Gutierrez looks at congressional career, local political landscape
October 5, 2018

Courtesy Office of Rep. Luis Gutierrez
Mayor Julia Nazario of Loiza, Puerto Rico, and Congressman Gutierrez with food for residents after Hurricane Maria.

By Rick Romano

Long-time 4th District Congressman Luis Gutierrez, who is stepping down from his Capitol Hill post after 26 years, said he will continue serving the cause of immigrants in the U.S. while working to help Puerto Rico, his ancestral homeland.

Gutierrez, a Chicago-born son of Puerto Rican parents who emigrated to the U.S. in the 1950s, previously served seven years as the city’s 26th Ward Alderman. In Congress, Gutierrez has served on the Judiciary Committee, the Financial Services Committee, and as chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

He explained his career-changing decision as well as his future plans in a recent Gazette Chicago interview.

Why did you decide not to seek re-election?

“There were three factors in my decision,” Gutierrez said. “The first factor is that [Cook County Commissioner Jesus] Chuy Garcia would run. That doesn’t mean that he would win the seat, but I had a lot of confidence that if his name was put into nomination the people would vote for him. I thought it was a natural transition.

“I never believed that a person makes up a Congressional seat,” Gutierrez continued. “No one is irreplaceable. I had very high standards for the person who would replace me, so when he decided, I felt good because I knew that I was leaving the people of the 4th Congressional District in good hands—good, solid, safe hands.

“The second thing is that I feel a real sense of urgency in making sure that Donald Trump does not get re-elected, and I thought I could do a lot more in making sure that does not happen,” he added. “That is a very positive goal because it will be good for immigrants, it will be good for women, good for gay people, and it will be good for all Americans who believe in a system that is fair.

“So I will be spending a lot of time in Florida and Pennsylvania, and I will be focused,” Gutierrez asserted. “I will be working, not retiring—changing focus. I will be using Puerto Rico as my home base for at least eight months of the year. Traveling back and forth. Chicago will always be part of who I am.”

A third reason and new focus for his work, Gutierrez said, will include traveling with the National Partnership for New Americans, a multiethnic, multiracial partnership representing the country’s 37 largest refugee and immigrant rights organizations across 31 states.

It is work that focuses on “bringing democracy back to America,” he said.

Courtesy Office of Rep. Luis Gutierrez
Rep. Gutierrez at a rally in Washington in support of the DREAM Act, Oct. 5, 2017.

What will you be doing in Puerto Rico?

“I will work with environmentalists, those who are working to create clean, viable water and a new energy plan and with those building new housing to replace the thousands that were destroyed in the hurricane,” he said. “Also jobs. I want to connect the fight and everyday struggle for those who live on the island with the Puerto Ricans in the U.S. I want to say ‘I just came from the island, and this is what I saw, and here is what they are facing.’ ”

Gutierrez said he is preparing a video to use to help communicate his efforts.

Which of your actions makes you most proud?

“Changing the view of many Americans about immigrants and how important they are to our society,” Gutierrez said. “And how important it is to have an immigration system that is humane, that’s kind, that’s family oriented and keeps us all safe. I see 800,000 Dreamers and I helped that happen through my advocacy. I see Republicans and Independents and Democrats who know that we need an immigration system that helps people come to this country and not criminals. And that immigrants are bringing value to the cause.

“The 4th Congressional District office today is important because we do important immigration work,” Gutierrez continued. “You don’t need a lawyer in the 4th Congressional District if you want to be reunited with a family member. You want your brother or your mom reunited with you in America, we will take care of it for you. You want to apply for DACA, we have the expertise to get that done.

“But just so you know, 50,000 people have become citizens of the United States through our Congressional office over the past 26 years,” Gutierrez explained. “That means that as I leave, 50,000 are mostly registered to vote and participate in our electoral process, and I am proud of that legacy. The more people that vote, the stronger the democracy.”

Beyond immigration, what else are you proud of accomplishing?

“Am I proud that now you can go from downtown to Pilsen to the West Side to Cicero on public transit? Sure I am proud of that,” he said. “Am I proud that thousands of units of affordable housing have been built? Sure, I am proud of that.

“But let me put it to you this way: as a congressman, you’re a doctor,” he said. “In Congress, we’re all MDs. In this place, if you want to make a mark, you’ve got to specialize in something. What part are you going to work on? For me, it’s the immigration part. There was nobody specializing in immigration, and now there are many. I’m proud of that.”

What do you wish you had more time to do?

“More time to organize,” he said. “I wish I had more time to talk to people. But I knew it was time. I knew after 26 years it was time for somebody else to do the job.”

If Garcia succeeds you, what would be his major challenge?

“I don’t look at what his challenge is going to be relative to me,” Gutierrez said. “I think about all the wonderful things he would do. He will bring his own creativity, his own priorities. We were in the council together, he’s been a state senator, he’s a county commissioner, and he ran for mayor. He may be a freshman congressman, but he has profound knowledge of public policy and how you get things done.”

Did you support Garcia for mayor when he ran against Rahm Emanuel?

“I did not endorse him about running for mayor,” Garcia claimed. “When he decided to run for mayor, I was already committed to Rahm Emanuel. Too late; he entered the mayoral race late. There was a small hiccup. I’m excited that we are working together once again and campaigning together.”

What are your thoughts about your daughter, Jessica, running for 30th Ward Alderman?

“It really brings a great sense of joy that your daughter wants to follow you in public service,” he said. “It means she sees value and where she wants to commit her life. She is a change agent, a young aggressive change agent. I tell everyone my age not to be afraid of the millennials. We raised them. They have values and ideals. They are going to make this a better place for us. She is independent. She won’t be running on any mayoral ticket. She is running on her own.”

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Editor’s note: Rep. Luis Gutierrez in September had urged Jesus “Chuy” Garcia to run for mayor in 2019, but Garcia had not made a decision at press time. Multiple inquiries to the congressman’s local office to confirm and explain Gutierrez’s request to Garcia to run for mayor were not answered. Gutierrez’s national spokesperson said the  congressional endorsement for Garcia still stands.