U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez, perhaps the country's most influential Latino politician, will be a co-chairman of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's 2015 re-election campaign. That a major Chicago politician is embracing the incumbent mayor ordinarily isn't news. This time is different because:
- There is a history of animosity between Gutierrez and Emanuel. As Barack Obama's first White House chief of staff, Emanuel lashed out at the Chicago lawmaker for criticizing the administration's immigration policies as being too tepid. Gutierrez did not support Emanuel in the 2011 mayoral race.
- The mayor desperately needs an influential Latino leader this time. Polls show Emanuel's popularity is sinking, running behind a couple potential opponents in next year's election. He is especially weak among African-American voters, so support with Hispanics is critical.
A poll this week showed the mayor trailing Chicago teacher's union president Karen Lewis 36 percent to 45 percent. Lewis, who is black, is the firebrand who caused Emanuel to retreat in a showdown over teacher's contracts two years years ago.
A stronger, if less likely, opponent would be Toni Preckwinkle, the Cook County board president, who clobbers Emanuel, 55 percent to 31 percent, in the same poll of more 1,000 Chicago voters.
Emanuel's popularity has taken a huge hit with an epidemic of violence in Chicago, a cut in some city services, and a proposal to raise property taxes to finance the city's pension funds. His supremely self-confident style -- critics call it arrogance -- hasn't worn well with Chicago voters.
Gutierrez says his one-time adversary has done a turnabout as mayor and been terrific on immigration and Hispanic issues.
Gutierrez is a central figure in the immigration debate in Washington, a passionate advocate for reform. He's an effective outside agitator and influential inside player. He has been arrested in front of the White House for protesting the the Obama administration's immigration policies, but also negotiated with conservative Republicans such as Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina over possible immigration compromises.
Latinos make up almost 30 percent of Chicago's population, though they comprise a smaller percentage of the electorate.
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