Crossing the finish line in his second time running for alderman, Cuahutémoc Morfín claims that living in the 25th ward for 30 years has made him well-versed on the lack of transparency on money issues, the need for community centers in the area and problems with summertime violence, all which he wants to take head-on as the next alderman. But his battle is taking down incumbent Daniel Solis, who he will face in a runoff on April 5th. Using the phrase repeatedly, “When I am the alderman,” Morfin tells Gozamos about the problems he sees and how he plans on fixing them. “If the alderman was doing his job,” he says, “I wouldn’t be running against him.”
Gozamos: Tell me about your platform. Why are you running for alderman of the 25th ward?
Cuahutémoc Morfín: I’m running as a concerned 25th ward resident. I’ve been here for 30 years. I went through the public school system here–Walsh, Cooper and Benito Juarez. I’ve been through the issues. I know what this community lacks and I know what this community needs to move forward. The 25th ward is composed of Chinatown, Pilsen, University Village, University Commons, Heart of Chicago, Tri-Taylor and Little Italy. So it’s a very diverse ward. I know this because I’ve been knocking on doors. This is actually my second time running for alderman. I’ve been through the whole campaign process before. Now we’re in a runoff, and it’s more intense this time around. It’s history in the making because an entrenched incumbent has never been in a runoff here in the 25th ward. It’s very simple: people are ready for change; they’ve had just about enough. And when I say just about enough, I mean that violence still takes our streets, affordable housing is not affordable and it’s not fair. Only certain individuals get the housing. There’s no transparency there. We’re talking about creating jobs; businesses are closing their doors because the situation keeps getting worse and worse. We have the Fisk coal fire plant that sits right here on Cermak Road, making us–Chicago and Pilsen–the highest in asthma cases in the nation. It’s pretty alarming. These issues are here, and they’re affecting us, health-wise, economically, socially, in any and every aspect you can think of.
Also, now we find ourselves fighting just to keep public education as we’re going through a private process with charter schools. We had the incident of Whittier School where moms and myself were part of a struggle there. They had to do a sit-in for 43 days so that a public library was not demolished. Those are the kinds of things we have to do so that people have the essential things that they need, that they live in a safe and clean environment. It’s just one thing after another with the issues that excited me into running for office.
And if this doesn’t work, are you going to run again?
CM: Absolutely, I’m not going anywhere. It’s all about accountability. If the alderman was doing a good job, we wouldn’t be in this situation, and I wouldn’t be running against him.
In 2007 when I decided to run the first time, I couldn’t handle both my successful business and the campaign, so I passed the business on. I committed myself to run. I have a lot of plans and ideas how we as a community can work together to fight the coal plant, to make sure we have adequate education, to make sure we prevent violence and not watch violence happen through these cameras that the current alderman takes credit for.
Just last week, we were doing a fundraising event and about a block away, we heard shots fired. A young girl got shot in the head; the boyfriend got shot in the leg and another in the leg and the chest. This is what happens, especially here in Pilsen. It starts getting warm out, and there’s violence in the street. We don’t need cameras because they’re not going to do anything. If someone is going to commit a crime, it won’t be on camera. Although there’s a lot of crime that has happened underneath the camera, including the one on Thursday, the cameras are never operable or they’re pointing the other way, so what’s the use?
How much do the cameras cost?
CM: About $50,000 each, and then you need to pay for someone watching them, maintenance and whatever else. That’s our tax money. My solution is that we need police officers walking and biking the streets. We need to implement programs for young people. Kids are getting out of school at 2:30, and then what? We live in a working class community. Parents are working long hours, so what do these children do?
I used to work as a juvenile probation officer and I found myself very frustrated that I couldn’t refer my clients, my kids to community centers. We need community programs, and we need to bring the parents too, so they’re working hand-in-hand.
That’s why we need to elect someone who’s not going to be a politician, who’s not going to be an alderman, but be a public servant, someone who’s going to interact with the constituents and be seen, be known and is going to bring new ideas to the table that involve the community.
If you get elected, what will the big change be? What will people see?
CM: First of all, I will sign on to the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance immediately and take the appropriate measures to bring them up to code or start a process for them to move out. It’s really simple. We’re talking about the health of the people: 41 deaths a year, about 2,800 cases of asthma and hundreds of respiratory illnesses in the community. If that’s not alarming, if that’s not something to the current representative, I don’t know what would be.
Also, immediate implementation of after-school programs for kids and their parents. Open up community centers. There’s one right here on 18th and Halsted that has been closed for 12 years that has classrooms, a basketball court and even a bowling alley. We need to open these centers, create jobs for area residents and offer them a place to go, take them out of the streets.
What about schools?
CM: Benito Juarez is the only public school in the area. Then you have St. Ignatius and Cristo Rey, and they’re private. You have 11 feeder schools to Benito Juarez. That’s another struggle we had to go through. When I was on the school council there, we organized and protested at the alderman’s office to get an expansion done. Then the “true” politician comes and cuts the ribbon, but that’s ok. For me, it’s about holding these people accountable and making sure that they do their job. Right now around the 25th ward, you’re going to see streets being fixed, areas being cleaned, people taken care of whether it’s garbage cans or lights that are out or city services. You’re going to see it getting done because it’s election times and because he feels that his political career is threatened. This is what democracy is all about, how we have to hold politicians accountable. The pressure should always be there; to say this is my job and this is what needs to get done. This is why it’s necessary to elect someone who feels that way all the time.
What’s the main priority in the 25th ward?
CM: Public safety. It’s pretty alarming, like that shooting on Thursday. It was nice out, people were walking around and then you have that shooting. And it’s happened when a stray bullet hits an innocent bystander.