April 17, 2019


This week's column is more concerned with being factually correct than being politically correct. And one glaring factual takeaway from Chicago's Feb. 26 and April 2 elections is that many of the city's 800,000-plus Hispanics did not vote. Call it polling-place-avoidance.

Another takeaway is that the city's triumvirate of political bosses - U.S. Representative Chuy Garcia (D-4), state Representative Luis Arroyo (D-3) and former Congressman Luis Gutierrez - are really good at one thing: Endorsing losers. Call it egomania and/or bad judgment.

All three are in the running for my "Bungler of the Year" award, with Garcia atop the list. Garcia endorsed 11 aldermanic candidates, and seven lost: Rafael Yanez in the 15th Ward to incumbent Raymond Lopez; Hilario Dominguez in the open 25th Ward, finishing third; incumbent Millie Santiago in the 31st Ward, who lost to Felix Cardona; Jessica Gutierrez, the ex-congressman's daughter, who lost to incumbent Ariel Reboyras in the 30th Ward; and Tanya Patino in the 14th Ward against the scandal-plagued Ed Burke.

This was to have been Garcia's top priority, but Burke beat her 3,917-2,123, getting 54.3percent. Other Garcia-backed losers were Alderman John Arena (45th) and 39th Ward candidate Robert Murphy. A winner was Maria Hadden in the 49th Ward.

Garcia's other winners were incumbent George Cardenas in the 12th Ward, who got 50.3 percent; Mike Rodriguez, the consensus candidate in the 22nd Ward, who got 63.8 percent; and Andre Vasquez, who beat Pat O'Connor in the 40th Ward.

If endorsements were a sporting event, Garcia would be batting .363. But Garcia nevertheless burned through a lot of goodwill, credibility and financial connections. Because of his ties to Toni Preckwinkle as a county commissioner, Garcia made no endorsement in the Feb. 26 primary, but then endorsed Lori Lightfoot in the runoff - infuriating the public sector and teacher's unions that funded him in 2015 and 2018. Garcia is now damaged goods in the South Side Mexican-American wards.

If the congressman batted poorly, Arroyo - the leader in the North Side Puerto Rican wards - and Gutierrez both whiffed. Gutierrez's flop in the 30th Ward was more egregious than Arroyo's flop in the 31st Ward. Gutierrez's 26-year tenure in the 4th District, which included all of the city's and county's Hispanic areas, made him an icon. He was a national spokesman on immigration issues. Yet his daughter, banking on the family name, lost to Reboyras 4,097-3,794.

Arroyo, the 36th Ward Democratic committeeman and state representative from the Northwest Side Hermosa-Avondale-Montclare area, invested himself heavily in the 30th Ward, backing his ally Santiago, who won 4,218-4,139 in the 2015 runoff against 24-year incumbent Ray Suarez, a Berrios ally. Santiago lost the 2019 runoff to Felix Cardona 3,584-3,015. Cardona once worked in the assessor's office for Berrios.

30TH WARD: Reboyras has been alderman since 2003, and is no boat-rocker. As alderman, he focuses on constituent services and housekeeping, and as chairman of the Public Safety Committee he resisted more stringent police reforms such as an elected police board. Both candidates spent over $300,000, both worked precincts hard, but the distinction was clear: Plodder versus superstar. Reboyras, age 65, would focus on quality-of-life matters, such as public safety, schools, services, while Gutierrez would focus on herself, spending 24/7 on advancing her career. I think that the alderman job, for Gutierrez, was a steppingstone, not a commitment.

In the primary run-up, Gutierrez shopped polls showing her up by 20 percent. But the Feb. 26 result had Reboyras up 3,563-3,536, or 47.9-47.5 percent. The Gutierrez campaign, which was basically smoke-and-mirrors, imploded. Reboyras won the runoff 4,097-3,794.

A big winner was State Senator Iris Martinez (D-20), who stuck with Reboyras. She has her sights on Garcia's seat.

31ST WARD: Berrios, ousted by voters in 2018 as assessor, and then ousted by Preckwinkle thereafter as county Democratic chairman, knew he was politically toxic, and knew that he could not put his fingerprints on Cardona's 2019 campaign. He didn't. Santiago beat herself, with a sloppy constituent service operation over 4 years.

A generation ago, an alderman would get letters and phone calls of complaint regarding a ward problem. Now they get a text or e-mail, and the sender wants the problem fixed immediately and expects a response, like, right now. If that doesn't happen, the constituent remembers. And if it does, the constituent forgets. Santiago was not a 24/7 alderman. Voters remembered.
Santiago topped the primary 2,586-2,132, getting just 40.3 percent. Clearly, her 2015 vote was anti-Suarez. Her 2019 vote was down 1,632 from 2015, and the 2019 vote for Cardona was clearly anti-Santiago. Cardona won the runoff 3,584-3,015, a 569-vote margin. Arroyo and his ally Alderman Gilbert Villegas flooded the ward with their troops, to no avail.

Two other factors insured a Cardona win. First, Berrios kept a low profile. He allocated resources to Cardona, but let the candidate craft an image as a "progressive," and, second, the charter schools and Local 150 of the Operating Engineers pumped $150,000 into the race with mailings calling Santiago a MIA alderman. It worked. Local 150 was incensed that Arroyo ran Marcelino Garcia for Metropolitan Water Reclamation District in 2018, beating incumbent Marty Durkan, 150's business agent. They will be back in 2020, fielding a primary foe to Arroyo.

As the 2019 vote demonstrated, there are generational and ideological fault lines among Hispanics. Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), from the Hispanic-majority ward just east of the 36th, 31st and 30th, along the Belmont-Fullerton corridor moving east, is an avowed socialist, and chairman of the Chicago chapter of Democratic Socialists of America. New DSOA aldermen will be Daniel La Spata, who beat Proco Joe Moreno in the Hispanic-majority 1st Ward, Vasquez in the 40th Ward, Rosanna Rodriguez Sanchez in the 33rd Ward, and Byron Sigcho-Lopez in the 25th Ward.

"There is a definite divide among Hispanics," Villegas said. And I agree, I think it's not about racial identity because Hispanics are well assimilated, but it's about the future. Younger Hispanics want to change the world and older Hispanics just want to maintain their lifestyle.

A third takeaway is to never over-estimate the Hispanic voter base. Mid-decade census tracking put the number of Hispanics in Chicago at 803,000, which is 31.7 percent of the 2,716,000 population. In the 14 wards with a Hispanic population of 55-90 percent (see chart), Garcia got 77,133 votes in the 2015 mayoral runoff, while 2019's two prominent Hispanic contenders, Susana Mendoza and Gery Chico, polled a combined 33,826 votes, or 29.1 percent, in their anticipated base, and got a combined 84,894 votes citywide, or 15.3 percent. There is no cohesive Hispanic "identity" vote.