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Ward Politics Fri Jan 21 2011
The 25th Ward is a horseshoe-shaped district on the Near West Side of the city. Its hodge-podge of varied ethnic and commercial centers are representative of Chicago at large. From its southeastern edge in Chinatown to gentrified University Village, pockets of Little Italy and Tri-Taylor, and nearly all of the heavily Hispanic Pilsen neighborhood, the ward encompasses an assorted mix of communities with distinct needs that serve as indicators of similar issues facing the entire city. The three main candidates for the aldermanic post -- current Ald. Danny Solis, CDOT employee Ambrosio "Ambi" Medrano Jr., and community organizer Cuahutémoc Morfín -- showcase various pieces of the the city's political puzzle, and perhaps, a movement towards ending the old standards of Chicago realpolitik.
Since 1996, the 25th Ward has been represented by Danny Solis, the current Chairman of the Committee on Zoning, and Mayor Daley's former President Pro Tempore on the City Council Floor. Solis, a Tri-Taylor resident, comes from heavy political stock. His sister, Patti Solis Doyle, is a long-time political operative who once served as Hillary Clinton's campaign manager and later, as a senior aide to Barack Obama's 2008 campaign. Ald. Solis has been a consistent supporter of Mayor Daley throughout his tenure, and was heavily involved in the now defunct, criminal-ridden Hispanic Democratic Organization.
With Daley's pending departure, and as one of his closer aldermanic allies, Solis finds himself running without the same degree of institutional backing in this year's race. Solis is hoping that his longevity, name recognition, and accomplishments over the past fourteen years make voters pay credence at the ballot box on February 22nd. His two opponents, Ambrosio "Ambi" Medrano Jr., the son of former 25th Ward Alderman and convicted felon Ambrosio Medrano Sr., and last election's loser, the progressive minded Cuahutemoc Morfin, hope otherwise.
Medrano, a 32-year old Department of Transportation employee and community representative on Irma C. Ruiz's Local School Council, carries the weight of his father's sins, who was indicted for accepting bribes in Operation Silver Shovel. Nonetheless, this also acts as an asset for Medrano in basking in the light of his father's remaining supporters. After all, even though this election is on a city-level, this is still the land that Lipinski, Stroger, and Steele wrought. In addition though, Medrano has developed some independent cred of his own, having surprisingly earned the endorsement of the IVI-IPO. Morfin, a serious progressive candidate, has positioned himself as the Miguel del Valle of this race, and despite being beat by nearly 30% in the last election, has continued to work on the ward level in outlining comprehensive plans for issues confronting the community.
In all, the respective backgrounds and styles of the three candidates play out like a drawing of man's evolution, but with distinct Chicago political archetypes represented: Medrano Jr., despite being the youngest of the three and carrying a reformist streak in some of his proposals, stepping out from the murky remnants of the Berrios-style Machine swamp, Solis standing slightly more erect as a pillar of Machine Lite, and Morfin, IVI-IPO-endorsement withstanding, stepping alongside the Claypools and Preckwinkles into Chicago's future. Of course, all three stations have existed in Chicago at once and at any given time, but with the top-heavy presence of Daley soon removed, candidates like Morfin may become more viable than before. And even with Medrano's pedigree, his stated viewpoints show a slow shift afoot. The race in the 25th Ward vividly illustrates the laboring, yet changing dynamic of the city's political culture.
Further, the demographics of the ward dictate that its main issues are matters the entire city needs to address in order to remain competitive as a whole. Containing two heavy port-of-entry immigrant communities in Pilsen and Chinatown, the next alderman must foster an environment that provides access to capital and continued economic development, so as to remain a draw towards possible emigre populations. The next alderman will also need to work in tandem with the city, Chicago Public Schools, and whatever other available resources are out there, to further instill the correlation between opportunity and education. With Hispanic population growth accounting for the majority of general population growth, and with an economy that will increasingly require more college-educated workers in the future, common sense demands a larger investment is needed in urban schools where the majority of minorities live. Stronger schools in the 25th Ward will also help retain families in the wealthier communities adjacent to the Illinois Medical District and UIC. Innovative initiatives to strengthen school performance carry the potential to be the defining mark of the ward's success, and serve as an example across the city.
The 25th Ward may not be the most diverse in the city in terms of integrated living, but its mix of individual communities encapsulate the way most of Chicago has settled. From all of their campaign proposals and appearances, Solis, Medrano and Morfin obviously appear dedicated to the broader Near West Side community they seek to serve. But the successes and failures of the eventual winner will also provide a good barometer for how all of Chicago will fare in the near future.