County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia decided Monday not to join the crowded race to succeed Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a surprise move with potential to boost the mayoral campaign of County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and create an opening for Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza.
“I sincerely believe I can do more for my city now in Washington,” Garcia, who is poised to take the seat in Congress vacated by retiring U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), said in a prepared statement.
“This decision is not about ascendancy or political positioning. It is about integrity and what I feel I can do for my city in Congress.”
Gutierrez, who launched the “Draft Chuy” movement after taking a pass on the mayor’s race himself, said Garcia “would have been a great unifier who would have put people who live in the neighborhoods first and not downtown corporate interests.”
Although he co-chaired Emanuel’s 2015 re-election campaign and was poised to do so again, Gutierrez argued that Garcia’s candidacy would have been a “stark contrast with the failed policies of Rahm Emanuel.”
Now that Garcia is out of the race, Gutierrez said, “I’m looking forward to seeing a candidate come forward with a progressive agenda for Chicago. One that puts the neighborhoods first and doesn’t keep taxing working families and senior citizens out of their homes.”
Gutierrez stopped short of encouraging Mendoza to enter the race.
Four years ago, Garcia forced Emanuel into Chicago’s first-ever mayoral runoff even though he got a late start, was out-spent by a four-to-one margin and Preckwinkle refused to endorse Garcia, her County Board floor leader.
This time, Garcia firmly believed he could capitalize on his strong showing in the March primary as the anointed Democratic congressional nominee who carried all of the candidates he endorsed, including the 26-year-old political newcomer who defeated State Rep. Dan Burke (D-Chicago).
He was also vowing to be a lot more specific about his plan to solve Chicago’s $28 billion pension crisis, knowing full well that the hazy financial rescue he unveiled during the 2015 mayoral race had given Emanuel an opening to exploit.
But on Monday, Garcia gathered his kitchen cabinet together to tell them that he had opted out.
Money just might be a driving force.
In 2015, nearly all of the $6 million he raised came from progressive unions: the Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU Local 1.
This time, SEIU Local 1 was firmly in Preckwinkle’s corner. And the CTU was non-committal and expected to remain so, at least for the time being.
“Without SEIU or CTU, where would his money have come from?” said a source familiar with Garcia’s decision-making.
“He would have been forced to forge a brown-white coalition with the business community. His old friends—people who have been with him since the `70’s and `80’s — were not comfortable with that.”
Garcia’s decision to take a pass does not mean that he and Preckwinkle have mended fences.
But, even if there is no détente, Garcia’s decision to take a pass is widely viewed as a potential boon to Preckwinkle.
“Toni and Chuy would have been progressive vs. progressive. It would have been challenging to distinguish their records. Without Chuy, she now has the potential to create that elusive coalition of African-Americans and Latinos,” said political operative Victor Reyes, who has spoken to five of the top-tier mayoral candidates, but is “leaning toward” Preckwinkle.
Prior to Garcia’s decision to take a pass, Reyes did a ward-by-ward analysis of a run-off between Preckwinkle and Garcia that concluded that Preckwinkle would have won with 54 percent of the vote.
The analysis concluded that Preckwinkle would capture all eighteen of the city’s majority black wards and come out of that 50,000 votes ahead of Garcia, who would win all of the majority Hispanic wards as well as the 19th, 38th, 40th, 41st and 45th.
In order to overcome that 50,000-vote differential, Garcia would “have to perform somewhere in the 60 percent range in all of the lakefront wards,” Reyes said.
“He would have to do Rahm-like numbers on the lakefront to beat her. And if you look at Preckwinkle’s numbers against Fioretti, she killed him in the lakefront wards,” Reyes said.
In spite of his history as a loyal supporter of the late Mayor Harold Washington, Garcia’s 2015 mayoral campaign did not manage to resurrect the black-Hispanic coalition that culminated in Washington’s election as Chicago’s first African-American mayor.
He could not overcome the historic tension between blacks and Hispanics that has forced the two groups to compete against each other for jobs and contracts while immigration reform has leapfrogged over the issue of economic fairness.
Still, Reyes believes there’s a chance to put the band back together.
“Chuy is gonna look at what he thinks is best for the Latino community. He’s not looking for revenge,” he said.
Another Democratic operative, who asked to remain anonymous, argued that Mendoza stands to benefit most from Garcia’s exit.
Although Mendoza needs to wait until she is safely re-elected next month to launch her mayoral campaign, she shares Garcia’s appeal to younger voters who backed Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton for president in 2016, the Democratic operative said.
Preckwinkle “will and does have problems there….This opens the door for Susana, who is young, to step in,” the operative said.
Garcia did not return repeated phone calls from the Chicago Sun-Times.
His statement called Chicago a city with “in deep crisis with savage inequality, broken relationships between communities and police” and “continuing fiscal problems.”
“Chicago needs a mayor who is beholden to no one,” Garcia said, in a thinly-veiled jab at Preckwinkle, who serves as chairman of the Cook County Regular Democratic Organization.
“To Chicago’s next mayor, I say this: You must make bold changes that will unsettle those uncomfortable with the status-quo. Only through a transformational agenda with deep neighborhood investment will Chicago become a city that works for everyone.”
In an apparent attempt to mend fences with Garcia, Preckwinkle released a statement that talked about how “very grateful” she is “for the good work” Garcia has done as her floor leader “advocating for working families” and helping to “roll over 400,000 people to” the county’s health care system.
“I know that Chuy will continue advocating on behalf of our shared priorities for immigrants, women, and seniors in his new role as Congressman,” Preckwinkle was quoted as saying.
“I continue to look forward to our work on behalf of all Chicagoans.”
Disclosure notice: Some unions and other labor organizations Service Employees International Union, Local No. 1.