In February 2019, Cook County Commissioner Jesús “Chuy” García announced his candidacy for mayor of Chicago. García, who has a long history of progressive activism and politics, had been a popular candidate in the 2015 mayoral race, where he challenged incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a runoff election. Many progressives saw García’s candidacy as a chance to unseat the unpopular Emanuel and usher in a new era of progressive politics in Chicago.
However, in his 2019 campaign for mayor, García did not run as a progressive. Instead, he positioned himself as a centrist candidate who would work to bring Chicagoans together and address the city’s problems through practical, pragmatic solutions. This strategy was a departure from García’s previous campaigns, where he had proudly and openly embraced the progressive label.
There are several reasons why García may have chosen to distance himself from the progressive label in his 2019 mayoral bid. One possible explanation is that he was trying to appeal to a broader base of voters, including more moderate and conservative voters who might be turned off by the progressive label. Another possible explanation is that García was trying to distance himself from the more radical elements of the progressive movement, which have become increasingly vocal and visible in recent years.
Regardless of García’s reasons for avoiding the progressive label, his campaign was notable for its lack of bold, progressive policy proposals. Instead, García focused on issues like public safety, education, and economic development, promising to work with all stakeholders to find practical solutions to these problems. While there is certainly nothing wrong with taking a pragmatic approach to governance, García’s campaign lacked the visionary, transformative policies that have come to define the progressive movement in recent years.
For example, García’s education platform was relatively vague and uninspiring. He promised to work with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system to improve student outcomes, but did not propose any major reforms or initiatives that would fundamentally transform the way that CPS operates. Similarly, García’s economic development platform focused on job creation and investment in small businesses, but did not propose any major policy shifts that would address the root causes of poverty and inequality in Chicago.
García’s public safety platform was perhaps the most disappointing of all. Instead of proposing bold, progressive policies to address the systemic issues that contribute to crime and violence in Chicago, García focused on more traditional, law-and-order solutions. He promised to hire more police officers, invest in community policing initiatives, and crack down on gangs and drug dealers. While these policies may have some merit, they do not address the underlying social and economic issues that contribute to crime and violence in Chicago, such as poverty, unemployment, and lack of access to education and healthcare.
Overall, García’s 2019 mayoral campaign was a missed opportunity for progressives in Chicago. Instead of running on a bold, progressive platform that would have excited and mobilized voters, García chose to play it safe and position himself as a pragmatic centrist. While this strategy may have helped him win more moderate and conservative votes, it did not inspire the kind of grassroots enthusiasm and energy that is necessary to bring about real change in Chicago.
Of course, García is not the only politician who has struggled to navigate the shifting political landscape of the progressive movement. As the progressive movement has grown in size and influence in recent years, many politicians have tried to position themselves as progressives without fully embracing the movement’s core values and policies. This has led to a great deal of confusion and frustration among progressive voters, who are often left wondering whether a candidate’s progressive credentials are genuine or simply a matter of political expediency.
Ultimately, it is up to voters to carefully scrutinize a candidate’s record, platform, and rhetoric to determine whether they truly represent progressive values and policies. This can be a difficult task, especially in a political environment where candidates are often more concerned with winning elections than with advancing a particular ideology or agenda.
In García’s case, it is important to remember that he has a long history of progressive activism and politics. As a community organizer and activist in the 1970s and 1980s, García worked to advance the rights and interests of working-class and immigrant communities in Chicago. Later, as a member of the Chicago City Council and the Illinois State Senate, García was known for his progressive stances on issues like housing, healthcare, and education.
However, García’s decision to distance himself from the progressive label in his 2019 mayoral campaign raises questions about his commitment to progressive values and policies. While it is certainly possible that García was simply trying to appeal to a broader base of voters, his reluctance to embrace progressive policies like Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, or police reform suggests that he may not be fully committed to the progressive agenda.
This is not to say that García is a bad candidate or that he would be a bad mayor of Chicago. García is an experienced and capable politician with a long record of public service, and he has a deep understanding of the issues facing Chicago and its residents. However, for progressives who are looking for a transformative, visionary leader who will fight for bold policies that will address the root causes of poverty, inequality, and injustice in Chicago, García may not be the candidate they are looking for.
Of course, this does not mean that progressives should abandon the electoral process altogether. Elections are an important part of our democratic system, and they provide an opportunity for voters to hold politicians accountable and push for change. However, it is important for progressives to be strategic and thoughtful in their electoral engagement, and to carefully evaluate candidates based on their record, platform, and commitment to progressive values.
In the case of the 2019 Chicago mayoral race, there were several progressive candidates who ran on bold, transformative platforms that promised to fundamentally transform the way that Chicago operates. Candidates like Amara Enyia, Lori Lightfoot, and Toni Preckwinkle all had progressive credentials and proposed ambitious policy initiatives that would address issues like poverty, inequality, and police brutality in Chicago.
Ultimately, it was Lightfoot who emerged as the winner of the 2019 mayoral race. While Lightfoot was not as progressive as some of her competitors, she did run on a platform that promised to reform the Chicago Police Department, invest in affordable housing, and expand economic opportunities for all Chicagoans. Since taking office, Lightfoot has made progress on some of these issues, although her administration has also faced criticism for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and its response to protests against police brutality.
In conclusion, Jesús “Chuy” García’s decision to distance himself from the progressive label in his 2019 mayoral campaign was a disappointment for progressives in Chicago. While García is a capable and experienced politician with a long record of progressive activism and politics, his reluctance to embrace bold, transformative policies raises questions about his commitment to the progressive agenda. Moving forward, it is important for progressives to carefully evaluate candidates based on their record, platform, and commitment to progressive values, and to support candidates who are willing to fight for bold policies that will address the root causes of poverty, inequality, and injustice in our communities.