Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D)
Illinois 4th District
Just west of the Loop, the Chicago River splits into North and South Branches, both penetrating the heart of old neighborhoods where immigrants got their start. The South Branch is the guts of Chicago, the site of one of Western civilization’s astonishing engineering feats. In 1900, the course of the river was reversed so that sewage flowed downstate through a canal rather than out into Lake Michigan. Just blocks away was Maxwell Street, then thronged with market stalls and long the arrival point for Chicago-bound Jews. Not far away, in an Italian-American neighborhood on Halsted Street, was Jane Addams’s Hull House, the original settlement house, where social workers instructed new immigrants on adapting to American life. To the south were Pilsen, arrival neighborhood for the Bohemians (Czechs), and the Irish neighborhoods along Archer Avenue. To the north was Milwaukee Avenue, the main street of Polish-Americans and Ukrainian-Americans.
2008 Presidential Vote
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Today, many of these places are arrival neighborhoods again, mostly for Chicago’s wide variety of Hispanic immigrants. On the South Side, in the old river wards, is Chicago’s Mexican-American community, extending west into Pilsen and into the once Bohemian suburb of Cicero, famous as a haven for Al Capone’s mobsters in the 1920s. This is the largest community of Mexican-Americans in the nation outside California. On the gentrifying North Side are many Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics. In the 1990s, Chicago’s Hispanic population increased from 545,000 to 754,000, by far the largest Latino concentration north of Texas and Florida and between the two coasts and not all that many fewer than the 1.1 million African-Americans in Chicago. By 2005, the city population was almost 30% Hispanic. Spanish-language radio stations have become a local political force.
The 4th Congressional District of Illinois is a Hispanic-majority district created in 1992. With the South Side Mexican-American areas and the smaller North Side Puerto Rican communities separated by the West Side black ghetto, the solution was the creation of one of the most bizarrely shaped congressional districts in the country. Essentially these two Latino communities, defined by careful boundaries to maximize the Hispanic percentage, are connected by a thin line of territory stretching around the black-majority 7th District to meet at the Cook-DuPage County line. The district is sandwiched between the 5th District to the north and the 3d District to the south. It is shaped something like a pair of earmuffs. More than 95% of the votes are in Chicago or Cicero. The 2001 redistricting raised the Hispanic share of the district population to 74% (75% of these are Mexican; 10% are Puerto Rican). Even so, because many have not become citizens and some who have do not vote, Latinos may be only a bare majority of the electorate. The community has sought to increase turnout, which is about half that in nearby black-majority or suburban districts.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D)
Elected: 1992, 9th term.
Born: Dec. 10, 1953, Chicago .
Education: NE IL U., B.A. 1975.
Family: Married (Soraida); 2 children.
Elected office: Chicago city alderman, 1986–92, Pres. pro tem, 1989–92.
Professional Career: Teacher, Puerto Rico, 1977–78; Social wkr., Chicago Dept. of Children & Family Svcs., 1979–83; Advisor, Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, 1984–86.
The congressman from the 4th District is Luis Gutierrez, a Democrat and the first Hispanic member of Congress from Illinois. He has held the seat since its creation in 1992. Gutierrez (goo-tee-AIR-ez) is of Puerto Rican descent and grew up in Chicago. As a student at Northeastern Illinois University in the 1970s, he joined a protest of the lack of basic English classes for students from other countries, which ended up with the protesters taking over an administration building. Gutierrez returned for two years to Puerto Rico as a teacher after college. When he came back to Chicago, he worked as a cab driver and social worker. In 1983, he ran for 32nd Ward committeeman against U.S. Rep. Dan Rostenkowski and lost decisively. Then he became a staffer for Mayor Harold Washington, the city’s first black mayor. He ran for alderman in 1984 and lost. In 1986, he ran again and won in one of two new Hispanic-majority aldermanic seats. After Washington died, Gutierrez backed Richard M. Daley, the longtime Chicago mayor’s son, in the 1989 election to succeed Washington, which Daley won. In the 1992 primary, for the new House seat, rival Alderman Juan Solis called Gutierrez a machine candidate. Gutierrez won, 60%-40%. Since easily winning a rematch in 1994, Gutierrez has not had serious competition.
|Luis Gutierrez (D)||112,529||(81%)||($188,438)|
|Daniel Cunningham (R)||16,024||(11%)|
|Omar Lopez (Green)||11,053||(8%)|
|Luis Gutierrez (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (86%), 2004 (84%), 2002 (80%), 2000 (89%), 1998 (82%), 1996 (94%), 1994 (75%), 1992 (78%)
In the House, Gutierrez has staked out liberal positions, and his feisty, blunt style has produced mixed results. As a freshman, his outspoken opposition to congressional pay raises and his appearance on a 60 Minutes broadcast—in which he called the House “the belly of the beast” and charged that Democratic leaders had stifled reform and that some freshmen Democrats had “sold out”— was not well received. “I’ve gotten my rear end kicked around here,” Gutierrez told the Washington Post. The leadership responded by denying Gutierrez seats on choice committees, and he has stayed on the Financial Services Committee, though he’s moved up in seniority over the years. He chairs the Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit Subcommittee. In 2008, he said there was a “need to act immediately” to change the composition of the penny and the nickel because the price of the standard metals had soared. In May, the House passed a bill to change the penny.
One of his major efforts in recent years has been pushing changes in immigration policy. As a member of the Hispanic Caucus, Gutierrez chaired the immigration task force, where he pushed efforts to restore food-stamp eligibility and other benefits to legal immigrants. He sponsored other bills to grant automatic citizenship to immigrants in military combat and legal status to immigrants without documentation who were making major contributions in the United States. “I want to be a spokesperson for people that are new to this country,” he has said. In recent years, he has been a leader in the House in the push to create a path to citizenship and a guest-worker program for illegal immigrants. In 2005, he was the lead Democratic sponsor of the House version of an overhaul in immigration policy, which passed the Senate in 2006 but was stopped by House Republicans. In the 110th Congress (2007-08), the bill was revived with a provision to allow illegal immigrants who had been employed in the U.S. before June 1, 2006 to apply for “conditional non-immigrant status.”
His quick temper got the best of him during the immigration debate, when, after an appearance on an MSNBC broadcast, Gutierrez got into a shoving match with then Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, a conservative Republican who advocated tough enforcement and deportation of illegal immigrants. Gutierrez said afterward, “It wasn’t my best moment.” To pursue his interest in immigration reform, he joined the Judiciary Committee in 2007. He angered some of his allies on the issue when he discussed with Rep. Jeff Flake, an Arizona conservative, a plan to increase the number of “guest workers” and tighten border security. In 2008, he criticized Democratic leaders who were encouraging enforcement-only legislation.
Though he often plays the rebel, Gutierrez has been capable of making accommodations with the establishment. He brought together Chicago’s fractious Democratic politicians to maximize Latino influence. In 2005, Gutierrez said he would retire after seeking one final term in November 2006 and would explore a mayoral bid in February 2007. But after Democrats regained the House majority in 2006, Gutierrez decided against challenging Daley. He said he wanted to stay in Congress to complete his quest for a change in immigration policy.
In 2008, he was the subject of unflattering news coverage about real estate deals with local developers. The Chicago Tribune reported that starting in 2002, Gutierrez had made about $421,000 by investing in half a dozen real estate deals with campaign supporters and then exiting a short time later. Gutierrez told the newspaper that he had made a profit in five of those deals but lost a small amount of money on the sixth.