By Bob Skolnik
Less than a month after visiting Riverside for the first time since the congressional district maps were redrawn in 2013, Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-4th) has decided not to run for re-election.
The official announcement came Tuesday afternoon at a press conference in Chicago where Gutierrez endorsed Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia in the March Democratic primary.
Freshman Chicago Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, a younger progressive Democrat, also announced on his website that he would be gathering petition signatures to run for Gutierrez's seat.
Gutierrez will serve out his term, which ends in January 2019.
He said he is leaving Congress so he can devote more time to work for immigration reform and to help Puerto Rico, where Gutierrez's parents were born and where he spent his teenage years.
"I am going to leave Congress at the end of my present term in 2019, but I'm not retiring," Gutierrez said in a room packed with reporters and politicos at Maggiano's Restaurant in Chicago's River North neighborhood. "I'm not giving up the fight for equality for immigrants or Latinos, or women or fighting for LGBT rights or the whole range of progressive issues I've been fighting for over 25 years in Congress."
Gutierrez also said that he wanted to devote more time to helping Puerto Rico recover from the effects of Hurricane Maria.
Gutierrez, who will turn 64 in December, is the longest-serving member of Congress from Illinois and is in his 13th term as a member of the House of Representatives.
He was first elected to the House in 1992, when he was a Chicago alderman from the Humboldt Park area of Chicago. The 4th District was drawn to help elect a Hispanic member of Congress and is shaped like a C, with the largest portions of the district centered in the heavily Hispanic near northwest and southwest sides of Chicago.
Since 2013, the 4th District has also included most of Riverside, North Riverside, and almost all of Brookfield north of Southview Avenue.
The decision not to run for re-election came as a shock to most political observers, especially considering that on Nov. 27 Gutierrez filed to run for another term in Congress. On the same day, Garcia filed nominating petitions to run for re-election as a Cook County commissioner.
Gutierrez said he only decided not to run again after Garcia committed to running to succeed him.
"I want to make absolutely clear I'd be a candidate for re-election in the 4th Congressional District if Jesus Garcia had not agreed to run," Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez said he wants to tour the country with his wife to fight for immigration reform and that he wants to spend more time with his family.
"Life to me is like a novel; there's only a certain number of chapters," Gutierrez said. "And as I write the last chapter, I want to write it with [daughter] Jessica, and I want to write it with [his wife] Soraida."
Gutierrez said he was proud of voting against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Defense of Marriage Act as well as opposing the war in Iraq.
He is considered one of the fiercest advocates of immigrants and was one six Democratic House members who introduced articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump at the beginning of November.
Gutierrez and Garcia go back a long way. Both were early and important supporters of Harold Washington when he became the first black mayor of Chicago in 1983.
Garcia, 61, was born in Mexico and came to United States in 1965. He is a longtime resident of the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago.
"My parents gave me a great gift," Garcia said. "They plopped me right down in the middle of a teeming, bustling immigrant community in the heart of an immigrant city that has opened its arms to Poles, Jews, Mexicans, Irish, Lithuanians, and others from every corner of the world. I am proud to be the lived immigrant experience."
He has served on the Cook County Board since 2010 and was a state senator for six years. He ran for Chicago mayor in 2015, forcing a runoff with Rahm Emanuel. He was a Bernie Sanders supporter in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary.
"In the spirit of the revolution created by the Bernie Sanders campaign, I'm ready to take the next step along the journey and proud to be part of the new revolution that is sweeping the nation creating a more just democracy for all Americans," Garcia said.
Last month, Gutierrez made his first appearance in Riverside at a town hall at Riverside-Brookfield High School, where he fielded questions from high school students and constituents and touched on issues such as the federal response in Puerto Rico to Hurricane Maria, immigration, health care and gun control.