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Chuy Garcia Hopes To Make History As Chicago's First Latino Mayor


As the campaign for Chicago mayor enters its final days, the race is heating up. Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is trying to win a second term on Tuesday after a rocky first four years in office, while the challenger who forced him into this unprecedented runoff election, Jesus Chuy Garcia, is trying to make history as the city's first Latino mayor. NPR's David Schaper has this profile of candidate Garcia.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: The essence of Jesus Chuy Garcia to those who know and support him is this...

RICARDO MUNOZ: He's just a neighborhood guy.

SCHAPER: Ricardo Munoz is a Chicago alderman and Garcia's protege. He says Chuy's story is quintessentially American - an immigrant from Durango, Mexico, brought to Chicago by his parents at the age of 9, who worked his way up through the rough and tumble world of city politics.

MUNOZ: He's been an activist his entire life, organizing around labor issues, organizing around social justice issues.

SCHAPER: Garcia was a key Latino organizer in the coalition that elected Chicago's first African-American mayor, Harold Washington, in 1983. He served on the city council and then in the Illinois State Senate, until being defeated by then-Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's machine.

So Garcia started a community development organization, and after about a decade out of the game, Chuy got back into politics, winning a seat on the Cook County Board in 2010. He was reelected last fall and is now trying to unseat powerful, but suddenly vulnerable, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

JESUS "CHUY" GARCIA: All right, how are we doing today? Chuy Garcia, candidate for mayor, how are you?

SCHAPER: Shaking hands with commuters on an elevated train, Garcia is trying to broaden his neighborhood-guy appeal to areas of the city he's never campaigned in before.


GARCIA: Chuy Garcia, candidate for mayor.

SCHAPER: His message is essentially a tale of two cities.


GARCIA: Chicago is becoming a city of the very rich and the very poor, with fewer and fewer people in between.

SCHAPER: In this speech to the City Club of Chicago earlier this week, Garcia said Chicago is a city with glittering skyscrapers downtown surrounded by crumbling neighborhoods.


GARCIA: The vast and growing chasm between the wonderful little city right outside these walls and the other much bigger city that's around it is wrong. It's unfair. It's unjust.

SCHAPER: And Garcia blames Mayor Rahm Emanuel's policies for widening the gap. In this way, the race for Chicago mayor mirrors a national struggle between liberal and more moderate Democrats, or as some see it, between the progressive and Wall Street wings of the party. Groups such as MoveOn.org and Democracy for America are supporting Garcia, who has tapped into those liberal resources with recent fundraising trips to Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C. But Garcia's clash with Emanuel also includes a unique Chicago twist. Laura Washington is a Chicago Sun-Times columnist and political analyst.

LAURA WASHINGTON: He's trying to tap into real anger and not just so much with Rahm Emanuel's policies, but with Rahm Emanuel's style.

SCHAPER: To counter Emanuel's sometimes abrasive and combative tone, Garcia promises a more collaborative and inclusive style at city hall. And Laura Washington says that populist message of equity and fairness is resonating, but...

WASHINGTON: For folks that want a detailed plan and want a price tag attached to that plan for the problems that face the city, he hasn't delivered that. And that's going to give people a lot of pause.

SCHAPER: It is that lack of a detailed Garcia plan that Emanuel hammers away at in TV and radio ads, mailers and in debates. And polls show it appears to be effective. The latest Chicago Tribune poll shows support for Garcia dropping in recent weeks, while Emanuel leads by 28 points. But polls before the February 24 election suggested Rahm Emanuel would win outright, and he didn't. Chuy Garcia hopes pollsters are again greatly undercounting his support and that he can still pull off a populist upset on Tuesday. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.
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