The future of two coal-burning power plants has become a hot issue in the 25th Ward with just a few weeks remaining in the City Council runoff. Combined with five other plants, the Fisk Generation station located in the ward’s Pilsen neighborhood has become one of Chicago’s largest sources of pollution.
The ward’s incumbent Ald. Daniel Solis, who has been alderman since Mayor Daley appointed him in 1996, has opposed regulating the emissions of the Pilsen power plant at the municipal level, saying that it should not be local government’s problem.
“After this past election, I think my constituents spoke and said, ‘Look, we understand this may be symbolic and may be struck down by the courts, but it’s important that you take a position on this,’” Solis said.
If passed, the ordinance, which has sat in committee for 10 months, would require Chicago-area power plants to reduce their pollution by 90 percent.
The issue continues to drive the campaign, which will be resolved April 5. Solis faces a runoff because he fell short of the minimum 50.1 percent of the votes required to win. The incumbent earned 49 percent.
Cuauhtemoc “Temoc” Morfin, a former Cook County juvenile probation officer who, at 28 percent, received the most votes after Solis, will appear on the ballot along with the alderman.
The 25th Ward is just one of 14 wards where the winner has yet to be determined.
The third candidate in the February election, Ambrosio Medrano Jr., who won about 23 percent of the vote, is the son of ex-con and former 25th Ward Alderman Ambrosio Medrano. Medrano Jr. recently threw his support behind Morfin.
“We need to get [Morfin] elected. We can’t have another four years of Danny Solis,” Medrano said at press conference publicizing his endorsement of Morfin.
City Clerk and defeated Chicago mayoral candidate Miguel Del Valle also endorsed Morfin on Tuesday.
Now, in addition to Mayor-Elect Rahm Emanuel, the Service Employees International Union is backing Solis, who faced Morfin for the first time in the 2007 election. As Illinois’s biggest political campaign contributor, the SEIU supported Medrano, Jr. in the previous election.
Solis told Early and Often that SEIU’s support of Medrano in last month’s election likely cost him an outright win.
Solis has received about $50,000 in campaign contributions from Midwest Generation, the company that owns both of the Southwest Side power plants, since 1999, according to numbers compiled by Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization.
But Solis said Midwest Generation has given thousands of dollars to many Illinois politicians and that their donations have no effect on his decision to back the clean-air ordinance.
A spokesperson for the EPA recently said the two power plants are meeting current clean-air guidelines, but Pilsen environmentalists don’t think that’s enough, according to this Gazette Chicago story.
In light of the incumbent’s change of heart, Morfin said he was glad that Solis is “following my lead,” referring to his support of Ald. Joe Moore’s clean air ordinance.
But Solis pointed to a failed ordinance he supported in 2002 that was similar to the current Chicago Clean Power Ordinance.
Araceli Gonzalez, one of the moms who spent more than 40 days last year living in and protesting the destruction of a schoolyard field house at Pilsen’s Whittier Elementary, said she thinks Solis’ backing of the clean power ordinance is political posturing.
“Why is he saying that now? Because he’s in the runoff,” said Gonzalez. “Where was he on this issue last year?”
She said she’s voting for Morfin in the runoff because he came out to support the Whittier moms during their protest, which ultimately led to a promise from Chicago Public Schools to renovate the field house and build the school a new library.
After spending time with Morfin she felt he genuinely cared for the neighborhood.
“I was there a couple times overnight with Morfin,” Gonzalez said. “What I liked about Morfin was that he never put his political stuff in there.”