Ortiz: Chuy García and the machine he wants to make

Sterling Kossuth Ortiz, Senior Staffer

In my eyes, the most exciting story in this Chicago election is that of Jesús “Chuy” García. I think it’s fascinating how he has tried to make a political machine in the last few years, and how that intersects with his mayoral run.

The first I’d heard of Garcia’s attempts at building a political machine was March 2018. Aarón Ortíz, a college counselor at the Back of the Yards High School, defeated incumbent Daniel Burke in Illinois’ 1st State House District in the Democratic primary. The Burke family has served Chicago’s Southwest Side since the 1950s, when the area was predominantly Polish and Lithuanian. With Ortíz’s victory over Dan Burke, the supermajority Latine district finally had one of its own in the legislature.

I believe that Ortíz’s win with García’s strong support symbolizes what happened regarding Chuy’s machine in the following five years.

The same night as Ortíz’s win and García’s nomination to the 4th District in Congress, one of his proteges, Alma Anaya, succeeded him on the Cook County Board of Commissioners. Another, Beatriz Frausto-Sandoval, won a judgeship in Cook County. All three of them are Mexican: Ortiz being from Chicago, while Frausto-Sandoval and Anaya were born in Mexico.

Five years later, García is still expanding his influence. Between now and 2018, he helped secure Delia Ramirez’s ascension from the State House of Representative to the House Chamber in Washington D.C., where she serves Illinois’ 3rd district.

This year, García chose to run for mayor again, hoping to become the first Latine mayor of Chicago. He doesn’t plan to make it to City Hall alone, however. Joining him for sure will be Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd), an ally of García’s who represents Little Village, where he lives.

Southeast of the 22nd Ward, across the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, another of García’s allies, Jeylú Gutiérrez, is currently running to be the first Latine alderperson for the 14th Ward, which used to be part of the Burke family sphere of influence. Ed Burke controlled the 14th Ward as his domain for fifty long years. Like his brother Dan Burke’s district, throughout Ed Burke’s life, the demographics have become increasingly Latine, specifically Mexican, because of white flight to the Chicago suburbs in the second half of the 1900s.

Former alderman George Cardenas of the 12th Ward resigned last year after winning an election to the Cook County Board of Review. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot appointed his former chief of staff Anabel Abarca to fill his vacancy. García endorsed nonprofit worker Julia Ramirez as the ward’s next alderperson. Both politicians speak pieties about their constituents and talk about the progressive policies you’d expect them to have in a city like Chicago. The difference is who endorses them: Abarca has her former boss Cardenas on her side, and Ramirez has several unions and García. I highlight this race, honestly, because of the lack of substance.

The 25th Ward encompasses Pilsen and parts of Little Village. The incumbent, Byron Sigcho-Lopez, is an open Democratic Socialist and a founder of the Chicago Democratic Socialist Caucus. He is unafraid to speak his mind and clash with other politicians. His opponent, assistant principal at Darwin Elementary school Aida Flores, promises a more agreeable attitude toward her coworkers, and wants to use her better connections to benefit all Pilsen residents. Most importantly, García endorsed her, and the “Get Stuff Done PAC” run by allies of former Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel gave more than $160,000 to advertise Flores and campaign against Sigcho-Lopez. To me, it is clear from the campaign efforts that García and his allies see the 25th Ward as a crown jewel to have in their possessions, and they are willing to spend everything in money and time to get Flores beating Sigcho-Lopez.

Ironically, the man García spurned last year in his run for Congress, Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), is now García’s ally after his old opponent Delia Ramirez decided to side with Brandon Johnson’s mayoral campaign over García’s own. Villegas has a heck of a fight against Lori Torres Whitt to keep his seat that stretches west across Grand Boulevard.

Sterling Ortiz is a SESP fifth-year. You can contact him at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.