Alderman Danny Solis has some competition in the 25th Ward

Historically, the 25th Ward has consisted of mostly Hispanic Pilsen, with chunks of Chinatown and Little Italy. Since the 2012 remap, the ward now also includes slivers of the Near West Side and McKinley Park.

Danny Solis has served as alderman of the 25th Ward since 1996, when he was appointed by former mayor Richard M. Daley. In the past, he’s been criticized for his ties to charter network UNO, his lack of transparency, and—more recently—his support for a proposed $30 million metal shredder across from Benito Juarez High School in Pilsen.

All 25th Ward schools were spared during the mass school closures of 2013 and the alderman has said he’s not in favor of opening any new charters on his turf. Voters in 37 wards, including the 25th, will get to weigh in on whether Chicago should have an elected school board; Solis has said he supports a plan that would allow for a hybrid of both appointed and elected members. That marks a rare departure from marching in lockstep with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who opposes the idea of an elected school board. (Solis has voted with the mayor 97 percent of the time since Emanuel took office in 2011.)

The 25th’s previous election resulted in a run-off—a special election held when no candidate wins by more than 50 percent—between Solis and community activist Cuahutemoc “Temoc” Morfin. The 2007 race was also tight, but crucial votes for challenger Ambrosio Medrano were thrown out due to a previous felony conviction.

Initially five candidates stepped forward this year, but 33-year-old data scientist Troy Hernandez (whose brother Alex runs the cafe that invented the “wonut”) has already dropped out after a ballot challenge. That leaves four candidates to take on the reigning alderman:

Byron Sigcho At 31, Sigcho, who’s originally from Ecuador, is the youngest candidate running in the 25th Ward. So far, education’s been at the forefront of his campaign; both he and the Pilsen Alliance, a community group for which Sigcho volunteers, were instrumental in getting the elected school board question on the ballot, according to the Chicago Teachers Union. At a December 8 aldermanic forum in McKinley Park, Sigcho said it was “community organizing, not Danny Solis,” that spared the 25th Ward’s schools from the mass closures of 2013. Sigcho’s been endorsed by the PAC Reclaim Chicago as well as Teachers for Social Justice, a local education reform group. Both Sigcho and fellow candidate Jorge Mujica are adamant about immediately raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, versus the $13 per hour by 2019 recently pushed through City Hall. He also works as an instructor at UIC’s Center for Literacy.

Jorge Mujica A longtime organizer and political activist, Mujica, a socialist, was lead organizer for the 2006 rally that drew more than 100,000 marchers to the streets to protest several proposed federal immigration laws. The Mexican-born Mujica came to the U.S. in 1987, after which he worked as a journalist for Univision and Telemundo. He launched an unsuccessful campaign in the 2009 primaries against congressman Dan Lipinski and now works as an organizer for Arise Chicago, a nonprofit labor group. “Our power is not as residents, our power is as workers,” Mujica said at the aldermanic forum. He said that hiring more police was a bad idea because cops here are “corrupt and racist,” and stressed the importance of staffing swimming pools around the city. He’s said he won’t accept any donations from larger companies and, if elected, he’ll donate half his aldermanic salary to charity.

Roberto “Beto” Montano As Solis’s chief of staff from 2005 to 2008, Montano has an interesting perspective on the incumbent. While he praises the alderman’s past work, Montano believes the 25th Ward is due for a change. “Danny was a great leader on education—20 years ago,” the 41-year-old banker says. Montano is critical of the alderman’s connections to charter network UNO, but adds that he loves Solis “like a crazy uncle.” A veteran, Montano worked as an aide to Congressman Luis Gutierrez from 2001 to 2005. Instead of the proposed metal shredder, Montano wants to see site used for a new hospital, which he says is desperately needed. Montano volunteered for Emanuel’s first mayoral campaign, but now he says he strongly disagrees with the mayor’s education policies, including the 2013 school closures and his support of charters. He currently works as an investment executive for Fifth Third Bank and plans to self-fund much of his campaign. And don’t bother looking for Montano’s campaign website or social media accounts—you won’t find them. Montano said he believes it’s more important to “focus on the voters.”

Ed Hershey It was Karen Lewis and her initial decision to run for mayor that inspired science teacher Ed Hershey to run for alderman. Hershey, one of several educators running for alderman across the city, teaches honors physics at Lindblom Math and Science Academy in West Englewood. He was one of ten arrested for protesting the city’s teardown of the field house at Whittier Elementary last year, and he’s also demonstrated against charter school expansion. Charter schools, Hershey says, represent a “privatization scheme” designed to dilute the power of the Chicago Teachers Union.