- Peter Holderness/Sun-Times Media
- Danny Solis, pictured at his meeting with the Sun-Times editorial board on Monday
As chairman of the City Council’s zoning committee, 25th Ward alderman Danny Solis has the power to approve or block new developments in Chicago. So it comes as no surprise that developers and those embedded in real estate are among his most generous campaign supporters.
In terms of political power in the City Council, chairing the zoning committee is arguably only second to chairing the finance committee, which 14th Ward alderman Ed Burke has done for 26 years.
During the past year, more than half of Solis’s top donors—those who’ve given $5,000 or more—have been either developers or real estate firms, according to state records. Among the most generous: Joseph Antunovich and Antunovich Associates ($10,000), Chicago America Real Estate ($8,000), and Zheng Construction ($7,500). Altogether, Solis raised more than $400,000 since the beginning of 2014.
Many of these developers have major projects underway and additional proposals pending. For instance, Antunovich Associates has designed a number of high-profile developments, including the new West Loop Mariano’s and its accompanying 17-story apartment tower; and Logan’s Crossing, which is replacing the run-down Mega Mall in Logan Square.
Structure Management Midwest LLC donated $5,000 to Solis. It’s owned by Fred Latsko, who recently became a partner in the development of a $65 million River North apartment tower. Several years ago, when he owed millions on Downtown and Gold Coast properties, Latsko faced bankruptcy, but avoided filing.
So how can Danny Solis ensure a fair zoning process while accepting money from developers that may very well profit from his decisions?
Solis spokesman Tom Bowen didn’t give a straight answer to that question, saying only that Solis “has always taken input from community on all of his development decisions.” Bowen also pointed to the alderman’s efforts on behalf of the West Loop restaurant Carmichael’s. Solis recently downzoned the property in order to prevent Michigan Avenue Real Estate from building 131 rental units on the site.
One of the heads of that developer also contributed $5,000 to Solis’s campaign this past year.
According to the board of elections website, Solis has raised many times more than the the other four 25th Ward candidates put together. Leading the challengers is immigration rights activist Jorge Mujica, who’s raised just over $8,000 to date. Most of that money came from individual donors, unions, and the Chicago Socialist Campaign, state records indicate.
Roberto “Beto” Montano, who said in December he’d be self-funding his campaign, has so far raised around$2,000. Chicago public school teacher Ed Hershey has yet to file any contributions.
Byron Sigcho, the 31-year-old UIC graduate assistant who’s been endorsed by anti-special-interests PAC Reclaim Chicago, had raised just over $6,000 at the end of 2014. So far his major donations have come from fellow professors and Chicago public school teachers. Both Sigcho and Mujica say they’ve raised more to date than what the board of elections is reporting—$10,000 for Sigcho and $30,000 for Mujica.
Sigcho called Solis’s campaign contributions from developers a “compromise to the community.”
“Even though he has money and resources, he’s not popular,” Sigcho said. “We have the people. We have the backing of community organizations. We’re raising the issues and that’s what’s important. We’re also very careful with who we accept contributions from.”
On January 14, Sigcho also filed a formal complaint with the city’s inspector general’s office, calling for an investigation into the whereabouts of $140,000 in missing 2013 ward money. So far, Solis’s office has been unable to offer a direct explanation for the money’s disappearance.