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Airbags

In 1993, back when the Mayor had the leisure to worry about such things, he was reportedly livid at Luis Gutierrez' strident opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement, legislation that was being spearheaded by William Daley, the Mayor's brother. This after Gutierrez had gotten on the Mayor's good side by endorsing him against Tim Evans in 1989. That after being a constant pain in the regular party's neck, to the extent that 50th Ward Alderman Berny Stone once shouted Gutierrez down on the floor of the City Council, calling him a "little pipsqueak."

Gutierrez was a powerful voice against NAFTA, voicing the opinion of many Latinos that it was an invitation for US corporations to exploit of Mexican workers. Gutierrez' efforts went no small way towards congealing Latino opposition to the agreement. Coupled with the already vociferous opposition of labor unions and Perot-style deficit hawks, Gutierrez represented a real threat, and that it was coming from Mayor Daley's backyard was no small embarrassment for the Mayor. The type of thing that can kill a political career in Chicago.

Gutierrez survived; they've made peace since. Until Gutierrez endorsed Bill Bradley over Al Gore in 2000; again, William Daley was Gore's campaign chairman.

Gutierrez survived; they've made peace since.

And now Gutierrez enters his last term in Congress, a self-imposed retirement after what would be 16 years. Why? Here's a hint: he wants to run for mayor.

The conventional wisdom, annoying as it is, is that the next mayor will be a mystery Latino candidate, supposedly because only a Latino can bridge the chasm between white and black voters. The thinking is that whites would never vote for a black, and blacks would never vote for a white — a brown person, though, could be mutually agreeable. How forward thinking (and, incidentally, not at all supported by any sort of empirical data).

The problem is that the Latino community in Chicago has no real organic political organization or coalition of organizations, but rather is splintered across several power centers, for years subordinate to the once-mighty, now-fallen Hispanic Democratic Organization. The HDO allegedly controlled a massive patronage army that has taken a massive blow due to the Hired Truck Scandal. Over the years the HDO was able to install pols into every imaginable degree of office, churning out votes through a combination of cash, savvy and intimidation. Many who benefited have turned against the organization — including 25th Ward Alderman and Deputy Mayor Danny Solis, among others.

The legacy of the HDO, controlled as it is by the regular Democratic organizations (RDO), is that it ensured that any genuinely Latino political organization would be stillborn. The power of the organization generated a gravity that pulled in cash and organization and simultaneously crushed any other power centers. Only the very savvy could escape its weight, and even then only as individuals against the grain.

For example, there is Joseph Berrios. Berrios sits on the Cook County Board of Review, which hears property tax appeals, and is a prodigious fundraiser and rabidly anti-HDO. Combined, his political committees control in the neighborhood of $1 million. Berrios' daughter, Toni, is the State Representative for the Logan Square/Cragin area. Berrios by most accounts is a stand-up sort and good public servant, and his resources could go a long way to helping build a real Latino organization on the Northwest Side, which is still dominated by ethnic whites.

There is Ricardo Munoz, alderman for the 22nd Ward, who doesn't have vast resources but is very well respected in his community for his staunch independence. Munoz is actively backing several anti-HDO candidates on the Southwest Side and has a decent volunteer army that supports his candidacy and campaigns.

Roberto Maldonado, 8th District County Commissioner, is an independent Democrat and decent fundraiser who is popular though by-and-large unnoticed. He also provides a County dimension. He has good ties to his community and would be valuable ally to any Mayoral candidate.

Manny Flores, 32-year-old 1st Ward Alderman, is politically quite bright although he's taken some serious hits from constituents for the development going on in his district; still he's young, good-looking and popular, and has developed some good relationships with progressive elements of the party, including with Alderman Munoz, State Representative John Fritchey and elements of Barack Obama's supporters. His backing of Alex Giannoulias shows his desire to align himself with this element.

We cannot forget about perennial gadfly Frank Avila, Water Reclamation District commissioner and attorney, who consistently has opposed both the HDO and Daley. Avila's son, also called Frank, lost a race for WRD commissioner in 2004. However, Avila is popular and well-connected although he doesn't necessarily have the scratch to show for it.

This brings us back to Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez, the fireplug who may have just pulled off a brilliant move that could bring to life a real Latino political powerhouse, likely at the expense of one Rev. Jesse Jackson, Jr. Give me a minute on this one.

When Gutierrez announced his retirement four months back, he was essentially inviting all of these different elements and their respective allies to begin the bidding on his seat. The cost? I would imagine it's very simple: their support for him. Not only that, but a (very) recent proclamation in the Sun-Times that "anyone can be beaten," including Mayor Daley, signals that he is indeed in for 2007 and also positions him favorably with the anti-Daley elements, since he's got the nerve to just come right out and say it, whereas Rep. Jackson has consistently played footsy with the press regarding his intentions in '07. Gutierrez can point to this statement as evidence that he isn't afraid of anybody and he wants the seat for real reform, not a political plum. Jackson's stalling is instantly put in poor contrast with that sort of decisiveness.

Gutierrez' gambit, tied to an effort by these disparate anti-HDO forces to administer the death blow to that organization in 2006 and 2007, could bring into being a real, united Latino political organization that can back Gutierrez' play in '07, just as Harold Washington's 1983 built a coalition that lasted into the '90s (including Gutierrez himself).

As for filling that congressional seat in '08, it would allow Gutierrez to control at least one office as a carrot to hold in front of people's noses, and broker deals as to who gets it and who gets consolation prizes.

So will he come right out and declare? It'd be suicide to do it now, but you can be sure the little pipsqueak will be working overtime to thread these different elements together over the next six months so he can do it in the summer, before Jackson, and position himself as the front runner. With these elements tied together, Gutierrez would lock down much of the Latino vote (his only significant opposition coming, probably, from the HDO) and bite significantly into the notorious "Lakefront Liberal" bloc. This spoils the chance for an outright primary victory for any mayoral candidate and force a run-off, which would only entrench him further if he needed to try again in 2011.

The HDO, though hurting, should not be discounted. They can still field quite an army by most accounts and still control in the neighborhood of half a million dollars, if not more.

Past Gutierrez, though, such an alignment for a state and then municipal primary would finally extinguish the legacy of the HDO and allow a real Latino organization to grow, with or without him, in the future.

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Comments

hdo / March 8, 2006 2:58 PM

you heard it here first: Tim Mitchell will be the next mayor. It has been ordained.

 

About the Author(s)

Richard F. Carnahan is a true South Side Sox fan who's played a bit part in Chicago politics more than once over the years. Contact him at .

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