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Ambrosio Medrano was kicked off the ballot this winter when the state Supreme Court ruled that ex-cons aren't eligible to run for alderman, but he sounded sincere the other day when he expressed sympathy at the mention of his would-have-been foe Danny Solis, the incumbent 25th Ward alderman.
"I feel bad for him," Medrano said. "I don't think he likes the fact that people in the ward still have the tendency to come to me with problems." Medrano was the ward's alderman until 1996, when he was caught up in the Silver Shovel corruption probe, convicted of extortion, and sent to a federal prison for nearly two years. Mayor Daley appointed Solis, then head of the United Neighborhood Organization, to fill the vacancy, but Medrano has worked to win his old job back for the last several years. He lost to Solis in his first comeback bid for alderman in 2003. Then, with 210 votes, he went on to win an uncontested election for the mostly ceremonial 25th Ward Republican committeeman's job (a party position, it doesn't carry the same legal restrictions as a city office). Solis, who got 4,084 votes running unopposed for Democratic committeeman that year, boasted at the time that he'd "let" Medrano win the GOP post as a gesture of goodwill. That seems like a long time ago now.
Solis still dismisses Medrano as an irrelevance--"I think the  election speaks for itself," he said the other day. But that's his problem--it does speak for itself, and it makes Solis appear rightfully afraid of Medrano. At one point, Solis said that if he were Medrano, he'd be so ashamed of his conviction that he'd probably leave town. Medrano interpreted it as a hint that Solis wasn't exactly cocky about the aldermanic race. While the challenges to Medrano's candidacy for alderman this winter were officially filed by ward residents, one of the attorneys working against the ex-alderman was a Solis campaign contributor. Many analysts predicted that if he'd been allowed to run, Medrano would have beaten Solis; at the very least, it's almost certain that he would have forced into a runoff--Solis avoided a second round by just a few dozen votes. "I wouldn't say we're friends," Medrano said last week.
Medrano remains involved with community groups and says he still receives service requests from ward residents. He says he listens and does whatever he can, but most of the time he tells people to call 311 or Solis's office. "Perhaps there is a political future for me," Medrano said. "When I look around the neighborhood, I think there is." In fact, Medrano said, he's planning to run against Solis for Democratic committeeman.
"Oh, he's not going to be a Republican anymore?" Solis said upon hearing the news. "I guess as long as I'm running, he's going to be running, too."
Solis said he'll have the cash and backing to hold on to the job: "I'm confident I'll be the best candidate." In the meantime, Solis is also "thinking about" running for Congress if Luis Gutierrez leaves, as he's said he will. "I still think Congressman Gutierrez should reconsider retirement, because I think what's best for us is to have someone there who's been in Congress 16 years," Solis said. "That would be better than having a freshman congressman--unless it's a freshman who has a good relationship with Hillary Clinton's spokeswoman." (Clinton's presidential campaign manager is Solis's sister, Patti Solis Doyle.)
If Solis goes go ahead with a congressional bid, he won't have to contend with Medrano. "No, that's not for me," Medrano said. "I would have to rely on too many outside forces and funders." He made the mistake of doing that before.