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Gutierrez Unites, Strengthens Latino Vote


March 29, 2002
Copyright © 2002
CHICAGO SUN-TIMES. All Rights Reserved.

The 2002 Illinois primary was one for the record books in the political history of Latinos. Never before had so many Latinos been on the ballot. Never before had so many Latinos voted in a primary election. Never before had so many Latinos won. The results bode well for the remainder of this decade, in which Latinos will try to win every office in all Latino supermajority districts, at every level of government.

A politically united Latino community is the main reason for this unprecedented success, and the catalyst for this unity is U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who has worked diligently to join regular and independent Latino Democrats behind a common agenda.

The strategy is rooted in the principles of political accommodation, strategic collaboration and mutual empowerment. Gutierrez has demonstrated an extraordinary astuteness, maturity and sophistication in its implementation. By getting all sides to abandon the destructive politics of "all or nothing," Gutierrez has advanced a philosophy in which everyone wins something and no one loses everything. Everyone likes to win, and with Gutierrez, everybody does.

By engaging both regular and independent organizations around a balanced slate that is fair and acceptable to everyone, Gutierrez has created a powerful rising tide that politically is raising all the boats in a relatively calm and cooperative manner. The absence of political turbulence between the two wings has impressed even the most cynical observers and pundits, dispelled misperceptions of the Latino community and stunned political novices mounting costly and frivolous campaigns.

Gutierrez has mainstreamed Latino politics in Chicago. Latino leaders have learned that working together beats the hell out of the old days, when regular and independent Latino Democrats thought politics was really a pie-in-the-face contest.

Latino politicos from both wings now caucus to reach consensus on mutually acceptable candidates, thereby conserving their money and their troops for really important battles, like whom to support for governor and senator. The two wings have agreed to disagree when necessary, and only then do they run against each other.

Recent examples are when the regulars in the 31st Ward wanted to re-elect state Rep. Edgar Lopez, and the independent 26th wanted Cynthia Soto. They fought it out, and Soto won. The same thing happened when the independents in the 22nd Ward wanted to re-elect state Rep. Soñia Silva, and the regular 25th wanted Susana Mendoza. They fought it out, and Mendoza won.

The success of this Gutierrez-engineered strategy is evidenced by how the path was cleared for Iris Martinez and Martin Sandoval in the 20th and 12th state Senate districts, respectively. Both won with solid support from both regular and independent Latino Democrats. While Sandoval was unopposed, Martinez prevailed over a formidable non-Latino opponent in a district in which Latinos comprise only 43 percent of the registered voters. Had Gutierrez not united the two wings, a viable second Latino would have entered the race, virtually ensuring defeat for both Latino candidates.

Similarly, Mendoza and Soto were both overwhelmingly renominated in the 1st and 4th state House districts, respectively, also with support from both wings. Martinez and Sandoval will double the number of Latinos in the state Senate, and Martinez will become the first Latina elected to that body.

Other Latino candidates certain to be elected in the November general election under this winning strategy include 1st District state Sen. Antonio Muñoz, 2nd District state Sen. Miguel del Valle, and 2nd District state Rep. Edward Acevedo. All three ran unopposed in the primary. By comparison, 3rd District state Rep. William Delgado, who opted to go it alone, survived with a very narrow 24-vote margin.

Newcomer Maria Antonia Berrios ran unopposed on the Gutierrez slate and will win in November, representing the 39th House District on the North Side. A Latino will also be elected to represent the newly created 24th House District in Cicero, where Democrat Elizabeth Hernandez and Republican Frank Aguilar will face off in the general election. And in Rockford, Gloria Cardenas Cudia won the Republican nomination in the 67th House District and is favored to win, and Linda Chapa-LaVilla won the Democratic nomination in the 83rd representative district.

Gutierrez's rising tide also is raising boats in the suburbs and collar counties, the new frontier of Latino politics in Illinois.

The Latino community and political leaders rewarded Gutierrez in the primary, giving him astounding margins of victory in all Latino supermajority districts at every level of government. Gutierrez has mastered the art of consolidating political power by sharing power, building effective electoral coalitions, and bringing the community and its leaders together to speak with one voice. That is what has made him the indisputable leader of Latino politics in Chicago and a true force to be reckoned with in local and statewide elections.

Juan Andrade is president of the U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute, a national organization based in Chicago. E-mail:

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