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In Surprise Move, Illinois Rep. Gutiérrez Won’t Seek Re-election, Says He’ll Focus on Puerto Rico

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Illinois Democratic Congressmember Luis Gutiérrez announced Tuesday he will not seek re-election, because he instead plans to focus on rebuilding Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. This comes as the Federal Emergency Management Agency reportedly gave more than $30 million in contracts to a newly created Florida company called Bronze Star, LLC, which failed to deliver any aid to Puerto Rico. We get response from Democracy Now! co-host Juan González.

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AMY GOODMAN: Well, Juan, before we move on to the tax bill and speak with Heather McGhee of Demos, what about this news, this doubleheader here? You’ve got Luis Gutiérrez saying he’s stepping down, and then you’ve got the news about Puerto Rico.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, well, I think, when it comes to the issue of Gutiérrez, this is a complete surprise. He was actually filing petitions to run again for Congress, and suddenly, within a day after filing those petitions, then has an announcement that he is resigning from Congress and that he won’t run again—I mean, he’ll serve out his term, but won’t run again in 2018—and immediately then endorses Jesús “Chuy” García to be the successor to his seat.

Now, of course, by naming García at the very last moment, it’s because petitions in Chicago to run for office have to be in very soon for a primary that’s in March, so he basically precludes any one of numerous other challengers that may have decided to run for the seat. At the same time, he takes Chuy García out of a potential run for mayor of Chicago against Rahm Emanuel.

AMY GOODMAN: A rematch.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: A rematch, right, in 2019. Rahm Emanuel has already said he’s going to run for a third term. Chuy García was the leading candidate to run against Rahm Emanuel, so—but now—

AMY GOODMAN: And he lost in a close race. And at the time, Laquan McDonald, the killing of the teenager, and what the city was doing about it and covering up, wasn’t known. It came out right after the election.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Right. Well, that was the key issue that perhaps allowed Rahm Emanuel to win. Had the Laquan McDonald tape come out before the runoff, I have major doubts as to whether Rahm Emanuel would have defeated Chuy García.

But now the problem is both Chuy García and Luis Gutiérrez have a long history. They were part of the young Latino radicals who joined the Harold Washington mayoral campaign. They both consider themselves sons of Harold Washington. But they have diverged in numerous ways, because Chuy García has maintained, some would say, a more progressive politics. He backed Bernie Sanders for president, whereas Luis Gutiérrez backed Hillary Clinton in the most recent election. But now they seem to have come back together, at least in Chuy accepting—

AMY GOODMAN: And didn’t Luis Gutiérrez back Rahm?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, let me—and Chuy accepting now Luis’s support for him to replace him in his seat.

AMY GOODMAN: And did Luis Gutiérrez support Rahm Emanuel against Chuy García?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes. And in the mayoral race, Luis Gutiérrez did support Rahm Emanuel. Now, in fairness, as Chuy García has said, Luis backed Rahm Emanuel before Chuy entered the race, because, as you remember, it was the president of the teachers’ union in Chicago who was supposed to be running for mayor, but then, when she got sick—

AMY GOODMAN: Karen Lewis.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Karen Lewis—then Chuy García came in at the last moment to replace them. By then, Luis Gutiérrez had already endorsed Rahm Emanuel, and therefore decided not to switch.

AMY GOODMAN: So this, in a sense, would be taking Chuy García out of this rematch, that he could very well win with Rahm Emanuel.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Right, because Rahm Emanuel is not a popular person in Chicago these days.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think Luis Gutiérrez might run for governor of Puerto Rico?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I doubt it. I don’t think that the people of Puerto Rico—as much as Luis is a Puerto Rican and is identified with the island, he’s still considered a U.S. Puerto Rican. And I find it hard to believe that the people of Puerto Rico would decide they can’t—they don’t have anybody on their island who could be governor except someone who comes from Chicago.

AMY GOODMAN: He said he wouldn’t run for governor of Illinois, but he did not rule out a run for the presidency of the United States.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Right. And I think that’s entirely possible. And it’s certainly that we’ve seen from other members of Congress who have run that they could at least raise key issues, even if they don’t win. And I think that Luis has already staked out his identification throughout the nation as the leading voice on immigration reform. And that was, to me, the most surprising thing, that he’s worked for so many years to achieve comprehensive immigration reform, and now is resigning when the job is not done, when the comprehensive immigration reform has not been won. So I—

AMY GOODMAN: And he has a great deal of power in Congress.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes, and I think he’s very influential there. So it is a surprise. It’s definitely a surprise, certainly for the national Latino community and for Chicago politics.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Puerto Rico, this new news that AP broke about a Florida company getting $30 million that they did not follow through on. This follows up on the Whitefish company getting $300 million that the governor of Puerto Rico has now—well, that Puerto Rico has now canceled—called Whitefish company for the hometown of Ryan Zinke, the interior secretary, in Montana.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, what a surprise. FEMA has failed once again. I think that anyone who has followed the history of FEMA through all these natural disasters that have occurred in the United States knows that the agency, through both Democratic and Republican administrations, has been one that wastes money, that provides contracts to friends and—because here you have a company that was only formed a few days before it got a contract. How does that happen, with no track record, with no other federal contracts in the past, for you to be given a multimillion-dollar contract to provide tarps, which is not exactly rocket science? And they failed to do so. So it’s just another one of the sad chapters in this history of—not only of the federal government’s failure to respond to natural disasters, but also of the particular problems of Puerto Rico, as well.

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