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Is Jessica Gutierrez ‘fresh voice’ for ward — or beneficiary of ‘rigged’ system?

Candidates for 30th Ward alderman, Jessica Gutierrez, Ariel Reboyras and Edgar Esparza

When Luis Gutierrez was cleaning out his Washington, D. C. office to make way for incoming U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, the Democratic congressman found a Father’s Day card his daughter wrote him when she was 17.

“Do you know why I’ll be a great senator? Because your [sic] my Dad and [I] learned from the best,” Jessica Gutierrez wrote.

“I even tried to one-up my dad,” she jokes about her teenage boast.

The teenager closed the card saying she can’t wait until “I win my first anything, and you can say ‘That’s my daughter.'”

Now, more than a dozen years later, Jessica Gutierrez is indeed running for office — and her “first anything” is the Chicago City Council, not the U.S. Senate. The politician she is trying to “one-up” is Ald. Ariel Reboyras in the Northwest Side’s 30th Ward.

Jessica Gutierrez, 31, portrays Reboyras as a machine politician who was too close to Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“He’s helped the machine run, he’s helped keep that going. It’s time for a fresh voice,” Gutierrez said.

Reboyras, 65, is seeking his fifth term, telling voters “our work is not yet done.”

A third candidate, college student Edgar Esparza, is making his second run at the seat.

Why is he in the race?

“Jessica Gutierrez,” said Esparza, 23.

He says he jumped into the race to counter the Gutierrez family’s “nepotism.”

“The system is rigged against people like me who aren’t associated with anyone and just want to run,” Esparza said.

But much of the attention has been focused on Jessica Gutierrez and Reboyras.

Jessica Gutierrez said she always wanted to get into politics, and left her PhD program to pursue working on the March primary campaigns for progressive candidates slated by Garcia. After that success, she decided it was her turn and announced in May she would challenge Reboyras,

She has the support of both her father and Garcia.

A card from Jessica Gutierrez to her father, Luis Gutierrez from 2006. "Do you know why I will be a great senator? Because your my dad."

A card from Jessica Gutierrez to her father, Luis Gutierrez. “Do you know why I will be a great senator? Because your my dad.”

Though the other candidates criticize her for moving to the neighborhood seemingly to run for office, she says she understands gentrification because of her upbringing in Bucktown.

“It hurts now to go to Bucktown and to Lincoln Park,” Jessica Gutierrez said. “I’ve seen a very aggressive form of gentrification, I mean overnight.”

In an effort to keep gentrification from creeping in the same way into the 30th Ward — which includes parts of Belmont Cragin, Kilbourn Park and Old Irving Park — Jessica Gutierrez wants to keep a lid on property taxes and inform residents about affordable housing.

“The reality is even for black and brown folks, saying affordable housing, they get scared. There has to be some sort of re-education models, even for middle income owners, we’re gonna need help,” Gutierrez said.

Jessica Gutierrez remembers thinking about getting into politics since she was 16. She’s now running for alderman in the 30th Ward. | Alexandra Arriaga

Reboyras, who was first elected in 2003 but has worked for the city for 40 years, said he would “absolutely not” vote in favor of raising property taxes, despite supporting a past increase.

“There was a reason behind that vote, we had to bail out the [Fraternal Order of Police] and firefighter pensions,” Reboyras said.

Though he said he’s “not asking for any changes in the [state] constitution,” which is part of Emanuel’s proposal to cover city pensions, Reboyras also conceded “if it takes changing the constitution, so be it.”

Reboyras’ record on affordable housing includes a 98-unit complex for seniors coming to Belmont Cragin. He said he wants to work to bring more housing complexes like this into the ward.

“We had to make sure that the folks can live in our community, in particular the seniors,” Reboyras said.

(From left to right) Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th), Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez attend a meeting to discuss relief for Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, Monday morning, Oct. 2, 2017. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times 

(From left to right) Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th), Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez attend a meeting to discuss relief for Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, Monday morning, Oct. 2, 2017. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

As head of the Committee on Public Safety, Reboyras helps oversee the Chicago Police Department, the Chicago Fire Department, the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications. He has played a central role in negotiations over the police consent decree and over civilian police oversight.

While he proposes increasing the number of officers to deter crime, his safety philosophy is “nothing stops a bullet like a job.” His public safety strategy includes mentorship opportunities and building trust between the community and officers.

He said a pilot program in the 25th Police District that assigns two officers to work with a segment of the community will later go citywide.

“The job is to primarily visit schools, visit communities, working on how we can improve relationships with police officers,” Reboyras said.

The third candidate, Esparza, grew up in Belmont Cragin but currently goes to school in New York City.

Though he brands Reboyras as “a laid back alderman, someone who doesn’t care anymore,” Esparza also admits his own “involvement in community organizations is minimal.”

30th Ward aldermanic candidate Edgar "Edek' Esparza 2019 mayoral election rich hein

30th Ward aldermanic candidate Edgar “Edek’ Esparza at the Sun-Times Jan. 4. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Esparza’s campaign office is decorated with merchandise for his own campaign and that of mayoral candidate Willie Wilson, who has supported his campaign. Esparza has picked up proposals from Wilson’s platform, such as reopening Meigs Field Airport.

“My positions are close to Willie’s because I see him coming from a really honest place. Chicago can either raise taxes or it can create new assets, and I think that’s a better way of getting money,” Esparza said.

At Edgar Esparza’s campaign office, merchandise for his campaign and Willie Wilson’s mayoral campaign decorate the walls. | Alexandra Arriaga