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Tuesday, August 16

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Aldermen Wed Oct 14 2009

Solis to Head Zoning Committee

It's the oldest story in city politics. Tom Wolfe probably has about nine or ten 100 page short story sketches about it. Young firebrand activist organizes the neighborhood to fight city hall. Eventually professional activist gets to the point where his organization is powerful enough to challenge City Hall. City Hall grants community activist his/her demands; lures them in with job security and speeches about how being a grown up means learning that you have to work with the powerful to get anything done, and everything else is just naive youthful idealism.

I'm not sure about the speeches (I imagine Mayor Daley cajoles), but the rest of that describes Danny Solis, once a leader of the working-class Latino United Neighborhoods Organization, which he helped transform (although Juan Rangel really accelerated this) into a conservative organization that teams with the wealthy to privatize schools and protect the Mayor.

Solis was recently named the Chair of the City Council's powerful Zoning Committee. Chairmanship of the Zoning Committee is second probably only to the Chairmanship of the Finance Committee (maybe third, if you consider the Committee on Committees) in terms of political importance in the Council. Zoning and land use decisions that go through the zoning committee comprise a serious amount of the "relief" the Council is able to afford. This makes chairing it lucrative, as former chair William J.P. Banks knew very well. Banks was arguably one of the more powerful--yet invisible--politicians in the entire state, with a ward organization able to generate vote totals reminiscent of the Pharaoh Daley years, including in neighboring suburbs. Banks' organization has always been able to deliver high turnout for their candidate.

One thing about Chairing the Zoning Committee, though: it's going to dirty you up, at least perception wise. You'll become instantly one of the most important politicians in the city, but that importance comes from your ability to raise huge sums of money from the zillions of individuals and organizations that need to get zoning or land use decisions made for them. Mayor Daley and Ald. Ed Burke supposedly cut a deal in the late 1980s whereby Burke would not run for Mayor in exchange for Daley's support of his control of the Finance Committee; a rewarding and influential chairmanship inside the City Council can be extremely satisfying for impulsive politicians without the charisma or global thinking to run for higher office. Solis, who has been a loyal Mayoral deputy since his appointment to the Council, may be getting that lifetime appointment in lieu of ever ascending to the Fifth Floor.

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