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Morning Shift

Watershed Moment For Latino Politics In Cook County

The race is on to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who may or may not be thinking of running for president in 2020. The open primary has attracted multiple contenders hoping to replace the veteran politician in a predominantly Latino 4th Congressional District, which includes parts of Chicago’s West Side and some suburbs. 

This race could shape up to be a watershed moment in Latino politics that could increase the community’s clout in the area, said Jaime Dominguez, a political science professor at Northwestern University. 

“What we’re basically seeing here is Latino politics in transition,” Dominguez said on Morning Shift. “The question is going to be who can actually mobilize voters.”

Here’s a rundown of the candidates seeking to replace Gutierrez in Congress, according to the Illinois Board of Elections

Democratic candidates

  • Sol Flores - Community activist, La Casa Norte executive director
  • Jesus “Chuy” Garcia - Cook County Board commissioner
  • Richard Gonzalez - Chicago police sergeant 
  • Raymond Lopez - Chicago alderman
  • Joe Moreno - Chicago alderman
  • Carlos Ramirez-Rosa - Chicago alderman
  • Neli Vazquez Rowland - Community activist, Safe Haven Foundation president

Republican candidates

  • Mark Wayne Lorch - Riverside resident
  • Ann Melicher - Chicago resident
  • Jay Reyes - Riverside resident 
  • Ruben Sanchez, Jr. - Chicago resident 

Dominguez said it will take a lot of work for the candidates to channel the energy of Gutierrez, who served in Congress for more than 20 years. 

“Congressman Gutierrez has been a real ardent, firebrand advocate on issues that matter not just to Latinos but to the country as a whole,” Dominguez said Tuesday on Morning Shift. 

Morning Shift host Tony Sarabia talked with Dominguez about the state of Latino politics in the Chicago region and what it might mean for voters in the upcoming 2018 election. Below are highlights from the conversation.

On the Latino community

Jaime Dominguez: As a community, it’s heterogeneous. It’s very diverse. And I think these individuals reflect that diversity. I think it’s important that we keep that perspective.

On the diversity of the Latino vote

Dominguez: There is this potential for this flare-up in terms of us versus them phenomenon, Mexicans versus Puerto Ricans. That was the situation in the 1980s as Latino politics was being ushered in as a new phenomenon. But now I would say this race actually has the opportunity to possibly bring those groups together. 

For example, Commissioner Garcia is a Mexican immigrant who is married to a Puerto Rican. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa — you have his mom who is Mexican and his dad was born in Puerto Rico. So on that front, that can kind of neutralize itself.

But really, the question’s going to become being able to bring legitimacy and credibility to issues that matter to the 4th Congressional District. The delivery of services: health, education, also immigration.

On mobilizing Latino voters

Dominguez: When Commissioner Garcia was running for the mayoral race in 2015, we saw people kind of expected that to happen because he was a Latino and he was going to get that Latino vote. But in fact we saw that Mayor Emanuel was able to shore up 30 percent of the Latino vote. 

I remember back then we — in conjunction with the Latino Policy Forum and Latino Decisions — we ran a survey of Latino voters and one thing that really surprised us, that I think is relevant today, is the extent to which Latino voters were not being mobilized and targeted. Close to over one-third of the people we polled said that a few weeks leading up to the election, they hadn’t even been contacted by either campaign. We were surprised that even the Garcia campaign did not show up. 

So I think going forward, the ability of these individuals given their associations or connections or partnerships with various organizations that could help with raising their visibility, getting people excited, that’s going to determine the extent to which how competitive they’re going to be at the end of the day, and whether or not they will be able to represent that district.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire conversation.

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