The many lives of Alderman Danny Solis | On Politics | Chicago Reader

The many lives of Alderman Danny Solis 

Solis swapped his loyalty to Daley and Rahm for sex, Viagra, and the council’s zoning chair.

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click to enlarge Danny Solis - SARAH MATHESON
  • Danny Solis
  • Sarah Matheson

As I've watched Alderman Danny Solis escape one precarious predicament after another over the last 30 or so years, I've reached the obvious conclusion—the man's got more lives than a cat.

It isn't just his ability to fall from vast heights and land on his feet. He's also the rubber­-band man of Chicago politics, effortlessly bending into whatever configuration he needs to be in at any moment in time.

But having read the slimy details of his latest predicament, I must conclude that all those twists and turns may have finally caught up with Danny.

As you probably know by now, Solis achieved an impressive daily double in corruption. He was a mole for the feds, wearing a wire to gather dirt on Alderman Ed Burke, and he himself was a target of federal investigators. They listened to thousands of hours of his phone conversations as he talked about swapping his approval on zoning requests for Viagra. Man, just when I thought I'd heard it all in regard to corruption in Chicago . . .

As I wait for the next chapter in his saga, I figure it's a good time to sort through a few of the many lives of Danny Solis.

Community organizer: We first met at a restaurant in Pilsen in 1982. Solis was part of a fledgling Alinsky-style group called the United Neighborhood Organization. He reminisced about his radical days in the 60s, hanging with the Black Panthers, and boldly bragged about building a coalition of whites, blacks, and Hispanics that was unafraid of the Democratic machine. In fact, UNO had recently opened a satellite group in the Back of the Yards—Ed Burke country. That's called irony.

Hispanic empowerer: Several years later, we met at the same restaurant. This time there was no more talk of hanging with the Panthers. Harold Washington was mayor, but Solis said just because the mayor was a black man didn't mean Hispanics had to back him. Hispanics, he said, should play one faction against the other to get goodies from both. I had a feeling this was his first step toward ditching black people altogether—like he'd figured out that, even with Harold in power, the safest long-term bet was on the white guys.

Daley ally: Washington died in 1987. In 1989, Richard M. Daley was elected mayor. For the next 22 years, Solis was a key player in Daley's machine—blacks and Hispanics be damned. In 1995, Solis testified for the demolition of the old Maxwell Street market even as outraged Mexican-American vendors booed and hissed and called him a "gusano" (worm). The developers got millions of TIF dollars to build an upscale community, the vendors got run out of business, and working­-class people got priced out of Pilsen as the gentrification of the near south and west sides roared on. And Danny? He got a promotion.

Alderman: In 1996, Ambrosio Medrano pleaded guilty to taking bribes and stepped down as alderman of the 25th Ward. Mayor Daley named Solis to fill the vacancy. Solis became one of Daley's most loyal rubber­stampers in the City Council, voting for just about every mayoral initiative—the parking meter sale, TIF deals, you name it—as campaign contributions from city contractors poured into his coffers.

Zoning chair: In 2009, Daley made Solis chairman of the zoning committee, a prized council position because it brings developers before you looking for zoning changes. Even more campaign donations poured into his coffers. The Democratic Party assigned its top election lawyers to defend him against ballot challenges. But all this clout and power had a price. As he sided with developers over community groups, Solis lost support in Pilsen. In 2007 and 2011, he lost the Hispanic vote to Cuahutemoc Morfin, his challenger. But he won reelection thanks to big support from Chinatown and Little Italy—so much for Hispanic empowerment.

Retiree: In November, Solis announced he wouldn't run for reelection, telling reporters, "I just felt it was time for me to focus a little bit on my family, myself, my grandkids, my son, who is going into college this year. . . . It's time to enter a new chapter in my life and pass the baton of public service to another. . . . I have no embarrassment. I'm proud of what I've done in Pilsen."

Mayor Rahm was effusive in his praise. "Danny Solis deserves the thanks and congratulations of our entire city after a lifetime of public service. . . . I will forever look fondly on the eight years Danny and I served this great city together, and while the simple view may be that he was an ally on City Council, the reality is much more. Danny is a friend."

Well, you know what happened next.

In late January, the Sun-Times revealed that Solis had been wearing a wire on Burke, and that the FBI had listened in on thousands of Solis's cell phone conversations. Among other things, the feds had recorded the following exchange between Solis and Roberto Caldero, an old ally . . .

Solis: I want to get a good massage, with a nice ending. Do you know any good places? [Caldero says he does.]

Solis: What kind of women do they got there?

Caldero: Asian.

Solis: Oh, good. Good, good, good. I like Asian.

So much for stepping down to spend more time with his family.

On Tuesday, Mayor Rahm released another statement regarding Solis—and gone were the gratitude, praise, and talk of friendship. Instead, Rahm got right to the point: "Alderman Solis has communicated with my office his intent to resign as chairman. I commend him for making the right decision."

And so the mayor threw his old friend—the one who "deserves the thanks and congratulations of our entire city"—under the bus. He couldn't get the 78 and Lincoln Yards TIF deals through the zoning committee with Solis at its helm. So bye-bye, old friend.

Even with Solis out of the picture, Mayor Rahm still might not get those TIF deals confirmed—what with all the talk about Burke, wire wearers, and Viagra.

If those deals go down in part because Solis embarrassed Rahm, you can say Danny did everyone a favor.

You know, just thinking about this—I've got a feeling that somehow, someway, Danny Solis might once again land on his feet.  v

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