Progressive leaders can blame themselves if Garcia or Johnson fail to make mayoral runoff

Rivals Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia and Brandon Johnson are part of the activist progressive wing that — in another time and place — would be united around one mayoral candidate.

SHARE Progressive leaders can blame themselves if Garcia or Johnson fail to make mayoral runoff
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Democratic Reps. Jan Schakowsky (from left) and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a candidate for mayor, talk to community activist Katy Hogan Sunday outside an early voting site at 1610 W. Howard as Garcia’s wife, Evelyn Chinea-Garcia, looks on.

Lynn Sweet/Sun-Times

The early voting site at the Willye B. White Park in East Rogers Park is named after the five-time track-and-field Olympian. At 1610 W. Howard, it’s planted in one of the most diverse corners of the city, a few blocks from the Evanston border and an “L” station.

During a stroll on Clark Street over the weekend, storefront churches with Black congregants were holding services; customers were shopping at retail stores with signs in Spanish; and at Romanian Kosher Sausage, customers, mostly Orthodox Jews, were buying their glatt Kosher meats.

This community is also one of the strongholds of the city’s progressive movement, with Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D-Ill.) and Chicago Teachers Union staffer Brandon Johnson, also a Cook County Board member, dueling for the same voters in Tuesday’s mayoral election.

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No one is expecting any of the nine mayoral rivals to get more than 50% of the vote on Tuesday, with the top two to face off in an April 4 runoff. The top-two winners could claim a victory with less than 20% of the vote.

Here’s what’s at stake for the city’s progressives Tuesday.

Progressive leaders have no one to blame but themselves if Garcia or Johnson do not make it to the runoff.

Though many of the candidates for mayor can rightfully consider themselves politically progressive, Garcia and Johnson are part of the activist progressive wing that — in another time and place — would be united around one candidate.

Garcia had the clearest path to the runoff with a base vote among Hispanics, lakefront liberals and some labor. He also started with considerable name recognition — especially compared with Johnson.

If Garcia or Johnson do win a place on the April ballot — even with the city’s Democratic progressive wing divided — it will be impressive evidence of their growing numbers and influence in the city.

“I am worried about a split in the progressive vote,” Larra Clark told me after casting a ballot in the field house. She voted for Garcia, deciding on Saturday between the two. “I was on the fence for quite awhile.”

Augusta Clusen Moses turned 18 last week, and Saturday was the first time this Jones College Prep senior was voting. I talked with the teen and her parents, Laurie Lee Moses and Katie Clusen, as they headed in to vote. All three said they were supporting Johnson.

I asked Clusen about how the progressive vote was splintered with Johnson and Garcia both running. She said she wondered “what happened within the progressive caucus in the city who are part of the legacy of Harold Washington.”

Harold Washington became Chicago’s first Black mayor because he united the Black vote and won support from white liberals, beating Mayor Jane Byrne and Richard M. Daley.

When I caught up with Garcia on Sunday he was stumping near the early vote site with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). I asked about the divide in this North Side turf rich in progressive votes.

I told Garcia and Schakowsky that I had talked to progressive voters who lamented the forced choice they had to make.

How did it happen?

Johnson launched his campaign first, with the backing of his employer, the Chicago Teachers Union and its national parent, the American Federation of Teachers. The CTU, a major political force in the city, seemed very eager to elevate one of its own and did not want to wait for Garcia to officially get in the contest.

Johnson got a break because none of his mayoral rivals these past months made much of an issue over whether he had a conflict of interest. Consider: He’s been a paid staffer for the CTU while serving on the Cook County Board. His campaign was heavily bankrolled by the CTU. How is that going to work if he were mayor negotiating a contract with the CTU?

Garcia waited to get in the mayor’s race because he wanted to first get past his reelection for another term in Congress in November, which he easily did with more than 68% of the vote.

Garcia said that in the end, there was not much to be done to avoid the progressive split.

“I don’t know that not having both of us in the race could have happened, because I think the commitment to having his candidacy has been in the works for some time. And I conveyed to him and to others I was considering it,” Garcia said.

Few can match the history that community activist Katy Hogan has with Chicago’s progressives. Hogan is supporting Garcia.

I spotted Hogan outside the field house when she was talking to Garcia and Schakowsky. I asked for her analysis of what it means to have Garcia and Johnson in the race.

Said Hogan, “I don’t think they are fighting each other. I think they just misfired. And we as a progressive voting bloc in the city don’t have our s--- together enough to talk to each other about it. Not that that would have made a difference.”

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