Coal plant heats up 25th Ward race

March 23, 2011 4:11:38 PM PDT
The future of a coal-fired power plant is heating up the aldermanic race in the 25th Ward between incumbent Danny Solis and Temoc Morfin.

The near Southwest Side ward includes portions of the Pilsen, Chinatown, University Billage and Tri-Taylor neighborhoods.

Solis, the city council's zoning committee chairman, is the most powerful Chicago alderman facing a runoff election.

He says election year politics have nothing to do with his renewed activism to limit emissions from power plants in his ward.

The smokestack above Midwest Generation's coal-fired Fisk Electric power station would belch 90 percent less pollution or none at all if the clean power ordinance is passed by the Chicago City Council.

"With the changing national circumstances, I believe it is important now to move this ordinance through city council," said Solis.

With Solis is on board, the ordinance's chances of passage improve dramatically.

"We expect to have a hearing on this issue on the week of the 11th," said I will give you a specific date on that, hopefully by the end of this week."

The motive behind Solis's announcement is being questioned by Temoc Morfin, a longtime power plant critic and community activist who is challenging the 15-year incumbent in the ward's April 5th runoff election.

"He should have been on board ever since he started as alderman of this ward," said Morfin. "This is a very critical issue."

Residents in the predominantly Latino neighborhoods surrounding the 43-year-old plant have complained for decades about higher rates of asthma and other respiratory diseases.

"In these tough economic times, we can't afford the health effects of the pollution... up to one billion dollars in health and related damages in the last eight years alone," said Dr. Ravi Shah of the Cook County Health and Hospital System.

Morfin supporter and neighborhood resident James Lopez says his 7-year old-daughter is a victim.

"She suffers from chronic asthma due to the amount of air and debris that we breathe here every day," said Lopez.

In 2002, Solis co-sponsored the first ordinance to clean up the two coal-fired plants in the ward, but never advanced the measure.

In statements last year, Solis opposed the latest version of the ordinance introduced by a colleague. He admits having accepted $52,000 in campaign contributions from Midwest Generation.

"I have received money since about 11 years ago, but it didn't stop me in 2002 and it doesn't stop me now," Solis said.

"Like I said, he's come on the right side now, which I'm glad. But you know its $52,000 too late," said Morfin.

On February 22nd, Solis won just less than 49 percent of the vote to just less than 28 percent for Morfin.

Groups allied with Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel are supporting Solis. Former mayoral candidate Miguel del Valle has endorsed Morfin.

This is a key race to watch with the chairmanship of the powerful Zoning Committee in play.