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.”
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)