Latinos running as progressives try to dismantle machine in state legislature

Latinos running as progressives try to dismantle machine in state legislature

A handful of Chicago's Latino candidates running for the state legislature are hoping their progressive agendas and histories of community organizing can oust some of the longtime, establishment incumbents in their districts.

There's Adolfo Mondragón, the Yale- and University of Chicago-educated public interest attorney and college professor, who has worked for human rights groups, done community organizing and taken on tough election cases.

Mondragón's up against Antonio "Tony" Muñoz for the 1st District state Senate seat, on the Southwest Side. Muñoz has held that seat since 1999 when foot soldiers from the clout-heavy Hispanic Democratic Organization--think Hired Truck Scandal--helped get him elected.

Mondragón is running again--he only got about 30 percent of the vote when he challenged Muñoz in 2010--because he said the 1st District and Chicago's Latino community have a "dearth of quality leadership."

"There are definitely a lack of professionals," Mondragón said of the establishment Latino politicians from Chicago. "I think that now we are seeing a vanguard of smart, independent ethical leaders in our [Latino] community, who are now willing to throw their hats into the ring and provide that kind of intelligent leadership."

Mondragón said he wants to see a rise in high school graduation rates, as education is "near and dear" to his heart. He also told the Chicago Tribune--which endorsed him, again, while Muñoz didn't bother answering the paper's candidate's questionnaire--that he supports term limits and recall power for elected officials as a way to fight corruption. He's also for streamlining the pension system into one fund and requiring that it be funded to capacity.

Over in the state's 2nd House District, which is part of the 1st Senate District, Josip "Joe" Trutin and Cuahtémoc "Temoc" Morfin are trying to unseat Edward "Eddie" Acevedo.

Acevedo, the assistant majority leader, has represented the district without any real threat since 1997.

It's questionable whether Trutin or Morfin will seriously contend with Acevedo, whose signs are affixed ubiquitously to gates and windows of homes and businesses in Latino neighborhoods like Pilsen and Heart of Chicago, and throughout the district.

But Trutin, who challenged Acevedo back in 2010 and only grabbed 14 percent of the vote, has Mondragon's support. Mondragón represented him when his ballot petition signatures were challenged earlier this year. Mondragón also donated $4,390 to Trutin's campaign in January, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Last year, Morfin forced Danny Solis--one of the most powerful alderman in the city council--into a runoff for 25th Ward Alderman. Solis won, but Morfin's grassroots campaign gave the veteran alderman a run for his money.

Trutin is an activist who has served in leadership positions on a number of community boards throughout the city. Like Mondragón, he too grabbed the Tribune's endorsement, although Acevedo and Morfin didn't submit answers to the questionnaires.

This year, The Tribune is the only Chicago daily making endorsements. The Chicago Sun-Times is now writing "editorial board" articles on the candidates.

Trutin has spoken about investing in clean energy and public transportation as economic stimulants. He also said he wants to move away from relying on property taxes as the primary way to fund schools, as this can have a detrimental impact on eduction in lower-income areas.

Cleaning up air pollution--a central theme to Morfin's 2011 aldermanic campaign--is still his main rallying cry. So he and other clean-air advocates are  thrilled with City Hall's announcement last month that the Fisk and Crawford power plants in Little Village and Pilsen will close by 2014.

Morfin has also suggested tax credits for small businesses in return for job creation. And he said he'd be a "hands-on" representative who's available in the district.

On the Southwest Side and stretching into the western suburbs, community activist Robert Reyes is trying to unseat 24th District state Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, whom his camp claims is a product of Cicero's political machine.

Her husband is Charlie Hernandez, a former Cicero cop who is close with Village President Larry Dominick. Cicero is currently under federal investigation for possible racial and gender discrimination in its hiring practices.

Like Mondragón, Reyes has said education is at the top of his list. His plan for education reform would see increased funding to public schools, improved communication and collaboration between high schools and feeder districts, and a greater emphasis on vocational programs.

Reyes--another recipient of the Tribune endorsement has also advocated for including organized labor in discussions about pension overhaul. He also supports reducing some of the departmental positions in state government as a way to save money and is in favor of tax credits for businesses that bring on new employees.

In the 12th state Senate District, which includes the 24th state House District, Raul Montes, a Little Village community activist, is challenging Steve Landek, the current 11th District state Senator who was forced to run in the new district because of remapping.

Montes' strongest advantage over Landek, who is also the mayor of Bridgeview and has strong support in Springfield, is his claim that the incumbent bribed him to drop out of the race.

Other than that, most of what Montes has discussed thus far is centered around vague suggestions for omnipresent tax cuts, reduced spending--talking points that do not directly address the state's serious fiscal woes. Nonetheless, he grabbed the Tribune's endorsement, too.

Montes, who unsuccessfully challenged 22nd Ward Alderman Ricardo Muñoz last year, does have a long history of activism in and around Little Village. And he claims he is running because the community, and the district, has long been starved of state and city resources.

In addition to their mostly progressive agendas, nearly all the aforementioned challengers have another thing in common: Their campaign coffers are dwarfed compared to the incumbents they're up against.

Mondragón, the 1st District state Senate hopeful, has $2,262, based on what his campaign had at the last filing period on Dec. 31 and two $1,000 donations he received in January and February. His incumbent opponent, Muñoz, had $115,123 on Dec 31 and has since taken in tens of thousands of dollars more, a considerable amount coming from out of state.

Trutin had only $106 on Dec. 31. Since then, he has raised $9,640. Morfin had $907 at the close of the last filing period and has raised $7,000 since then. Eddie Acevedo, the current 2nd District state representative, had $19,016 at the end of 2011. Like Senator Munoz, Acevedo has also raised tens of thousands of dollars since then.

Reyes, the 24th District state representative challenger, had $7,002 by Dec. 31. Since then, he's earned at least another $1,000. Elizabeth Hernandez, the incumbent, had $30,533 at the close of the last reporting period. Like the other incumbents, she, too, has raised thousands since then--$1,000 came from Acevedo.

And then there's Montes, who doesn't have a campaign committee on file, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections. His opponent, Landek, on the other hand, had $34,831 on Dec. 31 and has grabbed thousands more from attorneys and labor groups since then.

Montes said he's funding the majority of his campaign and hasn't raised $3,000 yet. At that point, state law requires the formation of a campaign committee, and disclosure of receipts and expenditures.

© Community Renewal Society 2012

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