Two of Chicago's most powerful Latino politicians bury the hatchet by endorsing a Chinese-American candidate | Bleader

Two of Chicago's most powerful Latino politicians bury the hatchet by endorsing a Chinese-American candidate

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If she wins, Second District candidate Theresa Mah would be the first Asian-American elected to the Illinois General Assembly. - MARK BROWN/SUN-TIMES
  • Mark Brown/Sun-Times
  • If she wins, Second District candidate Theresa Mah would be the first Asian-American elected to the Illinois General Assembly.
In a development you'd have to describe as only in Chicago, it's taken a Chinese-American candidate for state representative to bring the city's two best-known Latino politicians back together again.

I'm talking about Theresa Mah, who's running against Alex Acevedo in the Democratic primary for the Second District.

Mah has received endorsements from both Congressman Luis Gutierrez and Cook County commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia.

Much to the consternation, I might add, of Acevedo and his supporters, who apparently feel the district seat should be reserved for Latinos.

At this point, I'm feeling the urge to indulge in one of my favorite pastimes: offering history lessons on Chicago politics.

Stop groaning, millennials.

I don't think there's anything wrong with Latino elected officials endorsing a Chinese-American over a Latino.

After all, when it comes to the growth of Latino politics in Chicago, I would argue that one of its greatest contributors was not a Latino, but a black man—Harold Washington.

Back in 1983, when he was running for mayor, Washington realized he needed to build a coalition beyond his black base in order to win.

So he cultivated a slate of young Latino politicians, many of whom he hired to work in his administration, including Rudy Lozano, Gloria Chevere, Juan Soliz, Juan Velazquez and, of course, Garcia and Gutierrez.

I could name others, but I think we've had enough history lessons for the day.

Oh, wait, I take that back. We're not quite done.

Not all of these Latino politicians stayed loyal to the so-called Washington coalition.

In fact, Gutierrez bolted from the ranks to endorse Mayor Daley back in 1989. A point I like to tease him about from time to time.

He also supported Mayor Emanuel in the last election, speaking of things I like to tease him about.

However, I suspect that, if force-fed truth serum, the congressmen would admit that, mayorally speaking, it's been all downhill since Harold died.

Right, Congressman?

Oh, no, I feel another history lesson coming on.

Alex Acevedo is the son of Edward Acevedo, the incumbent state rep in the Second District, which includes portions of Chinatown, Bridgeport, Pilsen, and other near southwest-side communities.

Daddy Acevedo was a prominent player in the Hispanic Democratic Organization.

That's a rough-and-tumble outfit of precinct workers put together by former Mayor Daley in the name of Hispanic political empowerment.

Unless, of course, an Hispanic politician defied Mayor Daley.

Then, not so much empowerment.

In 1998, HDO drove Garcia from his state senatorial seat and elected Acevedo as state representative.

Since Daley left office, HDO's been on the wane. So you might say the Acevedo-Mah race is the group's last hurrah.

In any event, there's something of a low-key rivalry between Gutierrez and Garcia.

Gutierrez says he might have supported Garcia for mayor, except that by the time Chuy had entered the race, he'd already signed on with Emanuel.

If you recall, Garcia had very low name recognition when he started the campaign.

So it's got to be just a little annoying for Gutierrez to watch Garcia soar to the top of the charts, at least among Latino voters, in the aftermath of the mayoral election.

Give Gutierrez credit for this: he beat Garcia to the punch when it came to endorsing Mah, a former aide to Governor Quinn who also worked on Garcia's mayoral campaign.

"I met with Theresa several weeks ago, and we had a wonderful dinner, and I said, 'You know what, I'm going to endorse you,'" says Gutierrez. "I think she's the best candidate in this race."

On February 22, Gutierrez—as well as Aldermen George Cardenas and Raymond Lopez—joined Mah in Pilsen to announce their endorsements.

They were interrupted by a mob of heckling and jeering Acevedo supporters, who called the Latino politicians "traitors" for not backing Acevedo.

If you're curious, here's Hoy's coverage of the event.

"They were very threatening and disrupting—it was an ugly scene," says Gutierrez. "It was an out-of-body experience. Like they were trying to re-create a historical Chinese Exclusion Act. You know—'No Chinese need apply.' We have to be better than that."

Well said, Congressman. After the last few mayoral elections, it's good to know we can still agree from time to time.

Correction: An earlier version of this post gave the wrong date in which HDO drove Garcia from his state senatorial seat. It was 1998, not 1996.

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