UNIVERSITY VILLAGE — At a basement candidate forum last week, the challengers took turns posing with an empty chair and nametag.
The four 25th Ward candidates at the debate on the UIC campus didn't waste time attacking each other. Instead, they were focused on slamming the veteran alderman who wasn't in the room.
They might not agree on every issue, but the crowd of four challengers hoping to represent the 25th Ward is united in their resolve to oust the incumbent — longtime Ald. Daniel "Danny" Solis. Solis said he would not be able to attend the forum because of a scheduling conflict.
"We have different views, but the same idea. Danny Solis is not going to win this," said candidate Roberto "Beto" Montano, a 41-year-old financial advisor who formerly served as chief of staff to Solis.
Also at the forum was 35-year-old CPS teacher Ed Hershey, 59-year-old community activist and Socialist Jorge Mujica, and Byron Sigcho, a 31-year-old lead instructor at UIC's Center for Literacy and a Pilsen Alliance board member.
As early voting begins this week, we asked the candidates — including 65-year-old Solis — to weigh in on the issues Pilsen voters care about.
Here's what they had to say about a controversial plan to open a metal shredder near Benito Juarez Community Academy.
In a move opposed by the Pilsen Alliance and the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization, a Bridgeport-based firm plans to open the Pilsen metal shredder Pure Metal Recycling near Loomis Street and Cermak Road.
Opponents say the shredder would be too close to Pilsen's Benito Juarez Community Academy and would cause safety, environmental and traffic problems.
In the crowd of five candidates, incumbent Solis is the only one that supports the shredder project. The alderman believes the $30 million project strikes the right balance between creating local jobs and protecting the community.
Recently, the alderman received a petition signed by 750 Pilsen residents, expressing "enthusiastic support" for the shredder project, according to his spokeswoman Stacy Raker.
"Residents cited the company's emphasis on hiring locally, maintaining proper environmental safeguards and protecting against any potential safety issues in this decision," she said.
Despite the Solis petition, Hershey said voters have also voiced their opinion via a one-precinct referendum question on the November ballot. According to results, 84 percent of voters (166 to 31 votes) believe the Pilsen metal shredder project should be banned.
"That good enough for me. [The shredder] would poison the working class people who live in the neighborhood," Hershey said.
Montano says that he is "totally against" the shredder, adding that the environment is not a "Johnny-come lately-position" for him.
"I testified ... to shut down the Fisk Coal Plant while I was Danny's chief of staff," Montano said. "Eventually, I got tired of testifying against his policies."
Instead, the land should be added to Dvorak Park, making a path of public green space all the way to the Chicago River, he said.
As a Pilsen Alliance board member, Sigcho has protested against the proposed metal shredder "from the beginning" and has helped the organization file appeals against the project in court.
What should go at the site should be up to the community, Sigcho said.
"We need more green spaces, more places for children near Juarez," he said.
Mujica said the shredder offers few jobs in exchange "for the continued pollution of Pilsen."
"It's ridiculous, really," he said. If he were alderman, he would only allow the shredder if legal guarantees were made to ensure a safe, environmental-friendly operation that only exclusively employed Pilsen residents at a wage of at least $15 per hour.
The 25th Ward includes parts of Pilsen, Chinatown, the West Loop, Little Italy and Heart of Chicago.
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