May well include Luis Gutierrez (IL-4) himself. In March, Gutierrez confirmed he would retire from Congress at the end of this term touching off a scramble for the seat. One of the biggest questions is will he really retire. His initial desire to retire seemed to revolve around an interest in challenging Richard Daley for Mayor of Chicago. He chose not to run and he still seemed content to retire, but Laura Washington expresses many people’s opinions that he might not be ready to go, especially with immigration reform not completed.
While he would have faced no serious opposition if he had run again, deciding to get back in the race would be difficult. Already candidates have amassed fairly large war chests to take him on and he’s always been an anemic fundraiser to say the least. He also was delinquent in DCCC dues for some time during the 2006 cycle. He blamed poor fundraising on the nature of his district, but his would be successors are proving him wrong. He also has had some scandals pop up that raise several questions.
Already three announced candidates have raised nearly $1 million for the primary. Leading the pack is 1st Ward Alderman Manny Flores with $478,029 raised in the last quarter alone. Right behind him is 22nd Ward Alderman Rick Munoz with $310,706. And third is Cook County Commissioner Roberto Maldonado with $192,857.
Other likely candidates include 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis, State Representative Susana Mendoza, and 12th Ward Alderman George Cardenas.
The question of electability isn’t a issue since the District is safely Democrat. In both 2000 and 2004 the District provided 79 percent of the votes for Gore and Kerry with a Cook Partisan Index of +31 D. No, that’s not a typo. The percentage of Hispanic origin is just under 75 percent though the voting population is a significantly lower percentage.
It’s safe to say the candidates are generally close on national political issues with the key differences residing along how close to Richard Daley and the Chicago Democratic Machine. Even including those who are Daley allies there are degrees of difference that provide an important understanding of how the race may play out.
Munoz and Flores have strong reputations as reformers having both defeated candidates backed by the Hispanic Democratic Organization (HDO). HDO is strongly aligned with Mayor Richard Daley and two leaders of the organization have been indicted by US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald for participating in patronage schemes throughout Chicago city government.
Of the two, Munoz is considered less likely to back large developments as an Alderman and less likely to compromise, while Flores has worked to provide several large developments in his Ward and willing to compromise and work with anyone to achieve legislation. Mostly, they are aligned with each other on most major issues including reform.
Close to having the same kind of anti-HDO credibility is Susana Mendoza, a State Representative who has fought with HDO every campaign. Her primary disadvantage is being a State Representative does not provide nearly the same base of support as being an Alderman.
Maldonado has run an independent course not being close to HDO, but also not having had to go to war with them. He’s been close to Gutierrez over the years and though he had some questions raised about patronage hires, he’s largely seen as clean if not as dynamic as the younger Munoz and Flores.
Solis has been considered Daley’s strongest Hispanic ally and was long backed by HDO, to have them switch their support in the 2007 election. Solis won and Daley supported him, but his ties to HDO were severed. He was one of the Alderman who defected from Daley and voted for the Big Box ordinance which required a higher wage to be paid by Big Box stores such as Walmart. After Daley vetoed the legislation, Solis switched his vote and helped Daley sustain the veto.
Four of the five candidates discussed have a reform pedigree with Munoz and Flores perceived as standouts for their progressive politics and grassroots campaigning. Maldonado has a lot of deep community ties and while he is more low key and has some ties to the regular machine, he’s respected by most everyone.
Solis is a machine candidate. Then there is George Cardenas who isn’t just a machine candidate, but a machine hack. He might not qualify as the worst hack tied to HDO, he is a perfect example of the typical hack. He also switched his vote on the Big Box bill after Daley’s veto and was challenged by the Chicago Federation of Labor for doing so.
Cardenas’ reelection campaign was not only strongly backed by HDO, but Cardenas employed Al Sanchez, who was indicted in March on corruption charges related to his leadership role in HDO.
Others may yet enter the race, but the danger is that with four decent to great candidates, the vote will be split providing Cardenas a victory, the worst possible outcome. The difficulty is for progressives and independents there are four decent candidates to choose from.
Of the four, the intangibles are hard to gauge. Mendoza is probably the weakest in terms of long term prospects of being a leader in Congress. Maldonado is quieter than Munoz or Flores, but also deeply tied to his community and a hard working representative. Maldonado is the type of candidate who gets ignored by those on the outside looking in, but has many of the traits the community may appreciate.
Flores and Munoz are the most dynamic and most likely to take on a leadership role for progressive causes in Congress. And there is the key difference–how will they do that? Munoz is far more likely to take strong stands and less likely to compromise. Flores is probably the best at reaching across diverse groups and finding compromises while still remaining progressive.