Dozens of residents gathered Thursday night in the cold basement of a Pilsen church to question 25th Ward aldermanic candidates Aida Flores, Alex Acevedo, Byron Sigcho Lopez, Hilario Dominguez, and Troy Hernandez about housing issues.
But the ghost of outgoing Ald. Danny Solis also loomed large. Solis has represented the ward since 1996 and served as chair of the powerful zoning committee. When he announced he would be retiring last year, it opened the field for any of these candidates to take the seat.
Earlier this week, it was revealed the retiring alderman had been wearing a wire for the FBI to record conversations with Ald. Ed Burke.
Burke was charged with attempted extortion on Jan. 3.
While organizers told candidates and the audience to refrain from personal attacks, the liveliest parts of the forum came from criticisms of Solis.
Some candidates, like Dominguez, called on Solis to step down. And Lopez called out his opponents.
“I see some of the candidates being so cozy with some of the same staffers of Ald. Solis. You cannot cozy up with these people because you won’t be able to hold them accountable,” said Lopez, who ran against Solis four years ago.
Lopez asked other candidates to make a pledge to not take any donations from developers. All candidates, except Flores, said they wouldn’t. Flores said she’s received donations from friends who work in real estate.
But the harshest accusations came from a resident in the audience. The woman asked Dominguez whether he was truly against Solis.
“A year and a half ago, I was at the march that you organized supporting Danny Solis, he was in the front,” she said. “I want to know why you were supporting him.”
Dominguez responded that the march was not about a politician.
The resident also asked Flores whether she supported Solis.
“On your webpage, you talk about the retirement of Danny Solis and how much he’s contributed to the community … and how you respect and admire the work he’s done for the community. I don’t think the person who respects the work of Danny Solis is someone we want in our community,” she said while the audience applauded.
Flores responded that she wanted to run a clean campaign.
“My campaign started, since the beginning, on not bashing the alderman. The reason why is because this community has been fragmented for so long,” Flores said. “You don’t lead with anger, you have to lead with love.”
During the two-hour forum at St. Pius Church, residents also asked candidates about housing issues like whether they would support a rent control ordinance, reforms to the Chicago Housing Authority, TIF reforms, and a possible property tax freeze to protect residents from rising property taxes if the El Paseo trail is constructed to avoid displacement similar to that of Latino residents near the 606 trail in Logan Square.
All the candidates agreed on the need to protect affordable housing but not many details were provided.
The city’s 25th Ward includes parts of Pilsen, parts of the West Loop, Chinatown, and Little Italy.
María Ines Zamudio is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @mizamudio