County commissioner running for mayor faces an uphill battle

GarciayGarciaBy Evan Garcia

Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia is facing two herculean tasks: obtaining thousands of petition signatures to get on the mayoral ballot in February while raising enough money to compete with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s abundant campaign funds.

Garcia, who announced his candidacy Monday, has raised only $18,000 so far. That pales in comparison with the more than $8 million the mayor has accrued for his reelection bid. Emanuel’s other challenger, Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), has raised more than $370,000.

But before money becomes an issue, Garcia needs at least 12,500 signatures for his name to be placed on the Feb. 24 ballot.

Dick Simpson, a political science professor and former Chicago alderman, thinks that’s Garcia’s biggest hurdle.

“The petition requirement is difficult but not impossible,” said Simpson, who teaches at the University of Illinois at Chicago where Garcia spoke to a class of students Wednesday. “It really depends on whether he can mobilize volunteers.”

With a few hundred people circulating petitions, Garcia might be able to gather the necessary signatures. “It’s easy to stand outside the Loop or polling stations on Nov. 4 and get signatures from ordinary citizens,” Simpson said.

Garcia, who is running unopposed in his second bid for county commissioner next week, got his start as an alderman in 1986 and was a Illinois senator from 1992 to 1998. He insists that his late entry into the mayoral race is not a publicity stunt.

“I’m not a symbolic candidate,” Garcia told reporters after his lecture at UIC. “This is not a protest candidacy.”

He chided Emanuel for closing 50 Chicago public schools last year. Garcia also criticized the mayor for “forgetting about Chicago’s neighborhoods” and falling short on promises of increased public safety.

“The mayor has said he’d put more cops on the street,” Garcia said. “That really hasn’t happened.”

By the county commissioner’s own admission, he’ll need $3 million to $5 million dollars to defeat Emanuel.

“I expect us to hit that goal,” said Garcia without offering any specifics. “We’re working hard to generate the resources from a variety of sectors locally and nationally.”

Garcia is hoping to capitalize on the void left by Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis dropping out of the race. Lewis, who had made a strong showing in polls, had surgery earlier this month for brain cancer.

While several Chicago teachers have been stumping for Garcia, it’s unclear whether the CTU or Lewis will formerly endorse him.

One political insider close to the Emanuel campaign notes that Lewis is friends with Fioretti, making it unclear whom she’ll endorse or if she will endorse anyone.

When asked if he was seeking Lewis’ blessing, Garcia said it was too soon for that: “I want to demonstrate that this is a viable campaign before I ask anybody to put their neck out for me.”