The Gloves Are Off In The Chicago Mayor’s Race

By Steve Huntley | January 22, 2023

You’re known by the company you keep.

That time-honored adage is coming back to haunt mayoral candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

His name has popped up in the ComEd corruption mega-scandal. And it’s got everyone wondering how that will impact the crowded Chicago mayoral contest with incumbent Lori Lightfoot battling eight challengers. Garcia often is called the candidate with the best chance to unseat her.

The West Side congressman was mentioned by then Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan in a 2019 recorded conversation about Madigan’s efforts to secure a high profile appointment on the ComEd board of directors. The appointee was former McPier CEO Juan Ochoa, “one of Garcia’s political associates,” as the Tribune put it in breaking this story.

The ComEd investigation by federal prosecutors centers on alleged scheming to get Madigan associates jobs and contracts so the Democrat power broker would back legislation favoring ComEd.

Garcia’s campaign was quick to label the disclosure of Garcia’s name as much-to-do about not much since, according to all accounts, the mentioning of his name was about all there was to it. As related in a subsequent Sun-Times story, Madigan said in the recorded conversation that Ochoa brought up Garcia’s name in a message seeking a meeting, but Garcia, when asked about that, told Madigan he didn’t know anything about it.

According to the reporting, Garcia doesn’t seem to have been involved in the influence peddling going on in the ComEd board appointment and, his campaign says, he hasn’t been questioned by feds about anything in the ComEd case.

Even so, the brush with perhaps the biggest corruption scandal in the state’s history is not something any candidate wants on the record. And it only serves to remind voters of Garcia’s inconvenient and long history with clout-heavy Democrat boss Madigan. Not a connection to be desired these days.

And it comes in the wake of another inconvenient disclosure.

Garcia got a boost for his congressional reelection drive last year through a $150,000 mailing campaign paid for by a PAC associated with none other than the disgraced crypto-currency crook Sam Bankman-Fried.

Garcia had no opponent.

Garcia says he doesn’t know and hasn’t spoken to Bankman-Fried, has no control over independent PAC spending, and returned the only direct contribution, amounting to $2,900, his campaign got from the crypto kingpin and big-time Democrat donor.

All that may be so. Still, splattered mud has a way of sticking. Witness Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s humorous campaign commercial with a cartoon of Garcia dancing with Madigan and Bankman-Fried.

Guilt by association is an ugly thing. Never forget that politics in this hyper-partisan era is like an NFL game without referees. And that is on a good day.

Garcia has been widely described as the frontrunner in the pack of nine candidates, with the field to be winnowed down to two in the Feb. 28 primary election and the issue decided in a runoff April 4.

Does the ComEd disclosure change that? If so, who benefits?

Well, according to a poll released the same day that the Tribune broke the story about the Madigan phone conversation, Garcia has already lost his frontrunner status to former Chicago schools chief Paul Vallas.

The poll from the political consulting firm M3 and Fox 32 showed Paul Vallas for the first time leading the race with 26 percent, Cg. Garcia at 19 percent, Chicago Teachers Union staffer Brandon Johnson with 12.2 percent and Mayor Lightfoot falling to fourth place with just 9.8 percent.

With the election up for grabs, what will be the deciding issue for voters?

As John Kass put it in a column a couple of weeks ago:

“If you know anything about Chicago, you know there are four critically important issues:

“Crime, crime, crime, and crime.”

Lightfoot’s record is one of rising crime and hostility to rank-and-file police.

CWB Chicago reports that major crime reports were up 41 percent last year while police staffing had fallen in 21 of the 22 police districts since Lightfoot took office in 2019.

In the face of those numbers, the mayor asserts her public safety plan is working but “you wouldn’t know it by watching the news or listening to the haters.” That tracks with the left-wing Democrat nonsense in the fall off-year election campaigns that rising crime in America is matter of perception and exaggerated by Republicans.

Yet, in the last mayoral debate, Lightfoot did have to admit that “people in the city don’t feel safe.”

No kidding.

Just to take one of the more affluent neighborhoods of Chicago, folks in Lincoln Park see plenty of reason to feel unsafe.

They’d like to be able to walk their dogs without fear of armed robbery, as happened to one woman at midday recently. They’d like to know their mail carrier won’t face a stickup thug with a gun in broad daylight, as occurred a week ago. They’d like to be secure in their condos, apartments and houses without fear of home invasion as happened to one couple on a terrifying night at the end of 2022.

All over the city, it’s the same story — Chicagoans don’t feel safe for a reason.

Another example, CWB reports carjackings across the city are surging, with 70 reported in the first nine days of the year, compared to 50 during that same period in 2021, which ended up being a record-high year for carjackings.

Lightfoot’s foes are seizing on that sorry record to attack her and promote their own public safety plans, with varying degrees of success.

Garcia is a progressive and had to acknowledge that voters might be “surprised” to find a former community activist advocating for hiring more police officers. Right. Chicagoans have good reason to be suspicious given the role of America’s progressive movement in attacking police budgets and smearing cops as racists.

The teachers union candidate, Brandon Johnson, is busy defending, not very effectively, his advocacy, as a Cook County commissioner, for a resolution to “redirect money from the failed and racist system of policing.” He’s all in on the defund the police movement.

Let’s give a tip of the hat to one tough-on crime position taken by millionaire businessman Willie Wilson in the last debate. When a crime suspect flees, a “police officer should be able to chase them down and hunt them down like a rabbit,” Wilson said. A son of his was killed in gun violence. But Wilson, despite pouring more than $4 million into his campaign, is at only 8.5 percent in the M3/Fox32 poll.

It’s Vallas who has made fighting crime and ending the war on cops the centerpiece of his campaign and done it effectively.

He proposes hiring 2,300 police, getting cops back on the beat and at CTA platforms and riding CTA trains, beefing up the detective ranks, using helicopters and drones against carjackings, ending what is in effect, a no-chase against fleeing criminals, and, critically supporting and treating cops like the vital members of our society that they are.

Giving him credibility on the crime issue is his record of dedication and achievement when running Chicago schools and his family background — one son is a police officer, another a firefighter and his wife a former cop.

But with him now at the top of the polls, Vallas will be target No. 1 as the other candidates turn their advertising guns on him.

And with 20 percent of the poll respondents undecided and with so many candidates, some with a lot of money, the race remains fluid.

Anything can happen in Chicago politics, and often does.


(Copyright 2023 John Kass)

Comments 30

    1. Great column Steve! Hold the line til John gets back and hopefully soon! You make many valid points about why Garcia should be disqualified as a mayoral candidate. Unfortunately none of these mean anything in a city like Chicago that is steeped in racial and identity politics. The only thing that matters in Chicago is what race and what tribe you identify with. If any of the people running were to be judged by any valid qualifications half would be already dismissed. Whoever takes the worst mayor in the country to a runoff is certifiably the next mayor. Lightfoot is THAT odious. She has no political organization. She has also succeeded in alienating the typical party hacks in city hall who would back any incumbent for favors to be gained. If Vallas gets her to a runoff you will witness racism on scale not seen since Bernard Epton ran on his “..before it’s too late” platform. Columnist Laura Washington has already stated ” this is OUR seat to lose” in preparation for a possible victory by a non black person getting Lightfoot to a runoff. If you don’t think this is a racist statement apply it to a white candidate using it. Chicago is all about racial and identity politics. I’m hoping Vallas can take her to the deep water to drown but I wouldn’t bet on it. If the election goes to a runoff the black vote will ALL go to Lightfoot even though they have suffered the most under her incompetence. God bless all who remain and are hoping for a sane outcome to this election. As the saying goes about Chicago, “…those that can leave DO. Those that can’t PRAY.” Will the last one out, please turn off the lights?

    2. Good morning John. Have been praying for a quick recovery, take good care, the Lord answered our prayers. I am so sad to say that we have so complacent we have allowed our Country to fall to thugs, and thieves, and crooked Politicians. I have been saying to all that will listen, that Biden was a plan, and I told everyone that they will destroy him so Kamala Harris that empty headed person will take over. This Country is done, we are about to become a Third World Country, Obama said he would do that and he is doing just that. Look who is going to replace Ron Klein. Obama’s chosen, has made 90 million as far as we know, and probably more and he will tell Biden what to do. I guess I cannot believe how stupid people are. Don’t they read, don’t they think for themselves, don’t the care about this once Great Country. Al Gore and Fauci have made Millions, Fauci has stock in Pfizer by telling lies to the Country. Obamas friends are still in charge. My daughter has lived in Chicago for over 30 years, and she is still getting a Voter ID from Chicago. She can Vote twice if she wanted to which is so ridiculous. We need honest, Christian men to run for office all over America and try to save it. I am not worried, I know Christ will come some day and we that trust and love him and believe in him will be saved. Stay healthy John we need you. Blessings

      1. Why men? Because a woman’s place is in the home? Christian Nationalism is the greatest threat to this country, the endless culture wars and liars who wear crosses when they speak in public, as if the jewelry hides the lies. Honesty is not exclusive to any one faith.

  1. Wonderful to see your byline back so soon John! Hopefully, the rest of this year can allow you to focus on family, improving health and plenty more of your excellent writing!

  2. John, hope your recuperation is as quick as your wit and wisdom! I pray for that and also that these are the last weeks in office of the worst mayor in the history of Chicago!🙏

  3. Our criminal justice system system is “failed, racist”, and corrupt. If Ed Burke is your lawyer, he can roll up in his Caddy and get your charges dropped while a poor kid who doesn’t know anyone gets hammered for the same thing. If you are the Duffs, you get minority contracts, same for Sam Sianis, your buddy, whose wife got the concession at Midway because he’s “underrepresented”, or “supprressed”.

    We need transparency, and we also need the people to not be so lazy. Chuy’s past associations and corruption will damage him, but he should be through. He will still be in the mix though as his tribe of LatinX, gangbangers, city workers, and woke “activists” will back him anyway.

    That’s what’s so disgusting. The voters tend not to vote in the best interests of the nation, state, or city, but by tribe, feeling, or their own narrow self interests. Looking at the field, there’s no way Paul Vallas doesn’t deserve a chance. He should have been governor years ago, we’d likely be on a better financial footing now. Or do you think Madigan would have buried him? I wonder.

    Had Dick Mell not been able to foist Blago on us, how would Madigan have dealt with Paul V?

    How would your life had been different had you taken the perks offered by the Daley machine and become a loyal stenographer like so many of your colleagues at the “paper” did?

    You stayed independent, and Ive got to hand it to you. A hired truck contract, a no work CPS job for your wife and son, maybe some pension money for your other kid to invest. You’d be sitting pretty in the Gold Coast with private security, and a Michigan and Florida compound too.

  4. So good to hear from your younger brother & Carlin yesterday to say how well you’re getting along. A long slow recovery, but Betty will be right there for you. Have followed you always while at the Trib & since you started your Podcast. We’re all rooting for you!

  5. Good work again John. I am glad you are continuing to do well and recovering. I hope that the people of Chicago can see thru the El Torro Caca and elect someone who will help make this city safe again. People don’t care to go into the city anymore.
    Take care and continue to get well, and just be you!

  6. Great take on the mayoral race, Steve. It will be interesting at the very least, seeing what Lori comes up with to attack Paul Vallas.

    Wake up, Chicago. Vote for the candidate who will address the cities numerous issues, starting with rampant crime.

    Get well, John Kass!

  7. Welcome back John ! Take rehab a day at a time.

    Funny how we look at the Chuy thing as a guilt by association…has that ever really made a difference in Chicago, in Illinois ? As I’ve stated previously, Vallas is the obvious choice, for police, for schools, hell for hope. That is why he WONT win.

    As for Chuy, he’s supposedly backed with Pritzker money. THAT is more damning than a passing Madigan conversation and enough if I was a Chicago voter to say, uh no.

  8. Yeah, but PLEEEEASE Mr. John Kass – this is Chicago. Do you really think some squeaky clean Billy Sunday, Moody Bible Institute, LDS Church of Latter Day Sissy who’s never had a beer, never kissed any woman that wasn’t his wife, never done some effective fund raising from some sketchy sourses like the Cripto Currency J Ponzi scheme guy is every going to get elected Mayor, County Board Chairman, Sheriff and get anything done.


    As one old time Chicago pol said “This City aint’ ready for reform”.

    You fled to Indiana. I’m left behind in Hyde Park SS Chicago. I want some tough guy like Phily Police chief turned mayor Frank Rizo or yeah, Vladimir Putin, Napoleon. Julius Caeser. These tough guys knew how to play the game, get down and dirty and ensure clean streets law and order.


  9. The issues may be crime, crime, crime, crime, but in Chicago the race is always about money, power and control (which are almost fungible terms in politics.)

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