Laura Washington: Chuy now a progressive on the national stage

SHARE Laura Washington: Chuy now a progressive on the national stage

Jesus “Chuy” Garcia gives his concession speech on election night.

What’s next for Jesus Chuy Garcia? After his 56 to 44 percent loss to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Garcia campaign went dark. That’s understandable. It was a brutal campaign.On Wednesday Garcia will lead the Fight for 15 rally for a $15/hour minimum wage at the University of Illinois, says spokesperson Monica Trevino. Meanwhile, he’s reflecting and spending time with his family. He’s analyzing the campaign.Garcia, the professorial politician.OPINION

If Garcia wants to capitalize on the fruits of his historic campaign, he had better come out swinging.In five months, Garcia, a little-known Cook County commissioner, was elevated to a national figure in progressive politics.His mayoral campaign tapped into widespread angst over financial and social inequities, and inspired a new movement.The election is done. The inequities remain.Garcia’s insurgent effort pushed Mayor Rahm Emanuel into a runoff and had him running scared.His campaign drew support from national unions, organizers and icons, including the scholar/activist Cornel West, feminist Gloria Steinem, farm labor leader Dolores Huerta and U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters.Garcia’s newfound celebrity can give a neighbor, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a run for the spotlight. Gutierrez, Emanuel’s highest-profile Latino backer has skillfully forged a national reputation as a leader on immigration reform, but a hostile Republican-controlled Congress is not playing ball.The forces behind the Garcia effort should position him as a national actor who can grab a broader agenda on a myriad of causes for which he campaigned, such as education, police-community relations and economic justice.Garcia is well positioned to address the festering divide between blacks and Latinos. Amisha Patel detected those tensions as she door-knocked for Garcia in African-American areas like West Englewood. “There is still a lot of mistrust between the two communities,” says Patel, executive director of Illinois Grassroots Action. “It is especially important for a Latino leader to speak boldly.”People of color cannot afford to ignore that divide.And how about that commission, commissioner?The Rahm-ites ridiculed Garcia for not having a “plan.” No matter that Illinois voters recently elected a governor who repeatedly refused to reveal any plan for the state, then cut services to those most in need. Emanuel’s “plan” was basically a recitation of his record, with little vision for the future.Garcia promised that as mayor, he would appoint a commission to craft an agenda for Chicago.He can still convene a cadre of wise men and women to develop a blueprint for how the city moves forward, with limited resources, while lifting up the middle class and the marginalized.He can tap into his expanded ties to top players in business, civic and non-profit groups, and foundations. Many of them were supporting his campaign, if on the down low.Garcia has close ties to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. She needs more than a floor leader. She needs a savvy partner with allies who can bring new momentum to her reform efforts.Garcia can build a policy record through investigative research, and ground-breaking legislation on the key issues facing the county:  economic development, financial integrity, criminal justice and health care.Progressives lost this one, but the movement remains.Unlike the Chicago Cubs, they can’t afford to wait ’til next year.Email:


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