Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia endorses Brandon Johnson in April 4 mayoral runoff

U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia finished in fourth place with 13.8% of the vote on Feb. 28, but his endorsement was coveted by both Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas.

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Chicago mayoral candidate Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson poses for a photo with former mayoral candidate U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia after Garcia endorsed Johnson during a news conference at La Villita Community Church on the Southwest Side, Friday morning, March 17, 2023.

Chicago mayoral candidate Brandon Johnson (left) was endorsed Friday by U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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Vanquished mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia on Friday endorsed Brandon Johnson in the April 4 mayoral runoff, reuniting Chicago’s fractured family of progressives.

“The choice is clear: Chicago is a city of strong public schools, thriving neighborhoods and progressive values. It is through this lens that I see Brandon Johnson as the right choice,” Garcia said.

“We need a leader that is committed to equity, to inclusion and coalition-building, and that’s Brandon. It is time to renew and expand our coalition.”

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Garcia noted a poll conducted last month showed more than 70% of Black and Latino residents “believe we can do more for our communities when we work together” and put aside past political tensions.

“Our communities get it: United, we rise. Divided, we fall. Our next generation of youth leaders gets it. There is power and strength in our unity. That’s why I’m proud to endorse Brandon Johnson today,” Garcia said.

A triumphant Johnson said he was “humbled and honored” to receive the endorsement of his former rival.

“Every time this city needed a leader and champion, Chuy Garcia was there. He has stepped up in some of the most extreme circumstances. And he has never wavered,” Johnson told a news conference at La Villita Community Church, 2300 S. Millard Ave.

“That type of economic despair that many of our communities have endured has made us all less safe and feeling a little less hope. But, thank God that we are not going to allow this moment to separate us, divide us. Our communities being pitted against one another — we ain’t gonna tolerate it, Chicago, because we don’t have to.”

Johnson was also endorsed Friday by the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., whose son, newly elected U.S. Rep. Jonathan Jackson, already was in Johnson’s camp.

Garcia finished fourth with 13.8% of the vote on Feb. 28. Nevertheless, Garcia’s endorsement was coveted by both Johnson and Paul Vallas.

If Garcia campaigns enthusiastically for Johnson and helps boost Hispanic turnout that was anemic in round one, it could help carry Johnson over the finish line.

Vallas did well among Hispanics on Feb. 28 and managed to win several Hispanic-majority wards, including the 10th Ward on the Far Southeast Side and the 30th Ward on the Northwest Side.

Political strategists have said Vallas needs about half the Hispanic vote to win the April 4 runoff. Garcia’s support for Johnson could make that more difficult for Vallas.

On the day after the Feb. 28 election, veteran political consultant Joe Trippi, who continues to advise the Vallas campaign, minimized the impact of a Garcia endorsement.

“What’s he got? 14%? We did very well in the Hispanic community,” Trippi said. “I’m not sure that coalitions forged in the past are aligning in the same way.”

Johnson’s campaign manager Jason Lee begs to differ. He called Garcia’s support of Johnson the “most significant endorsement you can get among the round one challengers.”

“We know his strength among Latino voters. That group is largely undecided. His validation, his support — not only him but also other elected officials from the Southwest Side — goes a long way to helping validate Brandon among those voters. And that could be significant in convincing those voters that Brandon is the right choice, the better choice for Chicago,” Lee said.

During the round one campaign, Johnson had called it “unfortunate” that Garcia had “abandoned the progressive movement” by “copying and pasting” Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s failed plan to deliver Chicago from violent crime.

“He is proposing an agenda that is being moved by the Fraternal Order of Police. Progressives understand … that safe communities require investments,” Johnson said.

Lee hedged when asked whether Johnson has apologized for those remarks.

“Campaigns are emotional. They’re very heated. Things happen. In the heat of battle, things are said that you wouldn’t say otherwise. You might not necessarily even believe in the exact way that you said it,” Lee said.

“We’ve had some really good conversations with Congressman Garcia and also his supporters to contextualize those comments and make clear that those don’t reflect our respect and admiration for both the congressman and also the political organization that he’s built over 40 years that’s been on the leading edge of social justice in this city, beginning with [Little Village activist] Rudy Lozano, who the congressman worked with,” said Lee.

Just last week, Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates predicted that Garcia would endorse Johnson, in part, because he owes the CTU, for whom Johnson works as a paid organizer.

In 2015, Garcia forced then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel into Chicago’s first mayoral runoff on the strength of foot soldiers and campaign cash provided by the Chicago Teachers Union. Garcia stepped in when then-CTU President Karen Lewis dropped out of the race after being diagnosed with a brain tumor.

This time, Garcia took so long to make up his mind, the progressive coalition of labor unions and political groups that supported Garcia’s 2015 mayoral campaign endorsed Johnson.

“The city of Chicago is gonna need progressive leadership, and I know that Congressman Garcia is going to be responsible as an elder statesman, to bring his support along with the support of the 22nd Ward, to the forefront at this point. It depends on it,” Davis Gates told the Sun-Times last week.

Contributing: Ashlee Rezin, Tyler Pasciak LaRivere

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