Business, union endorsements split between candidates in 2nd and 25th wards
Falling out of line
02/09/2011 10:00 PM
Judging by endorsements, the 2nd and 25th Ward feature two of the most competitive races for alderman. In both contests, battle lines appear to be drawn between business and labor.
In the 2nd Ward — made up of the South Loop, West Loop, and parts of the Near West and Bronzeville — unions, including the Service Employees International Union, support Ald. Robert Fioretti. But two key business groups have backed challenger Genita Robinson.
As for the 25th Ward — which includes Pilsen as well as parts of Chinatown and Little Italy — business groups back Ald. Danny Solis. Many unions, though, are cool on Solis and SEIU supports challenger Ambrosio Medrano, Jr.
It’s hard to measure how important endorsements are, but they can bring candidates visibility, money and volunteers. In both wards, the incumbents expressed some skepticism about the importance of these endorsements.
“Ald. Fioretti’s activity the last four years is way more important than any endorsements,” said Tom Gradel, campaign spokesman for the alderman. “He didn’t have all the endorsements in 2007 and he still got the most votes.”
Solis, meanwhile, takes issue with his opponents — as well as the SEIU — branding him as anti-union.
“I would match my pro-union record with anybody, especially my opponents that don’t have a record from a position of power,” he said. “It is easy for a candidate to say I want to do this or that before they’re actually in a position to take a vote.”
There are five challengers to Fioretti, but Robinson has distinguished herself with high-profile endorsements. An attorney and former director of Chicago Public School’s charter school office, Robinson is currently executive director of Lawyers Lend-a-Hand to Youth, which supports mentoring programs.
Robinson won support of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce as well as the For a Better Chicago Political Action Committee. For a Better Chicago’s positions on issues closely mirror the Chamber’s, such as increased public-private partnerships between City Hall and business. The group has raised $850,000 in anonymous donations.
Robinson said she got $10,000 from For a Better Chicago and $1,000 from the chamber. Besides financial support, she said the endorsements “give voters another impetus to see their options.”
“This puts us a little more in voter’s minds,” she said.
Fioretti’s spokesman, meanwhile, isn’t quite sure why these business groups don’t support the incumbent. “Bob has good relations with business and he doesn’t consider himself the candidate for labor,” Gradel said. Gradel noted that, among other accomplishments, the alderman recently engineered a deal to bring Costco to the West Loop.
Fioretti’s allies in labor say the alderman is more against the status quo than anti-business.
“It is interesting to see Fioretti get opposition from the business community,” said John Cameron, director of political and community relations at AFSCME. “It’s his opposition to Mayor Daley that may have brought it upon him.”
Just as Fioretti doesn’t see himself as labor’s candidate, Robinson rejects that she is the candidate of business. “It’s not about support from a particular group,” she said. “It is about working together with everyone.”
Medrano won the support, along with what he said to be $10,000 and “20-50 volunteers every weekend” from SEIU’s robust political operation. He added that he expects the support of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees as well as the Chicago Federation of Labor, an umbrella coalition of over 300 area unions, if he gets into a run-off with Solis.
The other candidate for 25th Ward alderman is Cuahutemoc Morfin, who also ran in 2007 when he lost in a runoff to Solis.
“Danny has kind of ignored the unions,” Medrano said.
Indeed, labor seems more opposed toward Solis they’re for Medrano, a worker with the Dept. of Streets & Sanitation. The candidate’s father, Ambrosio Medrano, Sr., actually preceded Solis as 25th Ward alderman before he was convicted of extortion in 1996.
Labor opposition to Solis stems from his loyalty to Mayor Daley’s development prerogatives and support of big box retailers like Wal-Mart. For example, Solis opposed a union-backed ordinance to provide a “living wage” of about $11 an hour to retail employees who worked for companies subsidized by the city.
Cameron of AFSCME said Solis has been a “hatchet man for the mayor” and a “tool of business interests.” But AFSCME has withheld an endorsement for Medrano, Jr. because “he came across as a slick politician.”
“[Medrano] Jr. did, on the other hand, support our positions,” Cameron said. “So we’re not totally ruling off an endorsement.”
Solis has won the endorsements of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and the For a Better Chicago PAC.
But he says that he’s also a friend of labor. For example, he has mandated that all developments in the 25th Ward employ local, union laborers.
Like Fioretti, Solis claimed that his aldermanic record trumps endorsements.
“Each and every neighborhood that I represent — Chinatown, Little Italy, even East Pilsen — has undergone positive changes,” he said. “There is vibrancy in some of our commercial areas and that should count for something.”