Two Decades of Solis’ Legacy in Pilsen and the 25th Ward

January 31, 2019

Daniel Solis’ history in Pilsen is a long one that dates back before he even became alderman. Solis used to head the United Neighborhood Organization, founded in 1984, an organization riddled with corruption scandals over the last decade. Research by a group of activists—including would-be Pilsen Alliance leaders—was given to the Chicago Sun-Times and revealed the misuse of $8.5 million from a state grant in February of 2013.

In 1996, Mayor Daley appointed Solis to be alderman of the 25th Ward after Alderman Ambrosio Medrano resigned after pleading guilty to taking some $31,000 in bribes from an undercover FBI mole. At the time, Solis did not even live in the ward, but Solis was a Daley loyalist and his appointment proved that. A Chicago Reader article from 1996 noted that Solis even supported Daley’s decision to close the Maxwell Street market, even though it put 100 or so Mexican-American vendors out of work.

His turning his back to Pilsen residents continued as an alderman, In 1998, City Council passed the Pilsen Industrial Corridor TIF with Solis’ support, despite the ardent opposition of residents and multiple community groups, including Pilsen Alliance. This is just one example of a long legacy of Solis going against the desires of his constituents. In the late 1990s, Solis also supported the designation of a Roosevelt/Union TIF to expand the UIC campus southward, despite protests from residents. Misuse and collusion regarding TIF, Solis, and developers was a central impetus for Pilsen Alliance shifting focus towards housing and housing corruption, gentrification, and displacement.

This quote from a Chicago Reader article from 1998 shows just how removed Solis has always been from his constituents:

“According to Solis, the 25th Ward is “kind of like a Bizarro world.” He says residents in other neighborhoods he represents–Chinatown, Tri-Taylor, Armour Square, Heart of Italy–are clamoring for development projects, from streetscaping to river walks. “But every development project in Pilsen has been questioned, and not only questioned, but there’s been allegations that it’s part of a conspiracy to ethnically cleanse the area or to gentrify the area. That includes a streetscaping project along 18th Street, the UIC expansion, and an industrial TIF that I’m proposing for the neighborhood. If you took just about any community and you talked about the expansion of a university into a vacated area nearby, that community would be fighting to bring that development in.”

Two decades later, we see that the fears of displacement and gentrification were merited as over 10,000 Latino residents have left since 2000. A true leader would have seen signs early on and taken guidance from residents but Solis merely dismissed their concerns.
To attempt to have more of a say in their ward and neighborhood, the Pilsen Alliance, in addition to other groups, organized community members in 2004 to vote on whether aldermen should hold open meetings on zoning changes in Pilsen. The referendum, called “Pilsen is Not for Sale,” passed with 95% voter approval. This would lead to the creation of the Pilsen Community Zoning Board (PCZB) which would be quickly dismantled in the face of its first development to weigh in on, Chantico Lofts. A split among the group led to the dismantling and led to the creation of the Pilsen Land Use Committee (PLUC), which approved the project. It was later revealed that the developer, Centro18, had donated about $19,000 to Solis’s ward organization between 2006 and 2007. A recent article in the South Side Weekly outlined how the PLUC became another of Solis’ hand-picked committees and failed to uphold the 21% affordability mandate. In the general election of 2018, 25th ward residents living across the landing of the future Paseo Trail’s voted 72.6% in favor of dismantling PLUC.

Solis has faced fierce challenges in the last decade to retain his seat, many campaigns being based on wanting to rid Pilsen and the 25th Ward of its corruption, but Solis has been backed by the machine. He has counted on the support of corrupt politicians such as Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Alderman Ed Burke (ironically, enough). He has also depended on the contributions of developers seeking favorable service from the Chair of the Zoning Department, it has been alleged and seemingly now verified.

Late last year, Solis announced he would be retiring from City Council. It soon surfaced that Solis had been working with the FBI to secretly wiretap Ed Burke. Earlier today, we found out some details as to why Solis may have helped the FBI, some of which include having received sex acts, Viagra, free weekend use of an Indiana farm, and a stream of campaign contributions in exchange for providing favors in City Council.

This merely affirms what the Pilsen Alliance has known and expressed for years. Solis is a corrupt politician and our community deserves better and has deserved better for years. While we lament the suffering Alderman Solis has caused during over two decades in leadership, we uplift the tireless work that Pilsen Alliance and other community groups have done to call out, challenge, and bring awareness to Solis’s corruption. With the new election, we have a chance to usher in a new future for Pilsen, one that isn’t dominated with tone deaf processes and scandals that distract from the real issues our community is facing. Pilsen needs community empowerment from its leaders, someone to place the power of government in the people’s hands and not simply their connected allies. Pilsen has long been a nexus of working class fights against the entrenched powers of City Hall, the price of that character is invaluable. That’s why we say Pilsen is Not for Sale!

– Pilsen Alliance