You Can’t Fire Outspoken Ex-Congressman Luis Gutierrez Anymore

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CHICAGO — After living in Puerto Rico for two years, retired U.S. Rep. Luis Guiterrez came roaring back to Chicago in April, embracing a non-elected role — outspoken grandpa.

He and his wife settled on a house in Norwood Park that he found on the internet with a “huge basement, back porch for the summer, a beautiful backyard and a big-ass garage.”

Before the electric lawnmower his wife bought him so he could cut his own grass got delivered, Guiterrez reintroduced himself to the Chicago political scene — loudly.

He called a news conference to give Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx a tongue lashing over the botched court proffer that suggested a 13-year-old Little Village boy Adam Toledo had a gun in his hand when a cop shot him to death.

He publicly demanded Chicago police union boss John Catanzara’s resignation for characterizing the shooting of Toledo as “actually heroic.”

Guiterrez traded barbs with outspoken Ald. Ray Lopez, who has publicly said the officer who shot the 7th grader used “amazing restraint.”

In the weeks leading up to his daughter’s due date (a baby boy is expected Saturday), Guiterrez has been taking meetings with Latino leaders and his old pals from Congress, U.S. Reps. Bobby Rush and Danny Davis.

On Tuesday, Guitierrez had a meeting with a collection of ward bosses and a couple state senators that included discussions about how to “reimagine and restructure” policing in Chicago, and organizing volunteers to launch what he hopes will become a national immigration advocacy group that makes navigating the path to citizenship less expensive.

He even invited Mayor Lori Lightfoot out for lunch.

After a two-year stint in Puerto Rico — where Guitierrez picked up and moved after abruptly retiring from Congress following the conclusion of an ethics investigation — his sudden reemergence on the Chicago political scene raised a fair question that a few folks reached out to ask: What is Luis really up to?

Could it be, he’s got his eye on a return to elected office? A seat on the City Council? A run for mayor? Governor, maybe? After all, before Guiterrez split for Puerto Rico there was talk he was planning a run for 2020 Presidential run.

When I caught up with Guiterrez this week, he explained his commitment to living in Chicago in rather curious way.

“My wife and I are very happy here, and we’re going to make it home for the rest of our lives. We went down the Secretary of State’s office. We got our new drivers licenses with our address and we registered to vote. Now, we’re qualified residents of the state of Illinois, again?” he said.

I asked him if he was slyly suggesting that he won’t have the same problem that Rahm Emanuel had proving residency for his run for mayor after moving back from Washington D.C.?

“Guess what? I own a home. I have drivers license. Every checking account. Every bank account. Everything has one address in Chicago, Illinois. It’s clear Chicago is my home. And next April, I’ll pay my income tax to the state of Illinois. I’m sure they’ll be glad to have me back he said.

Just as it seemed like Guiterrez was hinting at plans to submit nominating petitions some day, he said proving residency to an election board isn’t among his worries.

“But I’m not running for public office,” he said.

I pressed him. Really? You’ll never run for public office again?

“No. I have no desire. If retiring from public life is not running for public office, then I’m not engaged in public life. But I believe you can do one without the other,” Guiterrez said.

“There are people who engage on public eduction, on health care, on community policing and housing without ever running for public office. So, I’m going to continue to raise my voice. And guess what, [citizens] won’t have to pay me. They also can’t fire me, and I’m sure that’s to the chagrin of some.”

Guiterrez says he’s just a veteran politician casually assessing the fractured political landscape led by a rookie mayor and rookie governor who don’t get along.

“On Mayor Lightfoot, my judgement is still out. I don’t know enough about the nuances and idiosyncrasies of the decisions she has made, so far. … And there are people in the Latino community that are on both sides of the fence about her,” he said. “I don’t need to quickly arrive at judgement on Mayor Lightfoot. But I will tell you I would like to see her be successful.”

What about Gov. J.B. Prtizker? I asked.

“Pritzker to me. … I dunno, a bulb doesn’t light up, a brightness of things that he’s achieved. Maybe, there are things and ingornace because I’ve been gone for the last two years does not allow me to understand that,” he said. “At this point, I’m indifferent. I’m not against him. I’m not for him. … When I make my assessment, I’ll let you know.”

What Guiterrez says he’s focused on engaging with a younger generation of Latino politicians in Springfield and on the City Council that have becoming increasingly influential without ties to Democratic Machine — like the now-dispanded Hispanic Democratic Organization’s connection to former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration.

“In Chicago. [Ald.] Roberto Maldonado is 69. I’m 67. We represent one generation [of Latino politicians],” he said. “But I look at the Latino state senators, and they’re no longer HDO affiliates. There are young voices, and women’s voices, finally, from our community saying they’re present and not going to be quiet and silent and sit on the periferriy. That makes me very excited about the future.”

So, where does Guiterrez seeing himself fit in now that he’s back?

The former Congressman says he’s content with his plan to spend time with family and advocate for a bill that would give the people of Puerto Rico’s right to determine its relationship with the United States. Other than that, he’s keeping his options open.

“Hopefully, at some point, if someone would ask, “Would you consider being on the board of education? Would you consider be on the board for the Chicago Park District? … Would you consider being part of a group of people working on criminal justice reform? Or housing reform? I would absolutely do that work,” he said.

“I’m not looking for salary. I have a life. I have a federal pension from serving 26 years in Congress. The best thing about being 67 is that every Wednesday, social security sends you a check.”

If nobody wants his help, Guiterrez says he’s content to cuddle his new grandson, mow his lawn and say what he wants.


Mark Konkol, recipient of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting, wrote and produced the Peabody Award-winning series, “Time: The Kalief Browder Story.” He was a producer, writer and narrator for the “Chicagoland” docu-series on CNN, and a consulting producer on the Showtime documentary, “16 Shots.”

More from Mark Konkol:

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May 6, 2021 at 08:50PM

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