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On a snowy Jan. 26 evening, more than 100 people packed into the historic New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in West Garfield Park for a 2023 Chicago mayoral candidate forum, organized by the People’s Unity Platform and hosted by the Grassroots Collaborative.

The People’s Unity Platform is a multi-racial coalition of neighborhood community organizations and labor unions that have worked on issues such as violence prevention, public health and safety, housing, public education, environmental quality, community safety and worker’s rights. Some groups under the platform’s umbrella are GoodKids MadCity, Chicago Torture Justice Center, Defund CPD, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, Treatment Not Trauma and Grassroots Collaborative, to name a few. 

Rev. Marshall Hatch, pastor of New Mount Pilgrim, spoke with pride about the West Side’s involvement in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements in his welcoming speech.

“This is the same community Al Raby organized [in] when he organized the Triple-C [Coordinating Council of Community Organizations] and invited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Chicago in 1966. You can’t get more grassroots than West Garfield Park,” Hatch said. “This is also the same West Side, the same streets, where our hero and brother [Black Panther] Chairman Fred Hampton organized and was a visionary.”

The energy in the sanctuary was infectious. Music blared from the church’s speakers, including songs such as “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” by McFadden & Whitehead. Attendees, many of whom were supporters of mayoral candidate Brandon Johnson, chanted “we’re fed up,” and “we want Brandon” before the forum began.

Event organizers provided childcare, masks and water bottles to ensure attendees were cared for while there; this is a unity practice seen at many Black, brown and queer-led movement actions.

“We need more from our leaders. We need leaders to collaborate with us as officials. We need leaders to boldly stand with us. And we need leaders to keep their covenant with our communities,” Grassroots Collaborative executive director Carlos Fernandez said while introducing the forum.

Among the mayoral candidates in attendance were Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, State Rep. Kam Buckner, Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th Ward), former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas and community activist Ja’Mal Green.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Ald. Sophia King (4th Ward), businessman Willie Wilson and U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” García (D-Ill.) did not attend the forum.

Rousemary Vega, a parent organizer with Raise Your Hand who co-chaired the forum, said García’s absence “speaks volumes” about him. 

“He ignored the people. He ignored the people’s cause and did what every other candidate has done, and that is ignore the West Side,” Vega said. “Chuy not being here is not a surprise to me. Chuy not being here tells me exactly who Chuy is.”

García initially confirmed his attendance for the event, but later backed out, according to forum co-chair and GoodKids MadCity youth organizer Miracle Boyd.

“I was disappointed, but I’m not a big fan of Chuy. So I can’t necessarily say I expected him to be there,” she told The TRiiBE

Judging by the praise Johnson received in the church that evening, it became more clear that he was the crowd favorite. Although García has long been heralded as a Black and brown coalition builder and progressive leader by his peers, he is now making political decisions that conflict with the same progressive movement that he championed earlier in his career, according to many of Chicago’s Black and brown leaders interviewed for this story.

Those decisions, they say, have led to García aligning with white political power; which, in multiple cases, has proven to be harmful to everyday working Chicagoans, particularly Black and brown residents.

“You can look to the progressive movement and who they are supporting, and the lack of support that Chuy has from these organizations,” said Ugo Okere, who chairs the 25th Ward IPO, an anti-capitalist organization that centers its work on housing, education, and environmental and economic justice issues. The group endorsed Johnson for mayor.

“All of these organizations that we consider the progressive movement are supporting Brandon Johnson for mayor because, at the end of the day, one of the aspects of being a progressive elected is moving with the movement,” Okere continued. “Chuy’s lack of support from the movement shows that he doesn’t do that.”

The TRiiBE has asked Garcia’s campaign for interviews multiple times since his Jan. 13 City Club speech where he unveiled his public safety plan, but to no avail. On Feb. 5, in response to emailed questions about his absence from the forum, his call for fully funding the Chicago Police Department in his public safety plan, and his role in helping to elect former mayor Harold Washington in 1983, García’s spokesperson Antoine Givens wrote:

“It’s unfortunate that anyone would question Congressman García’s progressive credentials: from co-founding Chicago’s first independent political progressive organization alongside Rudy Lozano and a Brown, Black, and Caucasian coalition, to leading a hunger strike for a new school serving predominantly Latino and Black students in Little Village and North Lawndale –  that Paul Vallas opposed, to working in Congress on progressive legislation like the John Lewis Voting Rights Act – he has been consistent over 40 years. He’s written bills into law that fund carbon monoxide detectors in public housing and protect working people from predatory payday lenders.” 

The statement continued, “The Congressman is the only candidate in this race that has put forth a full public safety plan that addresses the immediate safety concerns of people while calling for increased community investment and the expansion of civilian crisis response teams. And is the only candidate that has a Women’s Policy platform elevating the need to address maternal mortality rates for Black and Brown people who can become pregnant and a LGBTQ+ policy platform that highlights the need to support and expand the Hire Trans Now program.”

What about Chuy’s ties to Harold Washington?

After months of speculation, García announced his bid for the 2023 Chicago mayoral race on Nov. 10, the 40th anniversary of Harold Washington’s 1983 announcement to run. Throughout his campaign, García has evoked Washington’s name at mayoral forums and debates. After a forum at Trinity United Church of Christ in January, García wrote in a Twitter post, “it’ll take a coalition like the one we created with Harold Washington to build a city we’re proud of.” 

However, some have taken offense to García consistently bringing up Washington’s name. 

“He keeps using his relationship with Harold Washington as leverage to win Black and brown votes when that was over 20 years ago,” Boyd said.


Pastor Rich Redmond, a former publicist and aide to Washington, said García referencing Washington’s rainbow coalition is a strategy to win Black votes.

“The Black community needs to stop allowing themselves to be tricked. They need to stop falling for personality instead of substance. We’re throwing our vote away when we do that, and then we suffer later because we don’t have people in there that understand our plight,” Redmond told The TRiiBE.

García and his peers routinely point to his efforts in coalition building as an example of his progressivism. As a student at University of Illinois-Chicago, García fought for workers’ rights and inclusive city services. In 1977, García was part of a group of students who took over the chancellor’s office, according to the Reader, which resulted in UIC opening the Latin American Cultural Center later that year. That same year, he met fellow UIC student and labor activist  Rudy Lozano and worked alongside him to organize factory workers in Pilsen and Little Village, pushing for unconditional amnesty for undocumented immigrants.

Soon, Lozano, García and other organizers in Little Village began building political power for the 22nd Ward. With García as his campaign manager, Lozano entered the 1983 aldermanic race with his eyes set on unseating incumbent Ald. Frank Stembark, a Democrat that was aligned with the “Vrdolyak 29,” an all-white Chicago City Council majority bloc led by then-Ald. Edward “Fast Eddie” Vrdolyak (10th Ward).  

According to U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), Lozano and García were independent of the city’s white Democratic machine, and were trying to develop a group to challenge it.

“They became supporters of Harold Washington, and this was the movement of Mexican and Puerto Rican Americans on the other side of town,” Davis said. 

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, with Davis living in North Lawndale and García in Little Village, they hosted and attended community meetings to bridge the gap between Black and Latine activists in Chicago. Lozano helped build Black and brown unity by telling people in his community about Washington’s campaign and registering voters. According to the Chicago Reader, Lozano and García would ensure their staffers also passed out literature for Washington’s campaign.

“So they became a part of the effort that some of us forged together to try and get Harold Washington elected mayor of Chicago,” Davis continued.

The 1983 Chicago municipal election saw the highest voter turnout in history, according to Robert Vargas’ “Wounded City: Violent Turf Wars in a Chicago Barrio.” Washington won the election over his Republican opponent Bernard Epton, who many white Democrats crossed party lines to vote for in a campaign marred by open, vehement racism. 

“The Latino vote was essential to Washington’s victory; he captured 82 percent of Latinos. If that number would have been four percent less, he would have lost,” Vargas wrote.

With encouragement from campaign supporters and help from Washington, García won his 22nd Ward alderperson seat in a 1986 special election mandated by a federal court order that redrew ward boundaries to give accurate representation to Black and Latino residents. García was a decisive vote for Washington’s administration in the divisive City Council following the infamous City Council wars. According to Vargas, García would also help pass other initiatives during the Washington administration, such as the tenant bill of rights and a gang violence prevention program. 

“It was so important because there was unity. Harold passed the first ethics legislation ever in Chicago of any significance. Chuy was right there,” former 49th Ward alderperson and former Cook County clerk David Orr told The TRiiBE.


Two months after Lozano lost the 1983 aldermanic race, he was murdered in his home. There was widespread speculation that Lozano was assassinated because of his work to build Black and brown solidarity and collective power.

According to Redmond, Washington felt responsible for Lozano’s death because they worked closely together. To honor him, Redmond said Washington did three things for García: gave him a city job as deputy water commissioner (a role Washington intended for Lozano), backed García’s 1984 campaign for Democratic ward committeeman in the 22nd Ward, and supported his successful 1986 run for 22nd Ward alderperson.

“Rudy and Harold had a relationship. Harold didn’t have a relationship with Chuy; it was simply by association,” Redmond told The TRiiBE.

But the CTU backed him in 2015

García ran for Chicago mayor for the first time in 2015. Beloved former CTU president Karen Lewis recruited García to challenge incumbent Mayor Emanuel after she decided not to run due to illness.

By this point, García had become the first Mexican-American ever elected to the Illinois state Senate in 1993, founded the nonprofit Little Village Community Development Corp (now known as Enlace Chicago), supported a 19-day hunger strike in 2000 that forced CPS build a new high school in Little Village, and in 2011 used his position as a Cook County Commissioner (4th District) to help enact a measure that made Cook County the first local government to end compliance with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer requests.

Ald. David Moore (17th Ward) told The TRiiBE that it wasn’t just García’s political career that made him a viable candidate to get behind in 2015. At the time, everyone’s thought was, “anybody but Rahm.”

Along with the CTU and other labor unions, many in the Black community supported García in the 2015 election because of his history working with Black leadership such as Washington during his time in the City Council and with Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle while García was a county commissioner, according to Delmarie Cobb, a veteran media and political consultant.

Cobb said García’s connections to Lewis, Washington and Preckwinkle led Black people to trust him, adding that they also believed he would be a better mayor than Emanuel. García forced Emanuel into the first-ever Chicago mayoral runoff, but he was defeated. Emanuel took 55 percent of the runoff vote in, winning 35 out of 50 wards, and captured all the Black wards, and voters in all but one Latine ward voted for García.

“Karen Lewis anointed him. So she must have done her homework. We’re going to get behind him because we support her,” Cobb said, recalling Black leaders’ sentiments at the time. “Since he’s been elevated to where he is now, he’s now showing his true colors.”

Those same labor unions aren’t rocking with García this time around. In the 2023 mayoral race, CTU, SEIU and United Working Families have thrown their support behind Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson. 

Many Black and brown political leaders have endorsed him too, including grassroots organizers such as Asha Ransby-Sporn and Vega, and elected officials such as Congresspersons Jonathan Jackson (IL-1) and Delia Ramirez (IL-3), state Rep. Lakesia Collins (9th District), Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th Ward), Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th Ward), and Ald. Rossana Rodríguez-Sanchez (33rd Ward).

What happened? Over the last few years, García has endorsed candidates and elected officials — including some who have caused harm to Black and brown communities, according to organizers. 25th Ward IPO chair Okere sees those actions as an example of him moving away from the progressive movement.

In 2019, García endorsed Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd Ward) for the City Council. In September 2022, Rodriguez voted in favor of leasing land that was once the site of the Chicago Housing Authority’s ALBA Homes to the Chicago Fire soccer team to build an $80-million training facility. CHA demolished the homes in 2007 and promised displaced families that they could return to a revitalized area. However, a joint report published by ProPublica and WTTW-TV found that less than a third of the promised new units were ever built. 

Also in 2019, García endorsed Mayor Lightfoot over Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, despite Lightfoot’s tenure as Police Board president and her proposal to turn closed Chicago Public Schools (CPS) schools into mini police academies. Since then, García has publicly regretted his Lightfoot endorsement.

“He’s an ally of the mayor. He’s never critiqued her,” Johnson said about García in a Jan. 31 interview with The TRiiBE. “He supported her tenure until he decided that he wanted to run.”

In January 2023, García endorsed Aida Flores’ campaign for 25th Ward alderperson against incumbent Ald. Byron Sighco-Lopez, a member of the Democratic Socialist Caucus who has advocated for progressive policies in the City Council.

Sigcho-Lopez said he feels as though García has not been siding with the interests of working people, and is instead aligning himself with “corporate Democrat interests.” He cited the fact that García has been linked to former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D), who has been indicted on federal corruption charges, as one example.

“He’s tied to former Speaker Madigan. It’s undeniable. He endorsed speaker Madigan at a time where there were not only allegations of corruption but also sexual misconduct in Madigan’s organization,” Sigcho-Lopez told The TRiiBE on Jan. 30. “Property taxes are skyrocketing in communities like Pilsen. Developers and corporations are trying to take over, and Congressman García is siding with such power and such interest at the expense of working people.” 

According to Ald. David Moore (17th Ward), García also pushed a Black leader, U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.), out of her position, which Moore said was a slap in the face of the Black community after they helped support García’s 2015 run for mayor. 

In 2022, García and U.S. Rep. Delia Ramirez (IL-3) voted to support state Rep. Elizabeth “Lisa” Hernandez (D) — Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s candidate — to head the Democratic Party of Illinois. According to the Chicago Crusader, García’s and Ramirez’s votes led directly to Kelly’s decision to drop out of the race. Hernandez won the election, becoming the first Latina woman in the role.

For Moore, García’s choice to vote for Hernandez instead of Kelly shows that he is not the Black and brown coalition builder he proclaims himself to be. 

“You will constantly hear Congressman García say, ‘I was there with Harold Washington.’ Yet, [he] did not support this African American woman,” Moore said.

“This is a community that stood with you, that supported you, during the mayoral elections with Rahm, and he has not reciprocated back to the African-American community,” Moore said about García. “So when we say we want Robin [Kelly] to stay, he should have been on board with us.”

In the 2022 primary election, García endorsed Alexi Giannoulias over Moore to be the Democratic candidate for Secretary of State. In the 2023 Chicago election, Moore has expressed support for mayoral candidate Ald. Sophia King on social media.

García endorsed State’s Attorney Kim Foxx in 2016—but only after she’d already gotten an endorsement from Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle. Moore said he has not seen García elevate Black people in the same way that they’ve rallied for him.

“We were intentional about getting behind him with Rahm Emanuel. We were intentional about helping him, whether it was his state representatives or state senators that he wanted to run. I was intentional about helping those candidates,” Moore said.  The candidates that Moore is referring to are Illinois State Rep. Aarón Ortiz and Cook County Commissioner Alma Anaya. 

Conversely, Moore said Ortiz and Anaya have both been intentional in their work to unify Black and brown communities.

He’s abandoned the progressive movement

In a speech to business and political leaders at the City Club of Chicago in January, García unveiled a public safety plan that emphasizes increased staffing and foot patrols. 

“I know some people are surprised to hear a guy like me, who spent decades as a community activist and community builder, supporting hiring police officers, but building the violence prevention programs in Little Village was only possible by having an understanding with police,” García said.

In addition to fully staffing and funding the Chicago Police Department (CPD), increasing staffing levels and focusing on patrols, García’s safety plan pledges to fire CPD Supt. David Brown, invest in community intervention and prevention efforts and combat the root causes and social determinants of health.

During the speech, García said CPD staffing levels are at their lowest in recent history and estimated that the police department has had about 1,000 resignations between 2019 and August 2022. His public safety plan doesn’t include what funds would be used to implement these initiatives, referring only to the city’s still-unspent 2021 American Rescue Plan Act funding. 

Following his speech, García told reporters that he is not calling for an increase to the CPD budget. He said the department’s nearly $2 billion budget is enough to “modernize the police department and staff it adequately.”

Organizers and community members have criticized García’s public safety plan as no different than Lightfoot’s current initiatives

“When it comes down to it, do more cops equal more safety? No, it doesn’t. If that were the truth, then we would be the safest city in the world because we spend 40 percent of the budget on police officers,” said Saúl García, a Little Village resident and CPS high school teacher. García is a member of the CTU and is backing Johnson in the race.


This year the city will spend $1.94 billion on CPD, up from $1.88 billion in 2022.

Since the 2020 uprisings, local and national organizers and progressive candidates have been demanding the reallocation of police budgets to community services.

Here in Chicago, organizers under the GoodKids MadCity and the DefundCPD campaign have called for reallocating funds away from police budgets. Instead, they want those funds poured into communities and community resources, infrastructure and violence interruption.

“It’s disheartening for someone claiming to be progressive, yet, is kind of championing very old, tough on crime rhetoric,” Asha Ransby-Sporn told The TRiiBE on Feb. 2. 

Ransby-Sporn has been organizing around policing for years; she is also the South Side regional director for United Working Families. She said she doesn’t believe García’s plans for policing are progressive. She supports Johnson and coordinates organizing efforts for his campaign on the South Side. 

“Chuy has campaigned for mayor now twice on a platform that primarily rests on calling for more cops. That, to me, means he’s not been someone who’s unapologetically supported progressive issues that we’re talking about and championing here locally in Chicago,” Ransby-Sporn said. “He’s not committed to reopening mental health clinics. He’s not taken stances that are in line with what Chicago communities have been calling for. ”

With just a few weeks left until the Feb. 28 election in Chicago, Ransby-Sporn believes Johnson’s campaign’s momentum is promising. She’s encouraging voters to knock on doors, spread the word and ensure people are registered to vote. Additionally, she said, it’s vital that voters examine the voting records and endorsements that candidates have received. 

“Many candidates continue to take up progressive talking points, but look at who they’re connected to. Look at who they’re meeting with and that will tell you a lot about who a candidate is accountable to,” Ransby-Sporn said. “I think that means a lot for how much we can trust them when they’re in office to follow through on their promises.”

Longtime Pilsen resident Mateo Zapata sees García as a progressive candidate compared to other Latine leaders of the former Hispanic Democratic Organization (HDO), which former Daley political aide Victor Reyes and Department of Streets and Sanitation commissioner Al Sanchez created and, during its heyday, according to the Reader, “bullied independents on behalf” of mayor Richard M. Daley’s political machine.

“When you look at Chuy from the trajectory of Latino representation within the Democrats in Chicago, he is progressive. Is he going to be a progressive mayor? That is something that he’s going to have to prove to our city,” Zapata told The TRiiBE on Jan. 19.

In the Chicago Votes 2023 mayoral questionnaire, on a question about whether candidates will support Treatment Not Trauma, an ordinance that would send healthcare workers instead of cops to mental health crises, García responded “yes.” In his public safety plan, García said he would transition mental health and other interventions to civilian teams where appropriate.

When asked if he would prioritize passing the Bring Chicago Home ordinance, which would marginally raise the transfer tax on real-estate sales above $1 million to fund homelessness abatement, in his first term, García responded “yes.”

Asked if he will commit to passing the Peace Book ordinance if elected, García responded that he “leans no.” When asked if he would prioritize the reopening of the city’s mental health clinics, García responded that he “leans no.”

In a Twitter thread on Feb. 3, Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward) wrote that García is no longer the person progressives rallied behind in 2015, and that he’s trying to take the centrist Democrat path to the runoff.

“The warning signs have been there for a while, but I think many of us, myself included, didn’t want to admit that Chuy was changing for the worse,” Ramirez-Rosa wrote. “I love Chuy. I love his legacy, what he’s stood for in the past, and important stances he’s taken in Congress, but he’s changed, and in 2023 he’s not supporting progressive policies that are critical to helping our neighbors. That’s why I can’t bring myself to support Chuy in the first round, particularly when we have a strong progressive candidate like Brandon Johnson in the race.”

is a multimedia reporter for The TRiiBE.