U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia endorsed Lori Lightfoot’s candidacy for Chicago mayor before Sunday’s South Side Irish Parade, saying she would serve as a departure from old-school machine politics and bring needed change to the city.
Garcia stood alongside Lightfoot on Sunday in making his endorsement ahead of the April 2 runoff election.
“I believe that she will become the change agent that Chicago needs so desperately at this critical juncture. I believe that she has the moral compass to guide our city and that she has the skill set required for making critical policy decisions. I believe she has the heart and the soul to usher in a new era of bold municipal policy that improves especially the lives of working people everywhere across our city, especially the people who have the least,” Garcia said. “Chicago must enter a new era of equitable development, and I believe that Lori Lightfoot will usher in that new era.”
Garcia’s support could boost Lightfoot with Latino voters on the Southwest Side, where Garcia is particularly popular, as well as with progressive voters. Garcia pushed Mayor Rahm Emanuel into Chicago’s first mayoral runoff four years ago and received the backing of many progressive unions that are now supporting Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, including the Service Employees International Union and the Chicago Teachers Union.
“I am incredibly grateful and I’m mindful of the fact that I am here today because of the work that (Garcia) did and really ignited this incredible spark for change across our city,” Lightfoot said. “We’re carrying the torch of the 2015 movement forward and we’re building on what was ignited in this city long before with Harold Washington and the multiracial, citywide coalition that Harold Washington built.”
Garcia flirted with a mayoral bid last fall but ultimately decided not to run. U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who stepped down after 13 terms, endorsed Garcia to succeed him in Congress. After Emanuel made the surprise announcement in September that he wouldn’t seek a third term, Gutierrez launched a “draft ‘Chuy’ ” movement to get Garcia to run for mayor.
But Garcia said the possibility of winning a congressional seat and then immediately running for another office left a bad taste in his mouth.
At the time Garcia bowed out, Preckwinkle released a statement through her mayoral campaign thanking Garcia for his work on behalf of Cook County residents. “I know that Chuy will continue advocating on behalf of our shared priorities for immigrants, women, and seniors in his new role as congressman,” the statement said in part.
Before going to Congress, Garcia served as a commissioner on the Cook County Board and was Preckwinkle’s floor leader.
Their relationship has frayed over the years, though. Part of that stems from Preckwinkle not endorsing Garcia in his bid to defeat Emanuel. Garcia also was upset because Preckwinkle was late to support his choice to succeed him on the board, Alma Anaya. And the two also split over Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios, whom Preckwinkle backed in a losing bid to fend off Fritz Kaegi while Garcia supported Kaegi.
Lightfoot said she voted for Garcia against Emanuel in both rounds of the 2015 mayoral election.
Garcia said he got to know Lightfoot about 3 1/2 years ago, when she was working on the issue of police accountability.
“I think she is eminently qualified to address the issues of safety, of greater police accountability,” Garcia said. “Let me be very clear: Some of her most important contributions to moving the city forward have been the task force report on police accountability. It is a damning indictment, a very important guide to move forward that helped usher in the consent decree that will guide the next mayor, the council, the people of Chicago in bringing about (change) in the Chicago Police Department.”
Garcia did not criticize Preckwinkle directly, though he did say the city “needs to break from the vestiges of old machine politics and is close to making that a reality.” Asked whether Preckwinkle’s the machine, a criticism often made by Lightfoot, Garcia instead said there’s “signs of corruption in the Chicago City Council” and in the property tax system — a shot at Berrios, Preckwinkle’s ally.
But he declined to criticize Preckwinkle personally, saying the future “looks great.”
“A new mayor in City Hall and across the hall, on the fifth floor, a very competent president of the (county) board who I had the great honor to work with for eight years and move Cook County government forward, leaving behind the old reference that it was Crook County,” he said.
But Garcia also said Lightfoot “ushers in a new era that Chicago has been waiting for a long time.”
Asked about SEIU and CTU backing Preckwinkle, and how it feels to be on the opposite side of them four years after they helped push him into the runoff, Garcia said, “Those relationships don’t change. There are progressives in both camps.”
Preckwinkle spent the early part of her birthday attending church services with Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, before eating breakfast with staffers in a corner booth at Eppel’s Restaurant in the South Loop.
But the County Board president skipped the politician-friendly South Side parade — and Garcia’s display with Lightfoot — and instead elected to campaign at the city’s Northwest Side Irish Parade.
Preckwinkle, when asked about Garcia’s endorsement for her opponent, said her campaign planned to unveil more endorsements from West Side officials later in the week.
“We’ve gotten lots of support from other Latino elected officials. I’ve been to the Latinx community, not just in this campaign, but in the course of my entire political career,” Preckwinkle said of Garcia’s decision during a Sunday evening birthday party with her sorority allies.
“So I’m a known quantity there in a way that she isn’t,” she said of Lightfoot.
Though Garcia’s endorsement is a boost to Lightfoot’s campaign, he also suffered embarrassing defeats in the Feb. 26 aldermanic elections.
Garcia most notably supported civil engineer Tanya Patino in her unsuccessful campaign to defeat embattled Southwest Side Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, who has been charged in a federal public corruption investigation at City Hall. Garcia also backed community organizer Hilario Dominguez’s losing effort to replace Ald. Danny Solis — who secretly wore a recording device while cooperating with the FBI — in the Pilsen-centered 25th Ward.
At the same time, Garcia’s organization helped elect Mike Rodriguez to replace retiring Ald. Ricardo Munoz, 22nd. And Garcia has pointed out that he endorsed in 15 races, with six outright wins, seven runoffs and two losses.
Lightfoot also accepted an endorsement from Southwest Side attorney Jerry Joyce Jr., who won the 13th, 19th and 23rd wards on the Southwest Side, and the 41st on the Northwest Side in the first round of the mayor’s race.
Joyce introduced Lightfoot to a crowd at a party for his volunteers, friends and family as “somebody I know to be honest, hardworking, extremely bright and just a kind person.”
“I am proud to endorse Lori Lightfoot,” Joyce said, to loud cheers.
Lightfoot beamed and told the crowd, “I could not be more proud to accept the endorsement of my friend, Jerry Joyce.”
Since the crowded field of 14 mayoral candidates was cut down to two, six former candidates have endorsed Lightfoot while none have come out for Preckwinkle. Lightfoot has received support from Willie Wilson, Paul Vallas, Gery Chico, Joyce, Neal Sales-Griffin and John Kozlar.
Ald. George Cardenas, 12th, also released a statement endorsing Lightfoot on Sunday.
Chicago Tribune’s Juan Perez Jr. contributed.