Chicago’s Latinos suffer from a power gap. They’re 28 percent of the city’s population -- nearly equal to the number of African-Americans and whites -- but because so many are not citizens, and because their population is younger than other ethnic groups, they make up only 15 percent of the voting public.
Ald. Ricardo Munoz says his 22nd Ward is the most populous in the city, packed with undocumented residents who don’t show up in the Census, but in this year’s Democratic primary, it produced the second-lowest vote total in Chicago. Only the nearby 12th Ward, which is also Mexican-American, turned out fewer voters.
Puerto Ricans, who have the advantage of American citizenship, are more politically advanced. Both Latino candidates for mayor -- Rep. Luis Gutierrez and City Clerk Miguel del Valle -- are Puerto Rican.
“There’s a political dynamic there that is very complicated,” Sen. Dick Durbin told The Hill. “Here’s how it goes: In the population, there are more Hispanics than blacks [and] more blacks than whites. In the voting population, there’s more whites than blacks, [and] more blacks than Hispanics. So Mayor Daley has put together a coalition of mainly white voters and Hispanics, and enough blacks to get a majority. And the liberals would come his way, usually. Not his father, but for him. Now, you put in a black or a Hispanic or a white [candidate], and you say, ‘OK, what’s your coalition?’ You can’t do it alone. No single group can do it.”
That’s not exactly right. Latinos aren’t the biggest ethnic group. But they are an indispensable element in any coalition.
Unfortunately, because of their low voter turnout, they won’t be able to advance a candidate to a runoff if the primary comes down to racial bloc voting. Latinos may once again have to settle for being the swing vote between the larger black and white electorates -- the same role they played for Harold Washington and Richard M. Daley.
As Ramsin Canon noted on Gapers Block, Gutierrez may be able to play the role of spoiler against Rahm Emanuel, who is unpopular in the Latino community because the White House has not pushed immigration reform.
Gutierrez introduced legislation late last year to comprehensively overhaul the nation's immigration system, and aggressively criticized President Obama and specifically Rahm Emanuel for playing politics with the issue. Latinos are hardly one-note voters and immigration is not at all a local issue--but in drawing a contrast between himself and Emanuel's inevitable candidacy, Gutierrez will have a strong record and fiery issue: He plays politics, I take on my own party to do what's right.
But in a showdown that will likely feature three high profile candidates from each of the city's major demographics--Emanuel, Gutierrez, and the socially conservative Senator Reverend James Meeks--Gutierrez would be able to do the presumptive front runner Emanuel the most damage without necessarily alienating white and Black voters.
Latino political activists have already formed the Chicago Latino Coalition 2011 to make sure their community’s interests are represented by the next mayor.
“There’s an opportunity for us to decide who runs Chicago for the next 20 years,” Carlos Perez, editor of the Mayan Calendar News, told the Associated Press. “We have to put our own agenda together.”
Latinos aren’t in a position to elect their own mayor yet, but they’ll have an ever bigger say with this one than they did with the last few.