December 5, 2007


Among Hispanic politicians in Chicago and Cook County, there's no dispute that U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-4) is Numero Uno. Gutierrez is likely to run for mayor on 2011, whether or not his long-time ally, Rich Daley, retires.

Gutierrez, age 54, rescinded his announced retirement in 2008 after concluding that as a former congressman he would forfeit his visibility, power base and fund-raising capability. Also, his successor in the 4th District would become an instant mayoral contender, thereby undercutting him.

There's plenty of dispute as to who's Numero Dos among Hispanic politicians. The upcoming 2008 Democratic primaries feature plenty of contests between various proteges and allies of assorted Numero Dos politicians, all of whom are jockeying to expand their power bases or undermine their rivals with a view to running for mayor or for an open 4th District congressional seat.

If Gutierrez is Numero Uno, then City Clerk Miguel del Valle, a former state senator, tops the list of the Numero Dos politicians. Like Gutierrez, he is a Puerto Rican from the North Side, and he had a reputation as a liberal reformer and a foe of Daley's Hispanic Democratic Organization -- until Daley named him clerk in 2006. Now he's a booster of and apologist for the mayor. Del Valle is well positioned to run for mayor, provided Daley backs him. Otherwise, in a contest featuring both Gutierrez and del Valle, the latter would go nowhere.

Others in the Numero Dos tier include such ambitious politicians as Aldermen Manny Flores (1st), Danny Solis (25th), Ricardo Munoz (22nd) and George Cardenas (12th), county Commissioner Roberto Maldonado (8th), state Senator Iris Martinez (20th), state Representatives Susana Mendoza (D-1) and Cynthia Soto (D-4), Board of Review Commissioner Joe Berrios, who also is the county Democratic chairman and North Side 31st Ward Democratic committeeman, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner Frank Avila, the only countywide Hispanic office holder, and former city treasurer Miriam Santos.

As of mid-2007, Berrios had $1.6 million in his campaign account, a fact that should really make him Numero Uno. But Berrios seems content to remain in the background and promote other Hispanics, one of which is his daughter, state Representative Toni Berrios (D-39).

Among Hispanics, there is a huge ethnic, ideological and geographic fissure between liberal Puerto Ricans on the North Side, liberal Mexican Americans on the West Side and conservative Mexican Americans on the South Side. Gutierrez, Berrios, del Valle, Maldonado, Santos and Martinez are Puerto Rican and from the North Side, Flores and Soto are Mexican American and from the Near West Side, and Avila is Mexican American and from the Northwest Side. Solis, Munoz, Cardenas and Mendoza are Mexican American and from the Southwest Side, although Munoz is an outspoken liberal. Solis is known as Daley's "favorite Hispanic alderman."

Much as, during the second half of the 20th Century, Polish- and Italian- and other ethnic-American politicians preferred to let the Irish Americans keep control so as to prevent a rival ethnic group from winning the mayoralty, the same psychology applies to Hispanics: The Mexican Americans don't want the city's first Hispanic mayor to be Puerto Rican, and the Puerto Ricans don't want him or her to be Mexican American.

When Gutierrez announced his retirement in 2005, Flores, Maldonado, Solis, Munoz and Cardenas jumped into the race. Flores raised more than $500,000, and Maldonado solidified the North Side Puerto Rican base, proclaiming himself the candidate backed by del Valle and Gutierrez. Since the North Side of the 4th District casts about 25,000 votes, the South Side about 18,000 and the suburbs 4,000, Maldonado was the favorite.

But that is now moot. Gutierrez is unopposed in the primary for his ninth term in 2008. First elected in 1992, Gutierrez is now the fifth-ranking Democrat on the Financial Services Committee and a member of its Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, and the 16th-ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee and a member of the Immigration Subcommittee. When Gutierrez does retire, all the prospective 2008 hopefuls will run for the job.

Here's a look at upcoming Feb. 5 primary contests:

2nd Illinois Senate District (north of Grand Avenue from the Kennedy Expressway west to Nagle Avenue, south of Belmont Avenue): Del Valle represented this area from 1986 until his appointment as city clerk. He was a perpetual target of the Hispanic Democratic Organization, but they never beat him. Del Valle's long-time ally was state Representative Willie Delgado (D-3), who represented the western end of del Valle's district (west of Kimball). Delgado was a state representative from 1998 onward, and he beat numerous HDO onslaughts, usually quite narrowly. He won the 2002 primary by 24 votes.

When del Valle resigned, Berrios and Alderman Dick Mell (33rd), the principal Democratic committeemen in the area, engineered the appointment of Delgado as his replacement and of Luis Arroyo, a precinct captain in Mell's organization, to Delgado's House seat. Even though less than 10 percent of the district's precincts are in the 1st Ward, Flores is backing Proco "Joe" Moreno, against Delgado. Moreno is Mexican American, and a fund-raiser and precinct worker for Flores.

This is an early skirmish in the 2011 mayoral race. Berrios, del Valle and Mell must obliterate Moreno and must nominate Delgado with more than 65 percent of the vote. For them, it's a matter of pride. They can't be embarrassed. Flores is attempting to expand his power base. The outlook: Delgado will win big.

20th Illinois Senate District: Mell is known as "Old Gringo" among Hispanics, due to his propensity to intervene in Hispanic contests, but Mell laid a huge egg in 2007, when he tried to oust Alderman Rey Colon (35th). Mell's candidate was former alderman Vilma Colom, and he deployed more than 300 of his 33rd Ward workers into the 35th Ward for Colom. The result: In the Puerto Rican ward, Colon beat Colom, who was alderman from 1995 to 2003, with 62.3 percent of the vote.

The HDO exerted a major effort in 2002 to nominate Iris Martinez in the newly created 20th District, which was 59 percent Hispanic. Martinez beat Alderman Mike Wojcik by 5,239 votes, with 61.5 percent of the vote, and he was unopposed in 2004. But Martinez has alienated the HDO, and Mell is targeting her.

When del Valle quit in 2006, the state Senate's Hispanic Caucus, consisting of four members, had to choose a new member for leadership. Tony Munoz, a Southwest Side Mexican American who was implicated in the Hired Truck Program scandal, wanted to be the assistant majority leader, but Senate President Emil Jones, with a 37-22 majority, picked Martinez for the leadership spot, infuriating Munoz and the HDO.

Then there's the "Old Gringo" factor. Mell has two daughters: Patti, the wife of Governor Rod Blagojevich, from whom he is estranged, and Deborah, who wants to be a state representative. Half of Martinez' Senate district, the area north of Belmont, is represented in the Illinois House by Rich Bradley and is 47.1 percent Hispanic; the southern area, represented by Toni Barrios, is 59.3 percent Hispanic.

Mell decreed that daughter Debbie shall be elected, so Bradley, who needs another year to get his maximum state pension, switched to the Senate race and was slated by the local Democratic committeemen, including Berrios.

The outlook: It will be odd for the HDO to campaign for a male white challenger against a female Hispanic incumbent, but they will try, and Mell also will send in his troops. But Martinez will portray herself as a veritable Joan of Arc, being persecuted by a bunch of gringos. Give Martinez a very slight edge.

Metropolitan Water Reclamation District: Avila ran for commissioner in 1998, 2000 and 2002 as an independent, finally winning 6 years ago. His son, Frank Avila, ran in 2004 and 2006. This year, the senior Avila was slated, and he faces a field of 10 other candidates for three slots. It would be embarrassing to the party, and to Berrios in particular, to lose their only Hispanic countywide office holder, but it could happen.

25th Ward (Near Southwest Side, Clark Street to Western Avenue, south of 16th Street): Solis has been an alderman since 1996, and he was poised to run for Congress, but his power base has been eroding. He was re-elected in 2007 with just 52 percent of the vote. In 2008 he faces a serious challenge for committeeman. His foes include county Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno, former alderman Ambrosio Medrano (who is the current Republican committeeman), Robert Martinez and Cuahutemoc Mofrin, who got 21 percent of the vote for alderman in 2007. Moreno is a credible foe, but the large field aids Solis.

The outlook: Southwest Side Mexican-American rivals would like to slice Solis out of the mayoral pie, and they will send in workers for Moreno, but with his opposition divided, Solis will win with 40 percent of the vote