The Coalition of Chicago is Back!

Showing Chicago a whole different concept of governing, and an appreciation for the people of our city, Chuy Garcia came to Logan Square on March 12th and received a enthusiastic welcome from the several hundred people who turned out to greet him and support his campaign for Mayor.

Garcia—differentiating himself from Mayor 1%, Rahm Emanuel, who not only won’t meet with the public, but who won’t even speak to reporters unless he “owns” them—seemed genuinely honored to get such a warm welcome. As he said when he stepped up to the microphone, “The coalition of Chicago is back!”

The Logan Square Auditorium, on Kedzie just south of Logan Blvd on the city’s northwest side, is a beautiful venue that can hold somewhere around 700 people. This reporter arrived a little before the announced time of 6:00 pm for the rally, but there weren’t many people present. Before long, however, people started filtering in. Friends met friends, people introduced and were introduced to each other, and the room started filling up. A woman passed around homemade signs—she gave me one that had “LS heart moustache,” with the last two drawn out: “Logan Square loves Chuy Garcia”—and passed many more out to the crowd. More and more people entered the room; before long it was packed. People stood around talking—there were no chairs available.

The crowd was very diverse: primarily Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and whites, a mixture that represents the population of the area—not many African Americans in this part of town. People of all ages were there, men and women, and by looking around you could see working class people as well as professionals and retirees in the crowd.

Finally, about 7:15, Chuy arrived, giving interviews to the media on the balcony above the crowd. As soon as he was recognized, the sing-song chanting began: “Chuy, Chuy, Chuy.” (It sounds like Chu-ie.”) His face lit up and he turned and waved to the crowd.

He and a phalanx of local politicians proceeded to the stage. The MC, whose name I didn’t get, but was Latino, had to start off by introducing Alderman Scott Waguespack of the 32nd Ward: “why couldn’t his name be Gonzales or Morales, something easier to pronounce?” he asked plaintively, but jokingly. Then Carlos Rosa—Alderman-elect from the “Fighting 35th” Ward—spoke, as did a number of others, including Millie Santiago, who is in a run-off for Alderman in the 31st Ward, and Gilbert Villegas in a similar situation in the 36th Ward. Both Santiago and Villegas endorsed Chuy. City Clerk David Orr spoke, and talked positively about knowing Garcia for something like 35 years, as did Cook Country Commissioner Luis Arroyo, Jr., and Illinois State Senator Willie Delgado.

Then it was Chuy’s turn. The place went wild! Kids were waving Chuy signs from parent’s shoulders. Lot of chanting, smiles, signs being waved: the support was there; it was genuine.

As said before, he got to the microphone, looked at the diverse crowd and said, “The coalition of Chicago is back!” He recognized different groups, including the LGBT community, veterans, working people in general. He seemed to be very comfortable, at home, with this crowd.

He went on to give a speech, but took time to thank the people in the room for attending, as well as the politicians who were supporting him. He went out of his way to specifically endorse Santiago and Villegas in their respective run-offs.

He continued, hitting a number of key issues. He spoke about education: “We want good schools in every neighborhood!” He noted the cross-racial, cross-ethnic crowd: “This is what democracy looks like!” He wants to reclaim Chicago for the neighborhoods. He does not want to spend taxpayers’ money for the rich and powerful. He wants to build up the neighborhoods, making Chicago a good place for all of its people. He spoke about “reclaiming your city” and “accountability.”

He did something that was interesting. Despite only a few African Americans being present, he specifically honored Karen Lewis, the President of the Chicago Teachers Union, who is African American. He referred very positively to the Civil Rights Movement, and he quoted the black icon, Fanny Lou Hamer from Mississippi, who once said she was “Sick and tired of being sick and tired”—and then, he asked the audience if they were sick and tired of being sick and tired: and the crowd roared back in appreciation, recognizing the dig at Mayor 1%, Rahm Emanuel. And he spoke fondly of Mayor Harold Washington, of which Garcia was a strong supporter during the late mayor’s time in office, and the progressive movement he engendered.

Garcia also made sure that people understood he would not be just a Latino mayor: “I want to be the mayor of all the people in Chicago, a mayor who just happens to be Latino.”

Garcia asked the crowd for their support: “I want to be mayor real bad—will you vote for me?” He asked people to get their friends, their families and get out and vote early.

This was clearly a campaign rally: it wasn’t an in-depth discussion of positions and policies. People were clearly excited about his candidacy—and it is a positive one, not just an anti-Rahm one. (Although there were numerous “boos” at the mention of the mayor’s name, as well as Governor Bruce Rauner’s.) A lot of people stood on their feet for an hour and a half, at least; and some, longer than that, just to hear him speak, to be in the room.

As we left the auditorium, people were conversing with each other. One man said to me, “I think we’re going to win this,” noting that a growing number of black politicians are swinging Chuy’s way. “That’s important.” Another pointed out, “The big thing is to get people to believe we can do it. I think we’ve over that hump with the run-off. Now if we can get people out to vote!” Others commented on Rahm’s TV commercials, and they clearly weren’t going over well. One woman told me, “Rahm’s complaining that Chuy can’t handle the finances of the city—but what I want to know, is why has he (referring to Rahm) done so poorly?”

We’ll have to see what happens in other parts of the city, but from what this reporter saw and heard tonight and over the past several weeks, there’s a movement building to elect Chuy Garcia mayor—and it looks like it will not only get the job done, but will make sure he keeps moving forward after the election.

Kim Scipes is the Chair of the Chicago Chapter of the National Writers Union, UAW #1981.

Kim Scipes is a long-time political activist and trade unionist.  He teaches sociology at Purdue University Northwest in Westville, Indiana.  His latest book is an edited collection titled Building Global Labor Solidarity in a Time of Accelerating Globalization.  (Chicago:  Haymarket Books, 2016.)