Ald. Danny Solis has been in hiding for weeks, dodging questions about the conversations he secretly recorded for the feds and an affidavit that accuses the veteran alderman of trading his official actions for sex acts, Viagra and campaign cash.
Not surprisingly, the five young political newcomers vying to replace Solis are promising voters a break from that sordid past.
“Corruption is the core of the problem,” said candidate Byron Sigcho Lopez, former organizer and director of the Pilsen Alliance. “We cannot implement good practices, good public policy for as long as we have individuals that look the other way or to self-interest to profit from public service.”
All five candidates say it’s high time the 25th Ward — which includes parts of Pilsen, the West Loop and Chinatown — moves forward from an era of pay-to-play politics and works to support economic development within the communities.
Other candidates include Alex Acevedo, a pediatric nurse at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Hospital, and son of former state Rep. Eddie Acevedo; Troy Hernandez, director of the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization; Aida Flores, a Harvard University-educated school administrator; and Hilario Dominguez, a community organizer and special education teacher.
Acevedo’s goals include making the ward more affordable, helping small businesses and “becoming an incubator” for artists.
“If you look around this ward, there’s so much potential for opportunity But there’s also so much going on where people are fed up, and there’s that sense of over-rapid development. A lot of people they like economic development but not at a time when it’s outpacing public infrastructure, from Pilsen to West Loop, to South Loop.”
Acevedo, 33, said he supports scaling back zoning that is creating high-rises in the West Loop. And he’s concerned about the 25th Ward generating millions, “but all of that money is leaving our ward.”
Lopez, who has been a teacher and organizer for about 10 years, said he was instrumental in research that uncovered financial fraud within the United Neighborhood Organization.
Lopez, 35, said corruption in the ward “has been happening for a long time,” claiming the ward “has been run by personal gain.”
“We’ve been deprived by pay-to-play and corruption,” Lopez said. “It has taken a toll on the community.”
Solis has not been officially charged with any crime, but he disappeared after the Chicago Sun-Times revealed the explosive allegations detailed in the federal affidavit, leaving the ward with no representation.
Dominguez, 25, is a special-education teacher and community organizer. He says his top priorities are affordable housing, fully-funded public schools and participatory budgeting. Dominguez says housing in Chicago isn’t viewed as a “human right” and something that is controlled by the community.
Dominguez, who has been endorsed by Congressman Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, says he can relate to residents, as a teacher and a renter, who “can barely afford to live in the neighborhood.”
Flores, 33, grew up in Pilsen and later became a teacher at Juarez Academy after attending Georgetown and Harvard.
Flores said her campaign is about “building up positivity and moving forward.”
“For me, I think now more than ever, it’s more critical to have that message because you’re not going to be able to change the past. You have to be able to move a community forward and show them something different,” Flores said. “We’re getting taxed left and right, whether it’s a garbage tax or property taxes. Education is a concern. Safety is concern. Development also.”
Hernandez says his family has 90 years of roots in the community. While he has focused much of his work in environmental justice, Hernandez says he’s “frustrated” with the lack of media attention he’s received for some of his work, including helping to place regulations on the Sims Metal shredder, which is across from Benito Juarez Community Academy. His group also gave out filters for homes where lead was found in their water.
He’s also frustrated at what he calls damage that can’t be undone in the ward.
“The damage that Danny has done is to property values in the West Loop and even, somewhat in Pilsen. You can’t undo an eight-story building when there used to be a three-story building there,” Hernandez said. “I feel bad for the people who invested. A home is one of the biggest investments.”
Hernandez is self-funding his campaign saying, “I don’t need this job. I have a much better job, working for IBM as a data scientist and as an executive architect.”
Hernandez said he’s not supported by any corporations or any unions.
“I piss off everybody, equally,” Hernandez said, describing his campaign as a “disruptive” one.
Hernandez, 37, is the only candidate who said he wouldn’t be a full-time alderman.
“If I were to only be an alderman, I would be taking a very significant pay cut. Very significant,” Hernandez said.
And he’s not exactly following traditional get-out-the-vote efforts.
“It’s winter time. I don’t want to have my door knocked on when it’s 20 degrees,” Hernandez said. “I don’t know anybody who does. I find it annoying. So how do you get out there? Sending out fliers, going to meet and greets.”