(Chicago is deliberating its readiness for change)
On March 16, supporters and media were gathering to have a lunch with Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a candidate for Mayor of Chicago. The event hosted by Vincente Serrano, a radio and TV personality, took place at Café Iberico in Downtown Chicago.
As Mr. Garcia arrived and went around the room greeting and shaking hands with the guests, cheering and excitement was heard all around. Following the introduction, Chuy addressed the audience thanking for everyone’s support. He spoke with enthusiasm and confidence about his campaign platform and goals, including, keeping the schools open and doing away with privatization, reinvesting in Chicago neighborhoods and in keeping them safe, and making sure that all are taxed fairly.
Introducing the supporters present at the event, community activist Ross Garcia noted that many of them are small-business owners, who are the backbone of the Chicago economy. In later conversations, it appeared that quite a few were united in their hopes for better Chicago, as well as by distaste for the various extra-penalties, taxes, and degrading services during the recent years. This sentiment, as it turned out, was shared not only by the supportive attendees, but also by the random diners at the cafe, who were bespectacled by the event, and eagerly shared their opinions.
Supporters and Chuy himself have emphasized, that while he, unlike the incumbent Rahm Emanuel, is not known for having many super-wealthy friends bankrolling the campaign, the success of it will hinge in a high degree on the grassroots movement. Chuy’s down-to-earth and friendly personality and approach might help to win over voters, too. And as a result, the current Mayor’s office, with elections fast-approaching on April 7th, seems to feel the mounting pressure. Will the voters not be swayed by the red-light camera issue, the school closings, the safety of the residents following the “bloody weekend”, the promise to raise the property tax, and broadening the sales tax on professional services (attorneys, accountants, advertising consultants, etc.)? President Obama recently traveled to Chicago days before the Feb 24th election, in apparent efforts to help Emanuel garner the critical African-American vote, praised Emanuel’s “extraordinary service” — albeit, all was still ineffective at preventing a runoff, which is unheard of in Chicago history. Meanwhile, Garcia received an endorsement by the prominent African-American civil-rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson. He was likewise endorsed by the two major unions — the Chicago Teachers’ Union and Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The President of Local 1 Tom Balanoff recently stated that “Mayor Emanuel doesn’t understand that what made Chicago great was working people”. He concluded that “[w]e think he has totally turned his back on that.”
Meanwhile, Chuy is no stranger to Chicago politics, either, with his career spanning over two decades. In 1984 he was elected a Democratic committeeman in the 22nd ward, receiving endorsement of the first African-American Mayor Harold Washington. Chuy, in turn, used his office to provide important constituent services, which helped him to remain hands-on with his electoral base. Concurrently, he was appointed Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Water by Washington, held until 1986. Same year he was elected to the city council, as well as an alderman. Mayor Washington considered Garcia “principled and trustworthy.” In 1992, Garcia made history by becoming the first Mexican-American to be elected to the Illinois State Senate. Cook County Clerk David Orr once said about Garcia that he is “always willing to help other people” and that he considers him “one of the most outstanding elected officials in the state».
In 1998 Garcia lost the election, and in 1998 left politics and founded Enlace Chicago, a nonprofit community development organization in Little Village and took the position with the University of Illinois, where he taught political science. In 2010 he returned to politics and won a spot on the Cook County Board, where he currently serves as floor leader for president Toni Preckwinkle.
As Chuy Garcia was leaving to prepare for the mayoral debates later on that same night, the attendees expressed their good wishes and aspirations for the change in Chicago, and for the victory of their best candidate.
L. Mogul, S. Telis
Photos by Larisa Pevtsova