Gutierrez retirement is a case of ‘bait-and-switch’





by RUSS STEWART

It’s called a "bait-and-switch." In consumer sales, it means baiting the buyer to show interest in one cheap product, and then persuading him or her to switch and buy a more expensive product. It employs intentional misdirection.

In the political realm, it works like this: A popular and entrenched incumbent announces for re-election, deterring all serious opposition, proceeds to circulate nominating petitions and files them timely, and then – just before or during the weeklong filing period – announces that he is retiring, withdraws the petitions, and won’t be on the ballot after all. And, quite coincidentally, there is somebody – the incumbent’s kin, pal or ally – who has a bunch of petitions ready to file.

U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-4) pulled this stunt on Nov. 28. First elected in 1992, Gutierrez announced his retirement and petition withdrawal just 6 days before the closure of the filing period on Dec. 4, and endorsed Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia for the job. And both then endorsed Alderman Ricardo Munoz (22nd) for Garcia’s job. It only takes 800 petition signatures, usually three times that amount to safely withstand any ballot challenge, but Garcia had the support of all the Democratic ward and township committeemen in the overwhelming Hispanic 4th District, and had no problem getting the requisite petitions.

How ironic it is that Gutierrez, the self-proclaimed "progressive," champion of immigration amnesty for every illegal immigrant, and paragon of political rectitude, should prove just another political opportunist.

Nevertheless, by the final day, Dec. 4, eight candidates had filed, including Gutierrez (who will later withdraw) and Garcia, along with aldermen Proco Joe Moreno (1st) and Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (30th), and fringe candidates Richard Gonzalez, Sol Flores, Raymond Lopez, and Neli Vasquez Rowland. Garcia will have the support of almost all Democratic committeemen, but Ramirez-Rosa will have access to considerable funding, as he is tapped into the "progressive" Bernie Sanders-Elizabeth Warren Nation and has a North Side base. However, his ill-advised comments supportive of a Palestinian homeland will likely insure that Jewish and Zionist PACs will pour in whatever money is necessary to defeat him, with almost all of it going to Garcia. Ramirez-Rosa was picked to run for lieutenant governor in 2018 with Daniel Biss, but was summarily jettisoned over his comments.

Gutierrez raised only $19,813 during 2017, a definite indication of his desire to quit. In 2015-16, he raised $523,671. The Garcia-for-Gutierrez switcheroo has broad ramifications in Chicago politics, specifically for Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the 2019 mayoral election, and generally for the overall Hispanic community, for which Garcia, who is Mexican-American and a South Sider will supersede Gutierrez, who is Puerto Rican and a North Sider, as the principal spokesman.

First, it removes both Garcia and Munoz from 2019 calculations. Garcia ran for mayor in 2015, finishing with 160,414 votes, or 33.6 percent, in the February primary, to Emanuel’s 218,217 votes, or 45.7 percent, and then losing the April runoff 332,171-258,562, getting 43.8 percent. Second only to Gutierrez, Garcia, age 61, is the best-known and most popular Hispanic in county politics, much more so than Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios.

Given both the 2018 election calendar, and the need to announce for mayor and begin fund-raising not later than May, Garcia is out. He cannot plausibly run for both Congress in Nov. 2018 while running for mayor in Feb. 2019. That clears to field of any credible Hispanic foe for Emanuel, although Aldermen Milly Santiago (31st) and/or Danny Solis (25th) could run – but would forfeit their aldermanic seats. Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza, a Madigan protege, could run, but only if the mayor retired.

Second, Garcia’s nomination and election will move the 4th District’s center-of-gravity to the South Side. The district was created in 1991 to be majority-minority Hispanic, under the federal Voting Rights Act, which overrides the requirement of compactness and contiguity. Most Hispanic voters in Cook County were inserted into the district, which runs like a reverse "C" from the near South Loop, west through Little Village, Pilsen, Back-of-the-Yards and parts of Bridgeport, all Mexican-American, then north through Cicero, Berwyn, Stone Park, Melrose Park and Franklin Park, also Mexican-American, then east through Montclare and Belmont-Cragin, into Avondale and Avalon, then on to Logan Square and Humboldt Park, and then south into the 26th Ward, mostly Puerto Rican, where Gutierrez was once alderman, and then the gentrifying 1st Ward. The 4th District wraps around the West Side black-majority 7th District.

Of the district’s 435 precincts, 338 are in 21 Chicago wards, and 97 are in 5 suburban townships. The 2010 census pegged the population at 712,077, of which Hispanics make up 71.8 percent, and only 358,719 adults are citizens, with barely a quarter of Mexican-Americans eligible to vote. In Cicero, where the Mexican-American population is roughly 84,000, the 2015 voter turnout was 12,000.

In 2015’s runoff, the South Side/ Mexican wards provided 35,000 votes for Garcia, while the North Side/Puerto Rican wards provided 65,000 votes. Overall, the citywide Hispanic vote total was roughly 18 percent of the total citywide vote. Clearly, without aligning themselves in a black/Hispanic or white/ Hispanic coalition, the Hispanic vote is inconsequential. Without a Hispanic in the 2019 race, Emanuel can tap into that vote.

And third, while Gutierrez travels around the country fomenting opposition to federal immigration policies, and, lately, to President Trump, he’s done little to empower Hispanics back in Chicago, or in Washington. Conversely, he’s done a lot to enrich himself, having reportedly done deals with Tony Rezko, gotten his daughter an "affordable housing" condo – which she later sold for a 55 percent profit – and recently built a $1.1 million "second home" in Puerto Rico. He also has paid his wife tens of thousands of dollars to his wife as his campaign treasurer. Not bad for a guy who makes $174,000-a year as congressman.

"He (Gutierrez) owes Garcia big-time," said Frank Avila, a political consultant, noting that Gutierrez endorsed Emanuel over Garcia in 2015, endorsed Gery Chico over Emanuel in 2011, backed Rich Daley in every election, including his first in 1989, when he beat the Harold Washington Party candidate, Tim Evans. All this despite the fact that Gutierrez broke into politics in 1983 as a worker for Harold Washington, went on his City Hall staff, was elected alderman in 1986, and was an outspoken foe of the Vrdolyak 29. In the council, the late Alderman Berny Stone (50th) was so riled that he called Gutierrez a "little pipsqueak"; everything he does is calibrated by one standard: Is it good for Luis? He is consistently inconsistent, but has a knack for backing winners, at least eventually.

There is a cultural and ideological gap between Mexican-Americans and Puerto Ricans. Had Gutierrez retired earlier, several North Siders, including Aldermen Roberto Maldonado (26th) and Gil Villegas (36th), or state Representative Luis Arroyo (D-3) might have run.

Will voters be revolted by the 4th District scam? Then-Sheriff Mike Sheahan and his 19th Ward succeeded in 2006, with Tom Dart substituting for Sheahan at the last moment. The trick is pulled regularly in judicial races, with a judge retiring late, and the party rushing somebody slated onto the ballot. It did, however, backfire in the 47th Ward in 2011, when 36-year Alderman Gene Schulter announced running for re-election, cleared the field, and then abruptly retired, with his organization slating precinct captain Tom O’Donnell. Three other names name were on the ballot, and the winner was Ameya Pawar, a total unknown who positioned himself as the "reformer." The ward’s numerous "independent" voters were repulsed, and Pawar won 8,572-7,347 over O’Donnell, getting 50.8 percent, and carrying 34 of the ward’s 52 precincts. Pawar is retiring in 2019, and may run for mayor. Pawar dropped out of the race for governor.

The outlook: Garcia is a heavy favorite.

Cook County Board President: Incumbent Toni Preckwinkle finds herself running against former alderman Bob Fioretti, who filed his petitions on Dec. 4. However, given the 8,200-signature threshold for ballot access, Todd Stroger could not get the requisite petitions. Instead, Stroger has filed for the 2-year Metropolitan Water Reclamation District vacancy.

Assessor: Incumbent Joe Berrios’s image has been less than pristine, and he faces a challenge from Fritz Kaegi, who will run as a reformer and tap into the party’s liberal base. Also running is Andrea Raila, who is perceived as a Berrios shill, designed to split the anti-Berrios vote.

Sheriff: Tom Dart has become lackadaisical in his fund-raising, and a drip-drip of minor employee scandals has somewhat tarnished his image. Eddie Acevedo, a sheriff’s employee and son of a former Southwest Side Mexican-American state representative, is running, and will get between 20 to 30 percent.

In one local race, the prospects of embattled state Senator Ira Silverstein (D-8), subject of sexual harassment allegations, brightened, as four largely unknown candidates filed against him: Ram Villivalam, Zehra Quadri, David Zulkey and Caroline McAteer-Fournier.

Send e-mail to russ@russstew art.com or visit his Web site at www.russstewart.com.