As Chicago mayoral candidate Jesús “Chuy” García fends off efforts by political opponents trying to tie him to indicted former House Speaker Michael Madigan, his campaign is calling on a Southwest Side aldermanic candidate who briefly worked for Madigan’s political organization to stop using a picture of García on political flyers.
The campaign brochures focus mostly on the race for alderman of the 23rd Ward near Midway Airport. But the mailers — a well-worn tool for typically parochial races — could have broader implications in the mayoral race and particularly for García, a congressman who is one of eight challengers looking to upend Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s efforts for a second term.
The latest twist in the García-Madigan saga is playing out on doorsteps and throughout much of the 23rd Ward where challenger Eddie Guillen said his campaign sent out thousands of flyers with photos of him and García that urge residents to “Vote Chuy García for Mayor & Eddie Guillen for Alderman” and elect “New Leadership That Works for You!”
The mailers landed around the ward in recent days as candidates for mayor, particularly Lightfoot, stepped up their criticism of García for his relationship with Madigan, who hails from the neighboring 13th Ward and faces a federal racketeering indictment alleging he and his associates participated in a range of corrupt schemes. Madigan has pleaded not guilty.
Guillen worked two months for Madigan’s 13th Ward Democrats last year, after Madigan was ousted as speaker and resigned from the House amid revelations he was ensnared in a federal corruption investigation. Guillen then took a job as chief of staff for state Rep. Angie Guerrero-Cuellar, who has Madigan’s support and shares office space in the building that has long housed the former speaker’s political organization
In an interview with the Tribune, Guillen said he didn’t receive García’s endorsement or coordinate with the García mayoral campaign before printing and distributing the flyers. He simply wanted to back Garcia’s mayoral bid, he said.
“I support (García) and I see all the work he’s been doing at the city level, so I’m trying to get our Hispanic community to come out and vote for him,” Guillen said.
García would rather not have the help.
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García mayoral campaign spokesman Antoine Givens said the campaign had no knowledge of Guillen’s brochures before they hit Southwest Side doorsteps.
“Our campaign did not approve the Guillen campaign’s use of this image or any campaign related material and we are requesting that no more mailers be sent,” Givens said in an email.
Guillen said Wednesday that he would stop distributing the flyers if the García campaign directly asked him, which he said it had yet to do.
“If they contacted me, sure,” Guillen said. “They know where I’m at.”
But Guillen said, until then, he would carry on passing out the flyers.
Whether or not a connection exists between Guillen and García, the campaign literature creates a link between the two in the eyes of voters who see it and in a way that could boost Guillen’s candidacy.
Still, it’s easy to see why García would rather not be associated with Guillen’s run against 23rd Ward Ald. Silvana Tabares in the Feb. 28 election.
In addition to the two months he worked for Madigan’s political operation, Guillen also owes nearly all of his campaign cash to Guerrero-Cuellar. She’s contributed nearly $22,000 to his campaign fund, state campaign finance records show. The political campaign fund for Ald. Marty Quinn, 13th, a longtime Madigan ally, contributed nearly $20,000 to Guerrero-Cuellar last year and she also has received big contributions from several labor groups long allied with Madigan, according to campaign finance records.
As García has embarked in his bid for mayor — his second after losing to former Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2015 — his ties to Madigan, the longest-serving speaker of a state House in the nation and the longtime leader of the Illinois Democratic Party, have become a point of contention on the campaign trail.
In 2016, García endorsed Madigan in the then-speaker’s reelection campaign for state representative against a candidate who was viewed by many, including García, as a front for then-Gov. Bruce Rauner, an anti-union Republican. Two years later, García endorsed Madigan to remain as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois even amid a burgeoning #MeToo scandal involving a top Madigan lieutenant. García also received fundraising support from the Madigan-led DPI.
Last week, the Tribune reported that García is the unidentified member of Congress referenced in federal court filings detailing an alleged scheme by Madigan to appoint one of García’s political associates to a lucrative position on Commonwealth Edison’s board of directors. García is not accused of wrongdoing and has denied he played any role in the push by Madigan to appoint Juan Ochoa to the utility’s board, which is one of the centerpiece allegations in the ComEd bribery conspiracy case set for trial in March.
Guillen says his decision to run has nothing to do with the simmering feud between Madigan and Tabares on the Southwest Side. Tabares used to be aligned with Madigan but those connections have cooled in recent years.
García has made endorsements in a few aldermanic contests, but has not backed a candidate in the head-to-head matchup between Guillen and Tabares. And while Guillen says he backs García, Tabares has not endorsed any of the nine candidates for mayor.
García himself remains overwhelmingly popular on the Southwest Side, where he won reelection to the U.S. House in November with 68.4% of the vote for a third term representing the 4th Congressional District, which includes much of the 23rd Ward.
Garcia, meanwhile, has worked to distance himself from Madigan, saying he’s fought the Chicago political machine for decades and that he had to work with Madigan to get anything done in Springfield.
“Just because you swim with sharks, if you listen to the people that sent you somewhere, you don’t become one,” García said when Lightfoot and mayoral candidate Brandon Johnson hit him over the Madigan relationship at a Monday Tribune Editorial Board meeting. “And that’s been my mantra.”