Three Hispanic women in government — none of whom has held elected office — have emerged as leading candidates to replace outgoing City Clerk Susana Mendoza.
City Hall sources identified the top three as Anna Valencia, director of the Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Office of Legislative Counsel and Government Affairs; Maria Guerra Lapacek, commissioner of the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection; and Clarisol Duque, Chicago chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.).
Last week, Ald. George Cardenas, chairman of the City Council’s Hispanic Caucus, was openly promoting Valencia’s candidacy.
Cardenas called Valencia “dynamic, smart and well-liked” after forging a close working relationship with aldermen she lobbied to approve a utility tax for pensions, controversial ordinances regulating home-sharing and ride-sharing and overhauling Chicago’s system of police accountability to restore public trust shattered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.
Cardenas told the Chicago Sun-Times that Valencia would be a “wonderful pick” who could be helpful on a 2019 ticket with Emanuel because she is bilingual, “knows the political game and the players” and would be a “fresh face” at a time when “more Latinas” are needed in government and politics.
Valencia, 31, said she was “flattered,” but not interested in the $133,545-a-year job that Mendoza will be leaving after being elected state comptroller.
Still, Valencia remains a leading candidate whose appointment could pave the way for her African-American deputy Samantha Fields to take her place. That would appease black aldermen who are quietly staking claim to the clerk’s office.
Guerra Lapacek is a holdover from the administration of former Mayor Richard M. Daley. She oversees a department charged with regulating ride-sharing, a dying taxicab industry and defending and implementing a home-sharing ordinance being challenged in federal court.
During City Council budget hearings, African-American aldermen renewed their perennial complaints about the black-market sale of loose cigarettes and the crime that comes with it.
They were not appeased when Guerra Lapacek reported that she had a “very good handle” on the problem with six full-time investigators who have confiscated over 60,000 packs of unstamped cigarettes this year alone.
Aldermen from across the city also demanded more inspectors at night and on weekends to crack down on rampant nightlife abuses that include applying for a public place of amusement license to get around liquor license moratoriums.
Duque would be another fresh face. She is the wife of Omar Duque, president and CEO of the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
“I have not had any conversation with anybody about this. I work for Sen. Durbin, and we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Clarisol Duque said Monday.
“I have not heard from the mayor’s office. This is not something that I’m considering.”
Omar Duque said he has “absolutely nothing to say” about speculation that his wife was under consideration to replace Mendoza.
“I love her incredibly and think the world of her, but this isn’t something we’re talking about,” Omar Duque said.
“She’d be qualified for a lot of things. . . . You might as well ask me if she was qualified to be the CEO of a major corporation.”
Ald. Danny Solis (25th), chairman of the City Council’s powerful Zoning Committee, said Clarisol Duque would be a terrific choice.
“Her history with Sen. Durbin. The relationships she’s built across the city and state with all different constituencies. Her experience working with UNO before all of the controversy,” Solis said.
“As far as I can see, she gets along with everybody. You call her and things get done. The senator has a tremendous reputation here in Chicago. Some of that has to do with the staff he hired. The mayor knows of her and would be equally impressed with her.”
Last week, Emanuel left little doubt that he would appoint a Hispanic replacement for Mendoza. But he refused to tip his hand about whom he would choose to run a $10 million-a-year office with 98 employees that can be a stepping stone to higher office.
Although Valencia, Guerra Lapacek and Duque are leading candidates, sources said there are other contenders on the list.
They include Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th), chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety; rookie Ald. Ray Lopez (15th); state Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago); Deputy City Clerk Carina Sanchez; and Park Board President Jesse Ruiz.