‘Chuy’ Garcia touts strength as coalition builder: ‘Folks know me’

The congressman said the incumbent mayor has been too combative. “People are tired of the conflict and the bickering and the fighting that they think is representative of her style of government,” Garcia said.

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U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia was the last candidate to join the race for mayor of Chicago — but believes his skill as a “coalition builder” will help him finish first in the end.

Still, Garcia’s delay in launching his campaign cost him a major endorsement. The Chicago Teachers Union, tired of waiting for him to make up his mind, is backing one of its own: Cook County Commissioner and CTU organizer Brandon Johnson. 

Garcia has run for mayor once before, in 2015, when — with the CTU’s help — he forced the incumbent, Rahm Emanuel, into Chicago’s first runoff.

In 2019, Garcia didn’t run and eventually endorsed Lightfoot, which he said he regrets.

“I gave Lori Lightfoot a chance to deliver on promises she made as it relates to reform, and she has not delivered,” Garcia said.

Now, he told the Sun-Times, he wants to unite the progressive movement he has championed for a lifetime and carry that movement into City Hall.

U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia is making his second run for mayor of Chicago.

U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia is making his second run for mayor of Chicago. He lost in a runoff election to incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2015.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

He is, however, prepared to go it alone if it’s too late for that in the first round of balloting. He said he’s confident he can force Lightfoot into a runoff and that progressives will reunite behind him then.

“Folks know me. … They know what I’ve done. I know we will eventually get their support. ... No one in Chicago politics today has been involved in fighting the old corrupt and racist and sexist Chicago machine [longer] than myself,” Garcia said.

Garcia, like other candidates, cited Lightfoot’s broken promises to reopen mental health clinics, resurrect the Department of Environment and raise the real estate transfer tax on high-end home sales to create a dedicated source of funding to reduce homelessness and ease Chicago’s affordable housing crisis.

But Garcia’s predominant complaint against Lightfoot is her combativeness and her inability to get along with people. 

Even retiring Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th), one of the mayor’s closest City Council allies, once said she had “never met anybody who has managed to p--- off every single person they come in contact with — police, fire, teachers, aldermen, business, manufacturing.” 

Lightfoot’s “style of governing … has been confrontational. ... People are tired of the conflict and the bickering and the fighting that they think is representative of her style of government,” Garcia said. “Instead of that combative, unnecessary conflict that she causes, we need someone who is going to be a collaborator.”

With violent crime foremost on the minds of Chicago voters, Garcia joined mayoral challengers vowing to replace Chicago Police Department Supt. David Brown with an insider who can regain the confidence of a demoralized rank-and-file.

Garcia is the only candidate to have served at four levels of government: the City Council, the Illinois Senate, the Cook County Board and now the U.S. House of Representatives.

During the 2015 mayoral campaign, his failure to articulate a plan to solve Chicago’s pension crisis may well have cost him the runoff election.

Garcia said he’s changed since then. He has a far better understanding of budget and finance after deliberately choosing congressional committees focused on business and finance, he said. 

“This isn’t 2015. ... I’ve grown significantly. Most importantly, I’ve delivered in Congress. ... I’m coming home to be an effective leader and a good steward of Chicago,” he said.

City spending (up $6 billion) and borrowing (up $3 billion) has ballooned under Lightfoot, Garcia said. 

“Almost half of the budget goes to debt and pensions. And when you factor in the $2 billion for police, it’s over 60% of all of the budget. It’s almost two-thirds of that amount. What is her plan for dealing with this?” he asked. 

Garcia said he has already talked to several veteran members of a City Council in transition who feel strongly “they should have more say-so” in the next term.

“I’ve told them that, having been a member of the Council, I understand the reality,” he said. “We’re going to have real dialogue. This isn’t about personalities. This isn’t about ego trips. This is about making sure that we take the next important strategic steps for Chicago to build a Chicago that’s good for all.”

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