Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Dark day for Chicago, but a ray of light in the 25th Ward...

So Rahm Emmanuel has been elected the next privatizer in chief. Wisconsin is looking much closer to Chicago than ever before. Lets just hope we can organize the same type of labor rebellion against Rahm they have so successfully organized in Madison. Let’s see who loses their jobs first. Will the unions that decided to play nicey, nicey with Rahm really believe they will be spared Rahm’s meat cleaver? I suggest they bend over and kiss their collective asses good bye. Rahm is a man who loves to be feared not loved. I give it one year before even the most feverent Daley opponent (myself included), long wistfully for the return of daddy Daley, when evil step dad Rahm takes over.

But all is not hopeless tonight. Here in the 25th, in good old Pilsen, we live to fight another day. Danny Solis has finally paid a small price for his host of sins. We have a run-off! Here are the totals as of 10:47 PM with 31 of 31 precincts counted and 100% of the vote in…

DANIEL ''DANNY'' SOLIS 4,291 48.94 %
AMBROSIO MEDRANO JR. 2,025 23.10 %

Morfín, who nearly forced Solis into a run-off in 2007, missing it by .5% of the vote that time, has succeeded to force a run-off this time. It is an impressive feat for a progressive candidate, running a nearly all volunteer operation on a shoe string budget, facing off against one of the city’s most powerful alderman. It was quite a site today to see Morfín’s rag tag army of volunteers, many of them long time or more recent community activists, many recent immigrants with limited English ability, face off against Solis’ well oiled (and well compensated) patronage machine. As the exact numbers for each precinct come in, the complete results of today’s election will become more clear. But I expect that they results will be similar to previous elections. Danny will have probably lost most of Pilsen, perhaps by as much as 70% compared to Morfín and Medrano’s combined numbers. Danny will probably once again have carried areas outside Pilsen, especially Taylor St. and Chinatown by wide margins. The big question mark might be University Village, the area with the newest residents and Danny’s new home post domestic squabbles last Fall.

Danny Solis was clearly on the defensive all day. Even many of his supporters at the polls indicated that they recognized, perhaps for the first time, that Danny was vulnerable. What is quite interesting is that a number of Solis campaign staff indicated part of this vulnerability was a result of the hard work done in the past year by PERRO (Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization) who have highlighted Solis’ close financial ties to Midwest Generation, owner of the Fisk Plant on Cermak Avenue, the neighborhoods (and one of the state of Illinois) biggest polluters. With unbelievable timing, Michael Hawthorne had an excellent article in today’s Chicago Tribune highlighting the fact that Midwest Generation has been lying when they say they are doing everything possible to clean up the plant. The article reveals precisely what the Clean Power Coalition has said all along, that the company will not make any serious improvements until required to by law. To read this incredible article, check the following link…,0,579546.story

This clearly put Danny Solis on edge. When I asked him today if he planned to call Charley Parnell, an executive at Midwest Generation and a member of Danny Solis campaign finance committee, and ask him why he has been lying about cleaning up the plant, Danny told me, and I quote…”Go ask your Mom the same thing!” A rather bizarre grade school taunt from Danny that I don’t quite understand – am I supposed to ask my mom why Charley Parnell is lying to Danny Solis and the Pilsen community?

The big question now is whether Morfín, Medrano and their supporters will unite to fight Solis. Both committed to the other that they would do so, and it will be absolutely necessary as Morfín will need every single Medrano voter and than some to win. Ambrosio Medrano Jr. is a good guy, with a passionate heart and a deep love for the Pilsen community. He recognizes that the neighborhood we both love is seriously at risk if Solis wins another election. I believe he will wholeheartedly support Morfín in the next phase of this fight.

It is interesting how well each of the three candidates represents a different part of our community. Medrano, despite being the youngest of the three, represents some of our oldest residents. The Chicanos, the 2nd generation Mexican-Americans who grew up in the neighborhood. Long time residents, working class people, the people feeling the sting of Solis gentrification the most. Morfín represents a part of Pilsen that is both new and ancient. Morfín’s people are what has made Pilsen a port-of-entry neighborhood for a 150 years, but these people are relatively new to the neighborhood – recently arrived immigrants from Mexico. He also represents another element of what has been at the heart of Pilsen’s chracater for the past century and a half – the bohemian (in the creative, not ethnic sense in this case), the artist, the young progressive to radical activist community. His constituents are the lowest levels of the working class, the type of people who for so many years could find a home in Pilsen, but will not be able to much longer if gentrification firmly takes hold. And than there is Danny, who represents all the things that threaten the others very existence – the real estate developers, the corporate big wigs, the White gentrifies now in a disturbing alliance with a new class of Latino yuppies. It is a battle for Pilsen’s very soul. Will Pilsen continue to be a port of entry, a place vibrant with working class, immigrant culture. Or just another Taylor St., a once great Italian immigrant neighborhood whose only real remaining Italian immigrant character is a few high priced Italian restaurants. Can the Chicanos, the Mexicanos and the activistas unite, and hold back the gentrifying tide ready to wash over our neighborhood, or will the forces of big money be to difficult to withstand. The future is up to us.


  1. "Can the Chicanos, the Mexicanos and the activistas unite, and hold back the gentrifying tide ready to wash over our neighborhood..."

    Why, yes.

    Great work, Jerry.

  2. "...Or just another Taylor St., a once great Italian immigrant neighborhood whose only real remaining Italian immigrant character is a few high priced Italian restaurants."

    There was also a strong Mexican, Mexican-American presence in that neighborhood. My grandparents moved into the area during the 20s. I was born there (literally in a flat on Arthington near Halstead, probably a cookie-cutter condo now)as were all 6 of my siblings.

    My mother tells me tales of those old days of Hull House, Goodrich School, and Maxwell Street. She remembers the neighborhood Mexican street gang called the Toltecs.

    We had to move due to the urban renewal/destruction of perhaps the only segregated neighborhood in Chicago at the time. We lived on Peoria near Taylor at the time.

    I went to school with Italians, African-Americans, Greeks, and Mexicans. Most kids were dark-skinned with dark hair. I actually never had a classmate with blond hair and blue-eyes kids until we moved to Pilsen in 63.

    I attended St. Vitus. Most of the students were Polish-American. The teacher in my 2nd grade class made the Mexicans kids, most were 2nd and 3rd generation Mexican-Americans, sit in the back of the class. I doubt if any of us even spoke Spanish.

    What happened to Taylor Street and the surrounding neighborhood is sad. It was a neighborhood that was still connected with a migrant history from Ellis Island and from south of the border.

    Over 35 years ago there was an activist who worked at Latino Youth Alternative High School who would warn those who would listen that one day Pilsen would become a "Mexican Town" consisting of Mexican restaurants and touristy type of business but without a Mexican presence in the community.

    Sometimes, progress is only progress for those making money from the change.

  3. I am 30 years removed from Pilsen. The neighborhood will always be in my heart, but I am a happy Westerner now living in the shadows of majestic mountain peaks and only a short drive away from dense mountain forests, pristine mountain lakes, deserts, assorted wild life,and raging rivers. Still, I hold a great interest in the news of Pilsen.

    I knew both Medrano and Solis when I was a teen. It is interesting how they are now both perceived. My sister would tend Ambrose's first born. He and his wife and drop the child off and sometimes they did not come back for 2-3 days for the baby. They would not even call.

    Medrano was an immature punk with serious ethical issues. His brothers were no different. His parents were successful business people. They had a busy store on the corner of Cullerton and Wood. Apparently they did not take too much time teaching their kids how to play well with others.

    Solis lived across the alley from me. His parents worked hard. Danny and his siblings all were serious about education. They never were in trouble. They were good kids. The younger brother liked to party with the other kids on 21st but who didn't party?

    I spent about three years self-medicating on everything and anything I get find during the mid-70s. When I was 19 I heard about a place called Latino Youth Alternative High School. I stopped doing drugs. I wanted to finish high school.

    I did not fit in well. I soon went on my way. Danny Solis had a position of leadership at the school. This is how I met him. Despite living across the alley from him, I never even knew who he was.

    I found out that Latino Youth grew out of an effort to work with barrio kids who were on drugs. The activists involved in the project realized that the high drop-out rate and the lack of viable options for the youth was a serious problem that was contributing to the drug problem-thus began Latino Youth. Danny Solis was instrumental in that movement that founded Latino Youth.

    I dropped out of L.Y. and began hanging out with a criminal element. I was being swallowed by the neighborhood. One day Solis saw me and he asked me if I had least taken the GED. He would ask me that every time he saw me. I made same lame excuse that I had no money. He ordered me into his car. He dropped what he was doing and drove me to an office in downtown where the GED was administered. He paid the fee, gave me bus fare, and left me there. I took the test. Later that year I enrolled at Northeastern Ill.

    Danny cared about people. Ambrose only cared about his hedonistic needs. Danny was an activist. In my eyes,Ambrose was a schemer who never displayed any interest in helping the community.

    I manipulated my time at Northeastern Ill. into an affirmative action based scholarship at the U of W in Madison. But my inability to break away from bad influences destroyed that opportunity.

    Danny helped open doors for me. He cared enough to act to help make positive change in my life. I know him only as a person who cared for the youth in the community. I know no other Danny Solis.

    I know that power corrupts. People change. But it is so bizarre for me to see Ambrose and Danny compared, and with Ambrose portrayed as the good guy activist and Danny as the evil, corrupt politician. It is very bizarre to me.

    30 years is a long time.

  4. Thank you Indigenous Xicano for your excellent comments. I really appreciate them. I couldn't agree more with your comments on Taylor St. You are absolutely right. In fact I just finished a piece on the history of Pilsen for a forthcoming publication were I talk about the displacement of Mexicanos from the Near west side. I really agree with your sadness about what happened to Taylor St. I am even sadder (and angrier) about what happened to Maxwell St. Few places in the country were more important to more groups of people than Maxwell St. It was one of Chicago's top cultural and historic gems, and the University Village development has completely wiped that history out. I really like your last line in your first comment... "Sometimes, progress is only progress for those making money from the change." Well said brother.

    On your comments on Solis. You are right that Solis started as a community activist many years ago. I hear great things about him from the 1970's and early 80's. But as an alderman you would think he was a totally different person. I will tell you something that one of Danny’s counterparts from the 70’s once told me when we were hanging out one night at Decima Musa (I will not give her name as I don’t want to get her in trouble – suffice it to say she was a friend of Jesus Garcia, Rudy Lozano and Danny back in those days). I was complaining about Danny’s closeness to the gentrifiers in Pilsen. She said that at a party a few years before (sometime around the early 2000s) she asked Danny “what happened to you.” His response… “I was tired of eating hotdogs at BBQs in the neighborhood, I wanted to smoke a cigar at the Union League Club.” I think that sums up the situation well. Another former friend of Danny’s quoted him as saying at one time… “I would like to see Pilsen become more like Taylor St.” So there you have it.

  5. Jerry,

    I love your comment about the "ragtag army" of Morfin volunteers against well oiled Solis patronage machine...This is how rebellions and social movements are won...I will say that this experience organizing for Temoc Morfin has been a life-changing epic battle and it has been an honor working with experienced organizers from the community and passionate mothers who want justice...I would rather be a ragtag volunteer any day with heart and passion than a paid Danny Solis soldier who wants to preserve the status quo and continue neglecting our neighborhood...It's now or never brother.

    Que Viva Pilsen y Viva Morfin!

    Moises "Moy" Moreno
    Pilsen Original