After 15 years in the ward, Alderman Daniel Solis thinks that he can make it better for another term. Now with the support of SEIU and mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, the alderman might be able to breathe a sigh of relief since the first election night on Feb. 22. Throughout controversial issues concerning the power plant on Cermak Avenue, voting for the privatization of Chicago parking meters and being a close friend of Alderman Ed Burke, “who, some would say, is the most powerful alderman in Chicago,” stated Solis, the 25th ward alderman is in a runoff for the first time since being appointed alderman by Mayor Richard M. Daley. What’s to come of the diverse 25th ward which includes Chinatown, Little Italy and University Village? The alderman decided to tell Gozamos all about it.
Gozamos: What’s the deal with the power plant on Cermak?
Ald. Daniel Solis: We tried getting the power plant issue settled, but the council of the city made the point that the city didn’t have regulatory powers over this power plant. If we got it out and passed it, we would be sued by Midwest Generation. In 2006, there was an agreement made between the state of Illinois and Midwest Generation that calls for cleaning up the power plant with yearly benchmarks that they have to uphold every year up to 2015. If the plant wasn’t cleaned up completely by 2015, it would have to close down.
So 10 months ago when Joe Moore introduced it, he didn’t tell me or Ed Burke. I asked why he was doing this if we had the same experience with the ordinance that we introduced; we’re already half way through the agreement we have with the state, and it’s going to be closed by 2015. If we do this ordinance, it’s going through the same process, and they’ll give us years. So Joe said it was different.
There are 160 very good jobs that the plant has with about 600 seasonal jobs. If the plant did what the ordinance called for, there would be a loss of jobs.
When an unethical article came out in the Tribune on Election Day, extreme environmentalists chased me all day and said, “Vote for clean air or vote to kill babies.” That’s why SEIU’s nine negative mailers and robo-calls were the difference between me winning and the run off.
But they’ve endorsed you now.
DS: Right. When the election happened, a lot of people who voted for me told me that they wished that I’d change my mind on the power plant. There were people who didn’t vote for me because of it. On election night, I said that my constituents have spoken and I’m going to change my position on the power plant. Then about a week later Tom Belanoff, the head of SEIU, met with me and he made a key point. He said since January, the Republicans had taken over the House of Representatives in Congress, and it’s very unlikely that under their jurisdiction they would do anything about regulation of the power plant. Because of that, I’m going to become a leader on this issue.
So closing down the power plant would be a success for everybody.
DS: I don’t always do things because I think it’s the best thing to do, but I do it because that’s what my constituents want. I don’t necessarily agree with residential parking, but I give them what they want because I don’t live on those blocks, but they do. I think the city has to deal with better ways to deal with street parking because eventually there will be no free parking in the city.
If the power plant closes….
DS: The ideal situation is that they remain open and clean up the pollution they create. The plant services various parts of the city. I think that if we ever go through a blackout, and it affected 50,000 people, I think people might change their mind on it. I think what’s happening in Japan with nuclear power plants, and how it might diminish the enthusiasm for it. But the other option for that are coal power plants. It’s a complicated issue.
What are the top issues in your ward?
DS: 1. Safety. 2. Education. We’re not going to improve the community if we don’t improve education. 3. Jobs. I think all of those go together. For Latinos, another big issue is immigration reform. I’ve been big on that issue since my days at UNO. After the election, I hope to be part of a national campaign with Congressman Luis Gutierrez. In general, in the 15 years I’ve been in the ward, there has been significant improvement. Schools are no longer overcrowded in Pilsen. Violence is down 25 percent. People hang out on 18th street at night.
What would you like to see become of Pilsen?
DS: What I’d like to build in Pilsen is the same thing that has been created in Chinatown. Chinatown is ultimately Chinese. Technically it’s gentrified, not because white people have moved in there, but because middle class and professional Chinese have moved back there. You still have the cooks and waiters who work in the restaurants, but now you have seniors who have come back because that’s where they want to be. You have the professionals and all types of other nationalities and ethnic groups because when you want to taste Chinese, culture, art, music, that’s where you want go. I think we can do that with Pilsen. I think we can do that with the museum, the only Mexican museum of culture. We can do that with the Benito Juarez expansion, the new Orozco school, the YMCA… all of these things weren’t there before I was here. And then people keep telling me that I want to get rid of the Mexicans. And I say, “Don’t you see my Nopal, my kids, the plaza Tenochtitlan, the Juarez expansion, Orozco school? How is that trying to kick the Mexicans out? The landmark status?”
Doesn’t the rent crisis have an effect? Because of the new structures? Don’t property taxes go up that lead to rent influxes?
DS: Well, that’s up to the people. Because I created over 300 new single family homes and senior homes. Soon we’re going to build a new, affordable dorm on 18th and Wood for Latinos from all over the Chicagoland area. You’ll have a role model as a college student, versus a drug dealer or a gang banger.
The reason I made this a landmark district was to freeze the taxes. Jobs are right here. If you look at the jobs in the industrial corridor, most of the jobs are in the 60608 area code. Between the corridor and the landmark district and affordable housing, the people are raising their rent because it’s economic, not because property taxes are going up. The foreclosure percentage here in this ward is much lower than in other parts of the city.
What’s the first thing that you’re going to do if you’re re-elected that people are going to notice right away?
DS: It’s already taking place. The first green street in Chicago is going to be in Pilsen. That street is Blue Island from Western Avenue to Ashland and Cermak from Ashland to Halsted. It’s going to be constructed by recyclable material, permeable streets and sidewalks, new lighting, and new trees. It’s going to have something unique that no other street has: solar powered kiosks to read what the street and neighborhood are about in English and in Spanish. It’s going to be very pedestrian and bike friendly with bike lanes and walk ways.
What about the violence in the streets? What do you propose to do about that?
DS: First, I like the new mayor-elect’s ideas about new beat officers. We don’t need more police; we need more beat officers. We need officers who actually know the neighborhood, walking the streets and driving around. I also like the idea of making schools community centers, not just schools that have kids from 8 to 4, but that are open in the evening. Then the idea that I want to implement that I started to do last year with the commander of the cross-district. the commander and I would have dinner from 6-7 and then we would drive around for three or four hours. We would have dinner and every two weeks go out and walk the streets so that people know us. And they would be excited to know that we’re doing this on a regular basis. I want to expand that to include institutional leaders, school principals, church pastors, and so on.