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Ald. Solis scandal: Rep. Davis on why Mayor Washington made him Zoning czar

U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, Democrat from the 7th Congressional District. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

WASHINGTON — Outside of the House chamber, Rep. Danny Davis, a former Chicago alderman, and I were catching up, chatting Wednesday about the fall of Ald. Danny Solis.

Solis was yanked as City Council Zoning Committee chairman after the Sun-Times broke the news he wore an FBI wire and is in the cross-hairs of the FBI. There were also some humiliating details about blue pills — ostensibly used to boost male sex performance — and happy endings to massages.

That prompted Davis to tell me the story about the day the late Mayor Harold Washington asked him to be the Zoning Committee chair.

Aldermen have extraordinary control over zoning in Chicago.

Back in October 1987, when Washington tapped Davis — then the alderman for the West Side 29th Ward — for the spot, Washington knew that appointment could get someone in trouble.

Washington, who was reorganizing the City Council because he finally won control, asked Davis, his ally, what committee he wanted.

“I said, well you know I do a lot of work in health. I do a lot of work in education. And those would be my preferences. Those are also areas that I’m, you know, I’m pretty expert and know stuff, all that.”

Washington replied, “‘I’d really like for you to be the Zoning Committee chairman. Take that.’

“And I said, Mr. Mayor, with all due respect, we don’t have much zoning activity out in the ‘hood, out in my ward.” Davis wanted a chairmanship that could help him do stuff for the people who sent him to City Hall.

Washington told Davis, “Well, I know that. I understand that. But I’d appreciate it if you take that committee for two reasons.’

“I said what’s that?”

“He said, ‘One, I know you can handle it. I know you can. And two, I don’t think I have to come get you out of jail.”’

Once Davis became Zoning Committee chairman, his fundraising became easy with eager donors making their way to him.

“I’ve never been a big money raiser and that kind of thing. But when I was chair of zoning, I really didn’t have to worry about events.

“…I’d be walking out of City Hall, walking down the street and somebody would meet me or just walk up and say, ‘How are you doing. And say you know, when you have a fundraiser, put me on your fundraising list. Or let me know when you are going to have an event, I want to make a contribution.”

Danny on the mayoral race: Will endorse this weekend

Davis was first elected alderman of the 29th Ward in 1979. He eventually moved over to the Cook County Board, the position he held when he lost a 1991 mayoral bid against then-Mayor Richard M. Daley. He was first elected to Congress in 1996; he represents the 7th Congressional District, anchored on the West Side.

Davis is still sifting through the large field of mayoral candidates in advance of making an endorsement. With the election on Feb. 26 and with early voting starting, a boost from Davis is amplified because he’s part of a West Side political operation covering the 24th, 27th, 28th, 29th and 37th wards.

“I’m going to make up my mind this weekend. I still have some meetings with West Side black elected officials. And we have had just eons of meetings because a group of us decided that no matter what goes on and who is the mayor or who gets elected, that our community gets short shrift,” Davis said.

“That we don’t get anybody appointed to the boards and commissions. We don’t get any real consideration. That the West Side is just simply the bastard of the city.”

Davis said there are many reasons for what he sees as West Side “stepchild” status, but “the only way that we are going to be able to change it is to be as unified as we can possibly be.”