U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez said Tuesday he will not seek re-election, confirming numerous reports that he would be leaving Congress at the end of his term. But the outspoken congressman said he is not retiring.
Gutierrez instead threw his support behind Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, who he called a "champion" and "true progressive."
"I would not have made this decision unless there was somebody who could step up and give new life to the agenda in Washington DC, who could be a champion here in Chicago but on a national level too," Gutierrez said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon. "I want to make absolutely clear I'd be a candidate for re-election in the 4th Congressional District if Jesus Garcia had not agreed to run."
As for Garcia, who stood by Gutierrez's side as the announcement was made, he said he plans to "build on [Gutierrez's] dynamic legacy that, with his signature firebrand oratory, has kept the issues from and center."
"My candidacy builds on the legacy of Mayor Harold Washington, the foresight and energy that brought young people together for Sen. Bernie Sanders and the work of Rep. Gutiérrez," Garcia said. "Luis has fought tirelessly in Congress for our undocumented brothers and sisters, and for people everywhere, to keep our hearts and minds open to the free-flowing movement of ideas and democracy. We must never allow fear and oppression to guide our nation."
News that Gutierrez would not run for re-election in the seat he has held since 1993 first broke Monday night after sources told NBC 5 the congressman telephoned key Democratic leaders to let them know of his plans.
Insiders say the discussions of Gutierrez's retirement started over the weekend.
Before his congressional career, Gutierrez served as the 26th ward alderman and was a close adviser to Mayor Harold Washington. He has been a leading voice for immigration reform as well as hurricane relief for Puerto Rico.
“Luis Gutierrez represented Chicagoans in the Chicago City Council and US Congress for more than three decades, serving his constituents, his city and his country with honor," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement. "One thing I know is Luis Gutierrez will not stop fighting for what he believes in until the last vote is cast, and even then will continue working for the causes he has championed throughout his life because he believes in them with his heart. Luis Gutierrez’s journey from a taxi driver to a US Congressman is a testament to the power of the American Dream. I have been proud to call him a dear friend and trusted colleague, and stand with Chicagoans and Americans everywhere in expressing my appreciation for his service and wishing him well in his next chapter.”
Gutierrez indicated he plans to travel the country with his family "creating a new, fierce framework for immigrant rights across this country as we work to 2020 and the presidential election."
"I also want to be very clear, a crystal announcement," he said. "Very clear on what I'm not announcing. I'm going to leave Congress at the end of my term, but I am not retiring. I am not giving up on the fight."
Gutierrez noted that he hopes to help rebuild Puerto Rico, an effort he has been vocal about in the months since a devastating hurricane tore through the island.
"I love Puerto rico and she’s in a lot of pain," he said, tears welling up in his eyes. "And there’s a lot of people that have turned their backs on them and she needs to be rebuilt. And I cannot be here in the 4th Congressional District and rebuilding the home of my mom and my dad, where my wife was born. A place that I love so much. I’m going to work really hard until she’s completely rebuilt to 21st century standards. But I can’t do them both. I can’t organize the framework across this country for 2020 and I can’t be there."