Mexican immigrant and veteran Southwest Side politician Jesus “Chuy” Garcia coasted to a big Democratic primary win Tuesday as he inherited the mantle — if not yet the seat in Washington — of longtime Congressman Luis Gutierrez.
After a quarter-century in the U.S. House, Gutierrez surprised many local political observers with his late-hour announcement that he would not seek another term this year. Gutierrez immediately endorsed Garcia as his successor in the 4th Congressional District.
With 416 of 445 precincts counted Tuesday, Garcia led with with 66 percent of the vote, trailed by community activist Sol Flores with 22 percent and Chicago Police Sgt. Richard Gonzalez in last place with 12 percent.
“I’m elated at the voters and the confidence that they have placed in the entire ticket,” Garcia said in claiming victory and noting the leads that three candidates he supported had built. “This is a clear sign that the Southwest Side and the west suburban communities feel that they have a voice and they want that voice to be reflected.”
Garcia will be the heavy favorite against Republican nominee Mark Lorch in the November general election in the district, which was drawn to virtually ensure that a Latino would hold the seat.
Garcia — who’s been a Cook County commissioner for eight years and is County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s floor leader — also showed Tuesday that he has significant influence he’s willing to exert for allies. He ran a coordinated campaign with the other candidates who made strong showings lower down the ballot on the Southwest Side.
Garcia protege Aaron Ortiz, a 26-year-old Chicago Public Schools counselor, built a seemingly insurmountable lead over veteran state Rep. Daniel Burke — the brother of powerful 14th Ward Ald. Edward Burke.
An Ortiz victory would mark a sea-change in the political order on the Southwest Side. Politics in the increasingly Hispanic neighborhoods there have been dominated for decades by Irish-American machine politicians, including the Burkes’ 14th Ward Democratic Organization.
Alma Anaya — the aide endorsed by Garcia to replace him on the County Board — took a big lead over Angeles Sandoval, daughter of state Sen. Martin Sandoval.
And Beatriz Frausto-Sandoval, the fourth member of Garcia’s ticket, appeared on her way to claiming a spot on the Cook County bench in the 14th judicial subcircuit.
Garcia had publicly pondered running again next year against Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who needed a runoff election to beat Garcia in the last city election in 2015.
But Garcia decided that he could not pass up the chance to succeed Gutierrez — a former Chicago alderman who has been one of the loudest pro-immigrant voices in Washington since he was first elected in 1992.
Many leading Latino politicians in the city, including three aldermen, quickly announced that they would run to try to replace Gutierrez, only to drop out.
For Garcia, 61, this would be the capstone of his decades-long career in local and state politics.
Born in the Mexican state of Durango, he came to Chicago in 1965 and first lived in Pilsen before moving to Little Village, where he and his wife have owned a modest home for decades.
Garcia came of age politically in the 1980s, when he was an active member of the independent, “brown-black” coalition of then-Mayor Harold Washington and served as an aide to Washington in the city’s water department.
He went on to win election as a state senator but lost his seat in 1998, becoming the first major casualty of then-Mayor Richard M. Daley’s Hispanic Democratic Organization, a patronage army.
After HDO dissolved amid a hiring scandal, Garcia made a comeback in 2010, unseating county Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno.
His run for mayor three years ago gained the backing of the Chicago Teachers Union and transformed Garcia into a prominent figure for the progressive movement. He enjoyed the endorsement of independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2015 and in this year’s congressional election.
Like Gutierrez, Garcia would be expected to heavily focus on immigration reform in Washington.
On the campaign trail in this race, Garcia said he would bring to Washington the perspective of a member of a “mixed-status family” — with some relatives who are citizens or permanent residents and others who are undocumented.