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Democratic Primary Fight In Chicago March 19th

March 15, 2002
Copyright © 2002
PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved. 

The atmosphere on the evening of March 5 at Roberto Clemente High School in Chicago was more like a rowdy boxing match than a serious political debate. It was a match-up between Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and challenger Marty Castro in this fiercely fought round in the battle for the Democratic nomination for Representative of the ethnically diverse, heavily Hispanic, working- class 4th Congressional District of Illinois.

Partisan crowds outside set the stage even before the only debate of the campaign began. Castro supporters were repeatedly shouting "Pay your taxes!", in reference to accusations that Gutierrez had paid some taxes on property in Chicago and Puerto Rico only after he was found delinquent, an accusation he denies. His supporters attempted to drown out the other partisans with a spirited mantra of "Gu-ti-er-rez!"

Inside the school, the discussion on property taxes, immigration, social services, homeland security, education, and the qualifications of the two candidates was often interrupted by shouts, hisses, and other vocal responses from the emotional audience. Their overactive participation and the fierceness of the combatants themselves have a crucial purpose. They all know that, in this heavily Democratic district, the winner of the primary battle will undoubtedly be the victor in the general election war.

Though there is a third candidate, Joseph Holowinski, of Polish origin, who ethnically represents the established community of immigrants from Eastern Europe in this mostly Chicago district, the major contenders in the March 19 primary election are Gutierrez and Castro.

Castro often expresses his pride in being the "son and grandson of Mexican immigrants." Gutierrez, though born in Chicago of Puerto Rican parents, spent some of his childhood and early adulthood in Puerto Rico.

Gutierrez’ involvement with Puerto Rico has become a major issue in the campaign. Castro accuses Gutierrez of paying more attention to the issues of the island that to the concerns of his constituents in Chicago. For example, he was arrested on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques last May for his participation in a demonstration against the US Navy’s continued use of that island for military exercises and he has interjected his opinion in many of the main issues of the island, including the perpetual topic of political status.

During the 1998 US House of Representative debates on the Young Bill, intended to provide Congressional definitions for the status options in a Puerto Rican plebiscite, Gutierrez spoke often and long against statehood and independence and in favor of the current commonwealth status. Though the Bill passed in the House of Representatives by a mere one vote, it was held up in the Senate and was never passed into law.

His support of commonwealth and many of the agenda items of Puerto Rico’s current governor, Sila Calderon, may have influenced her decision to campaign for Gutierrez in his home district last month. Her stated reason for involvement in politics on the mainland was to register more Puerto Rican voters and to encourage them to support candidates who might be useful to the island — an involvement away-from-home that has become controversial among many of her constituents in Puerto Rico.

The issue of residence and "the place you call home" is one which Gutierrez has raised against Castro. Although he was born and raised in Chicago, Castro has only recently moved from a more affluent neighborhood to the current one in which he is running for Congress. Gutierrez calls Castro a "newcomer to our community," and sites his move as an example of "dishonesty" in his campaign, says Castro will do anything to get elected and claims that he is trying to create ethnic divisions between Mexicans and Puerto Ricans.

Marty Castro, 38, is proud that he is the first in his Mexican immigrant family to finish high school, go on to DePaul University in Chicago and graduate from the University of Michigan Law School. After law school, he spent many years in the Chicago offices of Baker & McKenzie, a leading US law firm, where his responsibilities included heading up the firm’s minority recruiting effort and its summer internship program for minorities. He left the law firm in May, 2000, to become Vice-President for Global Alliances at, a legal-related internet company. As the "dot com" market began to disintegrate, he left to form a private law firm with three other attorneys — Castro, Gomez, Durbin & de Jesus.

Castro says, "the best use of my talents and my law degree are in public service," which he does as a member of the Board of Directors of DePaul University and the board of the Chicago Public Library, as well as being a staunch advocate for improvements in education.

Luis Gutierrez, 48, graduated from Northeastern Illinois University in 1975, taught school in Puerto Rico and Chicago and worked as a social worker in the Illinois State Department of Child and Family Services. In 1986, he was elected as an alderman on the Chicago City Council and, in 1992, he was elected to his first term in the US House of Representatives. He has been elected by large margins in every election since then.

Gutierrez has become an adamant defender of the rights of legal immigrants and is Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ Task Force on Immigration. He has pursued many issues in the Congress which affect his district, including mass transit, crime prevention and veterans’ health care. During the campaign, Gutierrez characterized himself as "somebody who fights for his constituents no mater how tough the battle."

The re-election battle he is fighting now is the toughest he has experienced since entering the Congress ten years ago. The jabs continue to be thrown by both competitors, some landing, some being deflected. The election ring is getting bloody and the partisan crowds continue to be boisterous, but no knockout is expected. The winner will be decided by the fight-night judges -- the Democratic voters of the 4th Congressional District of Illinois.

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