04/07/2011 02:57 pm ET | Updated Jun 07, 2011

Morfin: a Progressive Tug

Beyond the hard results, countless factors enter into the electoral process to create lasting change in the way politics are conducted. If this were not the case, we would have a much higher rate of voluntary lobotomies on our hands post-election day. The dynamic tug-of-war provided by a competitive run-off election, such as that between "Temoc" Morfin and "Danny" Solis in Chicago's 25th Ward, provides residents with the unique opportunity to dissect hopefuls and shoe-ins alike. These salient moments motivate us to demand honest and transparent community leaders, even when the candidate that appears driven most by these characteristics loses.

For the 25th Ward covering Pilsen, Chinatown and Little Italy, Morfin positioned himself as the biggest thorn in Solis' side since his inauguration as alderman a dozen or so years ago. Though Morfin cannot claim a hard victory today -- he lost by a mere 596 votes -- he does have reason to celebrate being the most influential progressive pull on Solis' behavior as a politician.

As the run-off between Morfin and Solis came to a close, it became increasingly obvious who had more political clout. This was epitomized outside the polling station at Rudy Lozano Branch Library: Solis had steam-rolled the square sitting in front of the library with posters and canvassers. He armed all six corners of Loomis, 18th and Blue Island with volunteers pushing their campaign postcards.

So Solis won. He had more money, significant political endorsements and a longstanding reputation. Morfin was the amateur, genuine and forthright, though at times suffering from a drought of clever word usage. Morfin's most important role in the 25th Ward and Chicago politics in general was the unprecedented accountability he forced upon Solis. He provided those necessary muscles hauling at the other end of the rope, inching Solis slightly closer to a progressive platform. Even when Morfin fell, he left Solis standing a touch closer to the median.

For one, Morfin gave Solis the impetus to join the Clean Power Ordinance -- an initiative to force the Crawford and Fisk Coal plants to get up-to-code in terms of air pollution. Yes, it was after years of a polite but firm refusal to back it and yes, it was obvious that this was a survival mechanism. It remains a hopeless endeavor to try and cover up Solis' lack of concern for the long term health of Pilsen residents. How much does that matter, when the fact remains that because of Morfin's unyielding support for this issue, Solis was forced to at least pretend he cared? The crucial point here is that, regardless of motivation, now Pilsen residents can hold him accountable to his promises.

Morfin similarly challenged Solis to step up to the plate when, four days prior to the run-off, lead testing near Perez Elementary School revealed levels of lead in the air at ten-fold the national limit. Lead poisoning damages the developmental abilities of children. Meanwhile, this school is located within the vicinity of Chicago's two largest lead emitters, Fisk coal plant and H.Kramer smelters.

Morfin went for the jugular when he brought to light at the Perez Press Conference that Solis has acquired significant campaign funding from both of these companies. It would not be surprising if the money used to bull-doze Pilsen's six-corners with posters yesterday was funded by the same organizations that pump this very community full of toxic levels of lead. Morfin made that very clear and demanded that Solis return the money. Solis will no doubt be held accountable to this in the future.

So, what does all this mean if Morfin now appears to be the passionate community activist who couldn't? Well the answer is he could, and he did.

Morfin brought a progressive dynamic into this election that will tangibly impact the future of Solis' career in the 25th. Solis had to reexamine and reform his platform priorities in a way that most aldermen will never have to. For the first time in Solis' career, he had someone hungry for new leadership nipping at his heels, and he knew it. He had no other option but to change his often stubborn and harmful political policies. In addition to inundating our sidewalks, fences and squares with an excess of environmental waste in the form of gaudy posters; he had to become more accountable to his constituents in a big way. Morfin's laudable, albeit unseasoned, campaign provided Solis with this extra tug.