'Chuy' touts West Side bona fides to Austin clergy


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By Michael Romain


Chicago mayoral candidate Jesus "Chuy" Garcia was in Austin Tuesday at the monthly meeting of the LEADERS Network, held at the Columbus Park Refectory, 5701 W. Jackson.

Garcia, the sitting 7th District Cook County Commissioner, juxtaposed the skills he gained at the grassroots community level, particularly through his nonprofit and antiviolence work in the Little Village neighborhood, with what he described as Mayor Rahm Emanuel's more brusque brand of politics.

When he came into office, Garcia said, Emanuel noted that his three top priorities would be to improve schools, improve public safety and put the city's fiscal house in order.

"If I'm not mistaken, there are three strikes presently [on the Mayor's record]," Garcia said. "But I believe the greatest mistake was not listening to the affected communities." 

The candidate said that community organizing hones skills that Emanuel has lacked throughout his tenure.


"[Community organizing] teaches you to listen, to set a broad table…to be respectful of other people's ideas [so] you can bring focus and build consensus," Garcia said.

Garcia fleshed out the contrast between his leadership style and that of Emanuel during his discussion of the city's appointed school board.

Garcia said that he wholeheartedly supports an elected school board and was one of the dissenting voices, and votes, in Springfield when the General Assembly voted to hand then-Mayor Richard M. Daley the unilateral power to appoint board members. At the time, Garcia was a state senator representing Illinois's 1st District.

"I think we need to try something new," Garcia said. "As a matter of fact, I believe had there been an elected school board in place, we would've had a real robust debate about the practicality, the wisdom, or lack thereof, of closing almost 50 neighborhood schools."

Garcia's roots in community organizing span back to his days at the Legal Assistance Foundation, which provides legal aid to those who might otherwise not be able to afford it, and his work as the founder and executive director of the Little Village Community Development Corporation.

He also touted his experience with violence prevention efforts in his home neighborhood, claiming that the product of various grassroots initiatives and collaboration with "officials all over the city" has been a reduction of homicides among youth in Little Village by 34 percent "over a period of several years [which] we think is sustainable," he said.

Although a longtime politician, Garcia, who migrated from a small village in Durango, Mexico to Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood in 1965, said that his most important qualification wasn't necessarily his time spent in halls of power.

"Being a West Sider is one of my primary affinities," he said. "I've lived in two neighborhoods [since 1965]—only a mile apart. So, I'm a lifelong West Sider." 

He did, however, proudly reference his role in taking down 10th Ward Alderman Edward Vrdolyak during the famous "Council Wars" of Harold Washington's era. Garcia won a special election in 1986 to become 22nd Ward alderman, which is considered by many political observers as pivotal to tipping the balance of power in City Council away from Vrdolyak and toward Washington.

Garcia said that, if he gets elected, he would leverage the kind of multicultural, interfaith coalition that lifted Washington to power in the 1980s to help muscle through a new era of economic development on the West Side, particularly along major economic arterials such as Madison Street and Chicago Avenue. 

"I believe that arterial retail districts are reflections of the vibrancy, the life…the full expression of health, in a community," he said. "Where those are missing, something is wrong."

Email: michael@austinweeklynews.com Twitter: AustinWeeklyChi

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Reader Comments

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windy from chicago  

Posted: January 27th, 2015 6:22 AM

This man like the Mayor thinks we're still stuck on stupid. Last week the West Side Branch of the NAACP held a forum he didn't have enough respect for us to show up but he wants our vote. Some of us don't listen to preachers, nor do we listen to politican we don't vote based on party line's we don't have a slave mentality any more. If you think you can just talk to preachers and not answer to the masses your wrong we the people are in control of our minds and our vote.

Rudy from Chicago  

Posted: January 14th, 2015 7:26 PM

Renna, thanks for your great comments! :) Thirty-two years ago, Harold Washington "promised" an elected school board. "We" saw the "outcome" of that. :(

Renna from Chicago  

Posted: January 14th, 2015 4:39 PM

Our neighborhoods should have been addressed before this time. An elected school board should already be in place. These broken promises can't continue on the road it travels. I also have a problem when you run for office and you come to functions and depends on the area you stay long enough to get in the paper or on tv. I am tired of the normal spill and we should expect and get more than what we get. It's time for a change and a sincere candidate for the people.

Renna from Chicago  

Posted: January 14th, 2015 4:36 PM

While I hear what Garcia is saying I am convinced of his capabilities to do the job he clam he can do. All Candidates claim and make promises but as stated about Rahm he made promises to and they were not kept. If in fact the power you posses now was as great then we would not have 50 schools closed. Another concern is the West Side is only acknowledge as leverage for candidacy all the while during the office time the West Side is ignored.

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