Three Democratic candidates running to replace retiring Congressman Luis Gutierrez in the 4th Congressional District offered little difference on the issues, but offered different styles during a candidate forum on Feb. 15 in Riverside.

After longtime Congressman Luis Gutierrez’s last-minute decision late last year to not run for a 14th term in office, seven candidates filed to run for the March 20 primary. 

However, four candidates have since pulled out, leaving Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, nonprofit executive Sol Flores, and Chicago police sergeant Richard Gonzalez vying to face Republican Mark Lorch, of Riverside, in November general election.

A January poll, commissioned by the Garcia campaign, shows that Garcia has huge advantage in name recognition and is dominating the race. 

According to the poll by the Washington D.C.-based Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group, 93 percent of voters in the district knew of Garcia, who ran for mayor of Chicago in 2015. Fifty-nine percent of voters contacted said they supported Garcia in the primary while only 6 percent said they backed Flores. Nineteen percent of voters said they were undecided.

The forum, held in the Riverside Township Hall auditorium, was hosted by Indivisible West Suburban Action League, Indivisible Berwyn and Indivisible Brookfield.

Flores, who founded and serves as the executive director of La Casa Norte, a community-based non-profit based in the Humboldt Park that fights homelessness, spoke with energy and passion Thursday.

A first-time candidate, the 44-year-old Flores said she offers a new generation of leadership and took advantage of being the only woman in the race. 

“We need to be using 50 percent of this country’s talent in our Congress,” Flores said. “It is a shame and disgrace that only 19 percent of Congress is made up of women.”

Flores stressed her record leading La Casa Norte, which she founded in 2002 and which will soon open an $18.5 development which will include 25 units of housing for the homeless on the near Northwest Side of Chicago

“I have a proven track record of getting stuff done and I’ve done it with grit and tenacity,” Flores said.

All the candidates pledged to hold regular town meetings and said they would visit the Riverside and Brookfield areas of the district, something that Gutierrez did just once, holding a town meeting at Riverside-Brookfield High School last fall.

The U-shaped 4th District is about 70 percent Hispanic, drawing from heavily Hispanic the Northwest and Southwest sides of Chicago.

Gonzalez, who ran unsuccessfully for alderman in Chicago’s 41st ward in 2011, noted that he was the only candidate who was planning on challenging Gutierrez. He criticized Gutierrez for not paying enough attention to local concerns. 

“I am the only candidate here that was willing to challenge the incumbent,” Gonzalez said. 

Garcia, who was a prominent supporter of Bernie Sanders in the 2016 U.S. presidential primaries and has been endorsed by Sanders made sure to mention the Vermont senator a few times.

“I want to advance the Bernie Sanders agenda,” said Garcia noting that income inequality was the issue of the day.

Garcia and Flores supported a $15 an hour minimum wage, while Gonzalez said he supported the $15 an hour minimum wage for large companies and that small businesses should be given some flexibility. 

“I think we should determine which companies can afford to pay that and which cannot,” Gonzalez said.

Flores said that a $15 an hour minimum wage should be federal law.

“We can no longer create these islands where you have different municipalities a block away from each other where there is one minimum wage in one municipality and a different one in another,” Flores said.

In the wake of the recent killing of Chicago police Commander Paul Bauer and another mass shooting at a Florida high school all three candidates said they supported stronger gun control laws. But Gonzalez also said that criminals are not likely to obey gun laws and must be kept off the street. 

“While we need to bring out more gun control, we need more police officers, folks. We need people out there to enforce the law,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez noted that the man charged with killing Bauer had been convicted and imprisoned for multiple felonies, and he wondered why the man was still on the street.

“My friend Paul would be here today if that person would have been locked up, a four-time felon,” Gonzalez said.

Flores said that even gangbangers deserved second chances and support, and she criticized what she called the school-to-prison pipeline.

All three candidates harshly criticized President Donald Trump’s idea of building a wall along the Mexican border to stem illegal immigration.

“It is a waste of money,” Garcia said. “It is an insult to the American people. It would take us backwards.”

Garcia, 61, stressed his experience as someone with a long record of involvement in independent, progressive politics. 

A longtime resident of the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago, Garcia was a supporter of Harold Washington, who in 1983 was elected the first black mayor of Chicago. Garcia was a Chicago alderman and was elected in 1992 as Illinois’s first Mexican-American state senator.

“No one on this stage has been doing it longer, doing community organizing, advocacy, policy development, than I,” Garcia said.

Garcia vowed that, if elected, he would serve the suburban portion of the district as well as the Chicago portion of the district.

Flores said that she spent an evening in Riverside gathering petition signatures to get on the ballot. 

“I understand what it means to not be fairly represented, and my job will be to be here and to listen to you and, most importantly, to serve you with grace, dignity, and respect,” Flores said.

Local progressives endorse Newman in 3rd District

Three area Indivisible groups endorsed Marie Newman for Congress last week over incumbent Democrat Dan Lipinski in the 3rd Congressional District primary race. 

Newman, a former advertising executive from LaGrange, has argued that Lipinski is too conservative for Democratic voters in the 3rd District.

Indivisible was formed by former Democratic staffers in the aftermath of the 2016 elections and local groups have sprouted up in this area in the past year. The 3rd Congressional District stretches from the Bridgeport neighborhood in Chicago to Lockport and includes the southern portion of Brookfield.

On the morning of Feb. 13 representatives from Indivisible Brookfield, Indivisible LaGrange and Indivisible Western Springs Area endorsed Newman at a small gathering at the Cafecito Bakery in LaGrange.

"Marie Newman is a progressive hero," said Mitzi Norton of Indivisible Brookfield. "We have already seen her create a nationwide movement to stop bullying in schools, as well as her state and nationwide advocacy for cancer research and common-sense gun safety laws."

Newman said that voters are fed up with "the Lipinski monarchy" referring to Dan Lipinski succeeding his father, Bill Lipinski, as congressman.

"My movement started with folks in living rooms talking about issues," Newman said. "And all of the issues that all of these folks have been talking about have been the issues of the district for 13 years. 

"For 13 years they've been completely unattended to. Working families have no help from our congressman."

Newman and Lipinski will meet in a debate on Feb. 22 at Moraine Valley Community College, 9000 College Parkway in Palos Hills. The debate will be held in Building M, Moraine Room #2 and will begin at 7 p.m.

Bob Skolnik