Monday, February 14, 2011

From Egypt to Pilsen - It's time for change...

Below is the full text of a letter to the editor I submitted as the Green Party's 25th Ward Committeeman to a number of local newspapers. I expect at least a couple to publish a shortened version...
The residents of Pilsen face many challenges. Many residents are themselves undocumented immigrants or have family members that are. The majority of residents are working class, many are low wage workers who have been hit hard by the current economic crisis. The health of Pilsen residents has been adversely effected by pollution from point-source polluters like the Fisk coal fired power plant on Cermak and the H. Kramer brass smelting facility on 21st Street. Long time residents are being pushed out of the neighborhood by rising property taxes, home prices and rents.

For all these reasons and more, Pilsen residents are desperate for change. Change that will not come if Danny Solis’ 15 year tenure as alderman is extended for another 4 on February 22nd. The proposed Chicago Clean Power Ordinance would require Midwest Generation to reduce the pollution produced by the Fisk and Crawford coal fired power plants by roughly 90%. Air contaminants from these plants result in over 40 premature deaths, around 500 emergency visits, and thousands of asthma attacks every year. Scientific studies released just in the last year and a half by the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago and Physicians for Social Responsibility have re-confirmed the results of the original study conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health in 2001. These recent studies have also found linkages between these pollutants and other health problems like cardiovascular diseases. It is a public health crisis of major proportions. Solis opposes the ordinance while both of Solis’ opponents in the race, Cuahutémoc “Temoc” Morfin and Ambrosio Medrano Jr. support the ordinance.

Solis’ opposition to the Clean Power Ordinance is not the only way the Alderman has shown a disregard for the well being of residents of the 25th Ward. Solis also voted against the Big Box Living Wage Ordinance which would have dramatically improved the lives of low wage workers at stores like Wal-Mart and Target. Solis did not play a significant role in efforts to unionize workers at V. & V. Supremo or at the Casa de Pueblo grocery store. Not surprisingly unions consider Solis one of their biggest opponents on the Chicago City Council. Morfin has the support of the Chicago Teachers Union, the largest and most progressive union in Chicago. Medrano has the backing of the Services Employees International Union.

Solis has tried to present himself as of late as an advocate for undocumented immigrants. But his contributions to the immigrant rights struggle have been symbolic at best; unlike Morfin who who has been an active participant in the immigrant’s rights movement for many years. Solis has also angered the Whittier School Parents Committee which feels the Alderman was reluctant to assist them in their struggle to save a field house on school grounds. Morfin was an early ally of the Whittier parents and played a major role in the expansion of Juarez High School.

Perhaps Solis’ greatest failing is his closeness to real estate developers in the ward and his lack of concern over the growing gentrification of the neighborhood. The ability of long term residents to continue to be able to afford to live in the neighborhood is a top concern of those living in the 25th Ward. During his 15 year tenure as Alderman, Solis has demonstrated little concern for those displaced by gentrification and has expressed support for high end, high cost housing developments. Morfin has been active in efforts to combat gentrification in Pilsen for almost a decade, supporting such efforts as Pilsen Alliance’s down zoning proposal and the attempt to create a zoning advisory board.

The people of the 25th Ward are desperate for change. On February 22nd, they will have the opportunity to turn that desire for change into reality.

Jerry Mead-Lucero, 25th Ward Committeeman for the Green Party
Photo of Solis by Kate Gardiner/ WBEZ

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