We’re Just . . . Visiting
The fastest way to get an appointment with 25th Ward alderman Danny Solis may be to hang up one of his opponent’s campaign signs.
Margarita Perez (not her real name) put a sign for Ambrosio Medrano in the window of her home and was promptly visited by two Solis campaign workers. “One asked me what was going on with me,” she says. “Why did I have a Medrano poster up? They asked me if I was voting for Medrano.”
That was Tuesday. On Wednesday, Solis himself showed up at her door.
Perez had already taken down the Medrano sign. “I don’t want any problems,” she explains. “I don’t want them to send the inspectors here just because of a sign.”
She says Solis asked if it was true that she’d refused to hang up one of his campaign signs. “It was like he was mad,” she says. “I told him, ‘No, I didn’t refuse. They never offered me one.'” Ten minutes after Solis left, a precinct captain showed up with a Solis sign. It’s now in Perez’s front window.
Solis’s campaign manager, Mark Walsh, says he started sending campaign workers to homes with Medrano signs “to see what exactly the reason was they were not with the alderman.” What they’ve found, he claims, is that residents had been pressured into putting up Medrano signs. “A lot of people were saying, ‘Look, it’s this guy at the end of the block. He kind of intimidated me.’ Or ‘He asked me to put it up, and I don’t want to piss him off.'” On hearing about these allegations, Medrano went into a fit of laughter.
Walsh says Solis has followed up at about 50 homes. It’s been an effective strategy. Once residents receive a visit from a precinct captain or the alderman, says Walsh, “They’ll say, ‘Well, I’ll just take it down.'” He adds, “A lot of them are putting our signs up, and a lot of them are actual Solis supporters.”
Asked if he thought people might feel intimidated by having Solis or his campaign workers ask them about their support for the opposition, Walsh says, “Not really. I suppose they could, but we’ve got a different caliber of volunteers.”
This is Minerva Orozco’s third attempt to unseat 37th Ward alderman Emma Mitts, and Orozco’s campaign manager, Mike Simmons, is taking a lesson from Rod Blagojevich’s gubernatorial race. “You’d see all these Blagojevich signs with the letters real large,” he says, “and that’s how people learned at least to say his name. I figure if it worked for him it could work for us.”
Big signs with Orozco’s last name in huge red type have been going up in windows and on fences all over the ward. Mitts’s placards are smaller and less splashy. “Minerva’s looking for a leg up with her signs,” says Mitts, who succeeded Percy Giles three years ago, after he was convicted in the Silver Shovel probe. “But signs don’t vote–people do.”
Mitts and Orozco, the most prominent of the five candidates in the race, are quick to attack each other. Orozco accuses Mitts of claiming credit for the new Washington Square Mall at North and Cicero, which is anchored by Cub Foods and Old Navy. “That mall is the only thing the alderman’s done,” says Orozco, “but the person behind it was Giles.”
Mitts concedes that Giles was the primary force behind the mall, but, she says, “I lobbied for the stores and got the zoning.” She, in turn, faults Orozco, a retired electrician and community activist, for organizing anticrime walks at election time just to promote herself. Not true, insists Orozco.
Orozco says that because of the 2002 ward remap Hispanics now make up 40 percent of the voters in the 37th. Mitts says it’s more like 20 percent. The board of elections says it’s actually 10.78 percent (it’s counting Hispanic surnames). Orozco, who speaks Spanish fluently, is counting on the support of the Hispanic voters, many of whom live in the ward’s north end. Mitts’s few Spanish phrases come from a church mission trip she took to El Salvador. “I can say gracias,” she says, “and I know that means ‘thank you.'” She’s counting on the backing of the ward committeeman, Calvin Giles, Percy’s nephew.
Blues musician Jimmy Tillman and Third Ward alderman Dorothy Tillman haven’t been married for a long time, according to Delmarie Cobb, campaign manager for Tillman’s opponent in the current race, Pat Dowell.
Yet Jimmy Tillman is still registered to vote at Dorothy Tillman’s 4321 S. King Drive three-flat. “If he is voting at that address, I just don’t know how he does it,” says Cobb. “Maybe he comes back just for that.” She notes that Dorothy usually refers to Jimmy as “my children’s daddy.”
Five more Tillmans–Bemaji Amen, Ebony, Gimel, Jimalita, and Jimmy Lee II–and two other people are all registered to vote at the address. Neighbors and local activists say they rarely see anyone there.
A Lighter Shade of Pink
Every four years Uptown home owners thought they could overthrow Helen Shiller and her Shilleristas. The 46th Ward was gentrifying, they insisted. She always beat them. Now’s she’s joined them too. In 2000 she became a property owner herself, trading her rented apartment for a house on Carmen. “So I wouldn’t have to keep running around town to see my grandchildren,” she says. (Her son and his family live downstairs.) She also joined the block club.
This year Shiller again shocked the neighborhood–by endorsing Mayor Daley. Traditionally the holdout when the mayor’s budgets passed 49 to one, she has become one of the 50, voting for Daley’s last three budgets. “My concerns are being incorporated,” she explains, adding that after September 11 she knew the mayor would have to cut his budget in anticipation of the
economic damage ahead. So she buttonholed him in the council chamber and urged him not to go too hard on social services because the poor would need even more help in a bad economy. She says Daley listened, increasing funding for homeless shelters and low-income housing.
When she voted in favor of the mayor’s budget in 2000 14th Ward alderman Ed Burke cracked, “The sheep has come back to the fold.”
“That isn’t exactly accurate,” Shiller says. “I’m not in any fold.” And to prove she hasn’t given up her old ideals, she’s now working on an ordinance that requires affordable housing to be part of any large residential development.
Shiller’s alliance with Daley made January an especially cold month for her opponent, ward committeeman Sandra Reed. Four years ago Daley endorsed Reed and let her use his Broadway campaign office. She lost, but got 44 percent of the vote.
“Right after my election with her, she started voting for the budget,” says Reed, who believes Shiller’s rapprochement with the mayor means the alderman is “running scared” and “is no longer the independent voice.”
In mid-January, Reed held a press conference in front of the Wilson el station, charging that Shiller hadn’t done enough to make Uptown residents feel safe. “People are scared to walk the streets,” she said. “Local businesses have suffered. One businessman told me, ‘My business is suffering because of the loitering. Customers don’t want to go in. There’s drug dealing.'” Then she declared she wanted more police in the area and better social services for the homeless who hang out on the sidewalk. “I don’t know if you’ve read the statistics,” she’d said earlier, “but the main reason for homelessness, the first main reason, is income.”
Lots of aldermanic candidates ride Mayor Daley’s coattails to victory. Then there’s Bruce Best, who’s trying to oust Patrick Levar in the 45th Ward by hooking up with one of Daley’s challengers, the Reverend Paul Jakes.
“When Reverend Jakes found out I was running he sent me a letter,” Best says. “He was congratulating me for being on the ballot. He invited me to meet with him and some other people. I went to one of his rallies. He’s a very nice man.” The two shook hands with commuters last week at the Jefferson Park el stop.
Best thinks Jakes, a west-side minister, can help him win the predominantly white northwest-side ward because they think alike on some critical matters. “Real estates taxes are too high, and people are being priced out of their homes,” says Best. “The fact that both of us agree on the same topic shows I’m not alone on that issue.”
Best–a real estate broker, carpenter, mailman, cabdriver, documentary producer, welder, and Toastmasters member–had tried to join the main team. He stopped by Levar’s office in late November to ask him to back his application for a job as a senior videographer for the cable television stations used by City Hall. Levar wasn’t available. “Anytime I tried to contact him he wasn’t available,” Best says. “I’ve heard that same complaint from other people. Levar is like a ghost. You can’t find him.” But he insists that has nothing to do with why he’s running against Levar.
Three days after stopping by Levar’s office, Best started circulating nominating petitions for himself. While he was at it he circulated petitions for Daley. He turned in all the signatures–he claims he got 958 for Daley–in December.
Late last month Best went looking for support at City Hall. “I tried to contact Mayor Daley by phone and fax,” he says, “but got no response.”
Ed Kelly, Democratic committeeman of the 47th Ward since 1968, took the young Eugene Schulter under his wing and ensured his election as alderman in 1975. Since then, Schulter, with Kelly’s Democratic organization behind him, has never faced a serious challenge and has often run unopposed. But the two men’s friendship ended in 2000, when Schulter, with Mayor Daley’s backing, tried to unseat Kelly as committeeman. Kelly hung on to his job by 155 votes.
Officially Schulter’s opponent in the current race is 38-year-old lawyer Jack Lydon, but the word on the street is that this is another bout in the ongoing grudge match. Any truth to that?
“There’s probably a lot to that,” says Schulter, who’s always diplomatic about his former mentor. “Which is unfortunate because it divides the neighborhood.”
“There’s a component of that,” says Lydon. “But that gives us an opportunity to bring a new leadership to the ward.”
“What grudge?” says Kelly, a former marine and boxer. “There’s no grudge. I beat him.” But Kelly, who has called his former protege a “piece of shit,” admits that he “interviewed” six candidates for the position of Schulter challenger and says Lydon was the only one who could afford to mount a campaign. He also admits that his staffers are ringing doorbells and working the phones on Lydon’s behalf. But he insists it’s not personal. Schulter, he says, “needs to go because of the abuse he has done to the people of the ward.”
Asked to elaborate, Kelly says Schulter has been selling out North Center and Lincoln Square to real estate developers. That happens to be one of the main themes of Lydon’s campaign: he says he started to think about running in 1999, when the Davis Theater was in danger of becoming a facade for pricey condos.
At a February 3 debate Lydon attacked Schulter, sometimes eliciting applause and hoots from the audience. When someone in the audience asked Schulter to say what the largest contribution his campaign had received was, Schulter identified the donor as his “dear friend” Tom Baker, “voted number one mechanic by Chicago magazine.” He didn’t state the amount.
“How much?” snapped Kelly, who was sitting in the front row. Other people in the audience chimed in. But no bombshell materialized. Schulter said the contribution amounted to $3,200–$2,800 less than the donation Lydon got from his father.