Garcia Talks Schools, Taxes & Campaign in Post-Election Interview

Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia warned Chicagoans to expect a property tax -- or some kind of tax increase -- soon

Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia said Wednesday some Chicago school board members should resign in the wake a federal investigation.

The statement came in an exclusive interview, Garcia’s first since losing to the mayor in a first-ever run-off election on April 7th.

"CPS urgently needs more integrity in its leadership team," he said. 

The federal investigation was revealed just one week after Garcia lost to Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett took a leave of absence amid questions about a $20 million no-bid contract with a company to which she was once connected. CPS suspended that contract Wednesday.

"I think the only way to move forward is for some of those members to leave. For the mayor to exert himself and demonstrate he’s ready to make tough decisions," he said.

Garcia also warned Chicagoans to expect a property tax -- or some kind of tax increase -- soon.

"The mayor will have to lead the charge on it," he said. "People are likely to now see a version of it occur locally."

During the campaign both Garcia or Emanuel skirted questions about how they would raise revenue in light of deficits in the operating budget and the school budget.

As for his campaign which didn’t materialize until the fall,

"People have told me I should be proud of what was accomplished given the very challenging circumstances we fought in," he said. Asked if he is proud, Garcia replied, "I am."

Garcia didn’t expect to run for mayor, cast into the role once Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis bowed out. His campaign decried violence in poor neighborhoods and the division of haves vs. have-nots in a tale of two Chicago’s.

"Ordinary citizens do have legitimate concerns about the future of the city," he said. But the $5 million he raised paled in comparison to the $23 million the mayor had to fund the mountain of negative ads the Emanuel campaign bought.

"So I think all of that took its toll in either getting people not to vote or either going with the status quo," Garcia admitted.

His biggest campaign disappointment he said was the voter turnout: 41 percent.

"If the turnout had been in the mid-40s, I would have won the election. It’s that simple," he said.
Asked about running for another office again, Garcia said the question was too premature. On the plus side, Garcia said the run-off, which included 18 aldermanic seats, paved the way for upsets like in the 10th and 31st wards by candidates he supported over aldermen loyal to the mayor.

"I’m proud to have been the guy who helped shake it up baby," he said with a laugh. Asked if he had any regrets or bitterness, he replied, "None whatsoever."

In a political career that spans three decades, including stints in the City Council and the Illinois Senate, two things remain constant about Jesus Garcia. He still calls Little Village home and he's never surrendering his trademark moustache.

"Hell would freeze over if I shaved it," he laughed, adding, "Nobody would know me."

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