Days after a poll showed that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel could have a tough fight on his hands in the 2015 re-election race, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez was announced as co-chairman of his campaign.
Gutierrez’s central role in Emanuel’s campaign comes as Latinos are seen as a particularly critical factor in the former Obama administration chief of staff’s effort to get another term as Chicago’s mayor.
But the move was also unusual for another reason – the two have long been at odds and have had a history of animosity. Gutierrez refused to support Emanuel in his first run for mayor.
Yet, the vocal Democrats seem now to be quite cozy after Emanuel has lost support among many African Americans because of the city’s high crime and his move to close more than 50 Chicago public schools, in each case affecting blacks and Latinos disproportionately.
A Chicago Sun-Times poll showed that if voters cast their ballot today for Chicago mayor, Emanuel would trail Chicago teacher's union president Karen Lewis, 36 percent to 45 percent.
Lewis, who has said she would decide in August whether she will enter the mayor’s race, vigorously fought Emanuel over teacher’s contracts in 2012, and has the fervent support of many teachers and parents for standing up to education issues.
Gutierrez, a vocal critic of the mayor, has said Emanuel played a key role in the Obama administration’s failure to move ahead on immigration reform.
Now, Gutierrez says Emanuel has, in effect, evolved on immigration and been beneficial to the city’s Latinos.
Gutierrez is the leading voice in Congress for comprehensive immigration reform, particularly for providing a path to legal status for certain undocumented immigrants who meet a strict set of criteria.
“Gutierrez is the single most popular Latino public official, his support is pretty substantial,” said University of Illinois professor and political strategist Dick Simpson, who also is a former Chicago alderman. “He supported Harold Washington when he was mayor, and after supported Richard Daley, which was important in Daley’s election.”
The Sun-Times poll found the teachers union head, who is African-American, carrying a slight majority of the black vote, 51 percent to Emanuel’s 33 percent. Hispanics also favored her, while Asian and white voters leaned toward Emanuel.
That was before Gutierrez’s new role in Emanuel’s campaign, of course.
The challenge, though, is that while Latinos are almost a third of the city’s population, they accounted for about 15 percent of registered voters in the last mayoral election, say published reports.
That is one reason that Gutierrez abandoned plans to run for mayor of Chicago several years ago.
“Rahm Emanuel blocked Obama from supporting immigration reform,” Simpson said. “It’s a very important issue. The city does not cooperate with immigration and neither does the county. People caught by police are not held extra time for immigration to deport them. So it’s an immigrant-friendly city. Any mayor who would reverse that would be in big trouble.”
The poll showed Emanuel doing somewhat better against other possible candidates.
Of course, it’s still too early to tell what voters will do between now the election next year.
Last time Emanuel ran, two Latinos also ran for mayor, getting many of the Latino leader endorsements and votes.
So far, no Latino has indicated interest in running.
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente