needs to exist, otherwise cities and towns and states will walk all over their employees."

Moreover, he points out that the Firefighters Union and the Fraternal Order of Police have endorsed him. "If I want to be a Democrat today or a Republican tomorrow, that's up to me," he says. "You know what I don't appreciate about Arena. He said he wanted to run a clean campaign on the issues, and then these flyers come out. When he's asked about them, he says, 'Oh, that's not me—that's SEIU.' He's letting them do his dirty work."

So how would I vote?

I don't know—flip a coin?

The way I figure it, I'd win either way. And that doesn't happen very often around here.

Will the Cat ever run out of lives?


Over in Pilsen, they call 25th Ward alderman Danny Solis the cat because he has so many political lives—he keeps beating expectations and winning another term.

This time he's in a runoff with Cuahutemoc Morfin, a juvenile probation officer who challenged Solis once before.

As a matter of fact, Solis was lucky to even be on the ballot in 2007, the last time Morfin ran against him.

His opponents had him on the ropes because the signature on his statement of candidacy clearly did not match the one on his economic disclosure statement. That meant that one or the other was signed by someone other than Solis—grounds for removal from the ballot.

Alas, he lived to fight another day because the objector—a Pilsen politico named Anthony Sutor—forget to put his address on his objection form, and the hearing officer threw out the challenge.

Saved by a technicality.

Even with that break, Solis probably would have lost the 2007 election if the Illinois Supreme Court hadn't tossed off the ballot his best-known opponent, former alderman Ambrosio Medrano, on the grounds that felons aren't eligible to run for office. (In 1996 Medrano went to prison after pleading guilty to taking bribes from an undercover FBI mole.)

Saved by a court's ruling.

Even then Solis would have been in a runoff against Morfin, who finished second, had the courts not ruled that Medrano votes, which were cast in early voting before the supreme court ruling, shouldn't count toward the total.

Saved by judges again.

In the February election this year, Solis won 49 percent of the vote, finishing ahead of Morfin, who got 28 percent, and Ambrosio "Ambi" Medrano Jr., who got 23 percent.

Yes, yes—Ambi is the former alderman's son.

Both Morfin and Medrano slammed Solis for being a mayoral rubber stamp who'd betrayed his Pilsen community.

"There's no transparency with Danny—no accountability," says Morfin. "He does what the mayor tells him. Every time we need something for our community we have to march and protest."

Back in the 1980s Solis was a firebrand community activist who helped found the United Neighborhood Organization, which was then a kick-ass Saul Alinsky-style community group based in Pilsen.

In 1996 Mayor Daley appointed him to replace Medrano after the former alderman went to prison, and he's been a lock-in Daley vote ever since. And UNO's developed into one of the largest Hispanic-run social service agencies in the city, with millions of dollars in city and charter school contracts.

It seems Solis is always upsetting one constituency or another with a pro-Daley vote. Actually, his drift to the Daley side began even before he became alderman—which probably explains why the mayor appointed him in the first place.

In 1995 he enraged Mexican-American street vendors by endorsing the mayor's plan to demolish the Old Maxwell Street flea market—at a City Council hearing, the vendors called him "gusano," which is Spanish for worm.

In 1998 he irritated housing activists when he signed on to the Pilsen TIF, which residents feared would eventually gentrify them out of the ward.

In 2006 he infuriated the unions when he flip-flopped and voted to sustain Mayor Daley's veto of the living wage ordinance, which would guarantee a higher-than-minimum wage for employees in big box retail stores like Walmart.

In February's election he ran behind Morfin in the predominantly Hispanic precincts in Pilsen. But lucky for Solis, the 25th Ward has changed since he first took office.

It's much less a working-class Hispanic ward than it used to be. His strongest support came from Chinatown and in University Village, the predominantly white, TIF-funded, relatively upscale town house and condominium enclave on the north end of the ward, built on the rubble of the old Maxwell Street market.

Solis took over 60 percent of the vote from these areas, and he expects to do at least as well in the runoff. "I have support all over the ward," says Solis. "The people know what a good job I've done."

In the first round, the SEIU endorsed Morfin and pounded Solis with a series of mailings blasting him for voting to give raises to himself and other aldermen, while voting against the big box ordinance.

For this round, SEIU officials have done their own flip-flop, endorsing Solis because he agreed to endorse the clean-air ordinance, which will force Fisk Street Generating Station—a local coal-fired generator—to reduce its emissions.

The irony is not lost on Morfin, who's supported every single union-backed proposal that Solis and Daley opposed, from the living wage, to TIF reform, to an end to privatization deals. Oh, yes, Solis also voted for the parking meters lease.

"I'm disappointed with SEIU," says Morfin. "But I can't worry about it. I have to run my campaign."

Solis says the unions are just being practical. "They know I'm going to win," he says.

Solis also has mayor-elect Emanuel's support even though Solis supported Gery Chico in the mayoral election.

Now here it gets tricky. Juan Rangel, UNO's CEO and longtime Solis ally, endorsed Emanuel in that election.

In retrospect, it was a brilliant maneuver. Appreciative of UNO's support, Emanuel made several campaign appearances with Rangel, where Emanuel called for creating even more charter schools. UNO already runs nine charter schools in Chicago.

Solis rode Chico's coattails in the Hispanic precincts. And now that that election's over, Emanuel—who supposedly never forgets a slight—is endorsing Solis.

Which leads Morfin to conclude that the whole UNO/Solis mayoral endorsement split was a setup. "Danny is clever," says Morfin. "I'll give him that."

Solis says Morfin's got it wrong: "I wanted to support a Latino. I had committed to [congressman] Luis Gutierrez. But he didn't run. So I went with Gery. My endorsement had nothing to do with Juan's endorsement."

So why did Emanuel support you after you supported Chico?

"I think Rahm knows my experience in key issues."

Translation: Solis will vote with Emanuel in the City Council, just as he voted with Daley. Morfin, on the other hand, will be harder to control.

No one said Emanuel wasn't a fast learner.

Can Morfin bell the cat? He needs a big vote out of Pilsen.

But over the last decade the ward's Hispanic population has declined by about 10,000—in part because of the very gentrification residents foresaw soon after Solis was appointed. The ward's roughly 61 percent Hispanic, down from 75 percent ten years ago, according to recent census figures.

So one more irony: the alderman who built his reputation on UNO and Hispanic empowerment will need the help of Asian-American and white voters to beat back a strong Hispanic challenge from Pilsen.

Ben Joravsky discusses his reporting weekly with journalist Dave Glowacz at


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