The final chapter of Luis Gutierrez’s 2013 autobiography was titled, “Too Puerto Rican for America, Too American For Puerto Rico.”
As Gutierrez announced his plans to retire after a quarter-century as a congressman from Illinois, the Chicago-born, left-leaning politician said he would continue to have enough time, energy and affection to split between here and his ancestral homeland.
Gutierrez told the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday that he and his wife bought a home for more than $1 million last year in Dorado, on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. He said they’re renting out the property now but it will “probably be our house that we live in” at some point.
“I’m going to be active in the politics of reconstruction of my island, because I love that island,” he said, noting that he had a plane ticket to leave Sunday for his fourth trip to Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria devastated the tropical U.S. commonwealth in September.
“I love my people,” Gutierrez added. “I’m committed to them.”
Entering what would be his last term representing parts of Chicago and its near-western suburbs, Gutierrez had become far wealthier than the average member of the U.S. House, according to an analysis of public records by the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C.
Gutierrez, who turns 64 next month, reported investments worth a total of between $1,325,022 and $2,975,000 at the end of 2015. That amount — which did not include his home in his 4th Congressional District — ranked 147th among the 435 House members, the Center for Responsive Politics said.
He cashed in more than $1 million of those assets in 2016, lowering his total investments to somewhere between about $662,000 and $1.56 million, according to his most recent disclosure statement, which was filed in August.
Gutierrez said that money went toward the June 2016 purchase of the new house in Puerto Rico for $1.1 million.
“It cost us another couple hundred thousand dollars to rehab,” he said. “I bought a house that was then under construction for all of 2016.”
In one of his recent visits to Puerto Rico, the congressman met with the mayor of Dorado, and in social media, Gutierrez posted a photo of himself helping unload hurricane-relief at the town, which is 15 miles from San Juan.
His new home there came through the disaster unscathed, Gutierrez said.
“Nothing happened to it,” Gutierrez said. “It’s there, it’s being rented. Someday, I’ll hope to live in it.”
Gutierrez — who is paid $174,000 a year as a congressman — said he’s been smart with his personal finances but always acted appropriately as an elected official.
“I’ve been fighting for people, doing my job, and ain’t nobody ever questioned my integrity,” he said, predicting that this article would be a “negative story.”
For years, Gutierrez invested heavily in Chicago’s residential real estate market, moving repeatedly as he made hundreds of thousands of dollars buying and selling homes in the city.
Although he described himself as a “walking open book,” he added, “It’s not important to look at what somebody is doing and what they’re buying. Big deal.”
Assuming Gutierrez completes this final term in Congress in January 2019, he would have served 25 years in Washington and be eligible for a full pension of about $67,860 per year.
Gutierrez also is eligible for Social Security. His payment would depend on the age he decided to start drawing a Social Security check, with maximum benefits reached by waiting until the age of 70.
Before becoming a congressman, Gutierrez was an alderman representing the 26th Ward, the heart of the city’s Puerto Rican community.
Chicago pension fund officials wouldn’t immediately say if he’s getting retirement benefits from the city or what those payments would be.
His Gutierrez for Congress political committee has paid his wife, Soraida, nearly $400,000 for fundraising and for serving as treasurer and manager for the campaign fund during the past eight years, according to Federal Election Commission records.
She was paid $42,000 by the campaign between the start of this year and Sept. 30.
From 2003 and 2009, Soraida Gutierrez lobbied state government.
The couple’s 37-year-old daughter Omaira Figueroa worked as a staffer for the Chicago City Council and now is on the state of Illinois payroll, with a $68,208-a-year salary as a “consumer counselor” for the Illinois Commerce Commission.
Gutierrez often has highlighted the long road between his humble origins and where he ended up as a political power player.
“After all, I’m the Puerto Rican son of a cabdriver and a factory worker, a kid who chopped up pig innards and swept the floor of an unsuccessful restaurant, a guy who had to drive a cab on the night shift to make ends meet,” he wrote in his autobiography, “Still Dreaming: My Journey from the Barrio to Capitol Hill.”