By Jim Ellis
Nov. 29, 2017 — Two years ago, US Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Chicago) announced that he would not seek re-election, only to eventually turn around and file for another term. On Monday, Gutierrez filed paperwork to secure a ballot spot, according to a Chicago Tribune report, but yesterday reversed course and announced for the second time that he would retire. “I’m going to leave Congress at the end of my term in 2019,” he said, “but I’m not retiring.” Once this Congress adjourns, he will have completed 13 full terms in the House.
This could be an example of Chicago machine politics at its best, however. With Gutierrez announcing that he won’t run just a week before the Dec. 4 candidate filing deadline after giving every indication he would seek re-election, it’s possible he could be setting up a designated successor. Already, Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D) is reportedly circulating petitions to gather signatures for congressional race qualification. We can expect a great deal of political scrambling in the next day or two, since prospective candidates have little time to decide about their individual run for Congress, and then build and command enough of a political organization to meet the ballot qualification requirements.
Illinois’ 4th District is heavily Democratic (Clinton 82.1 percent; Obama ’12: 80.9 percent), so all of the political action will be settled in the March 20th party primary. The seat is 70.1 percent Hispanic, and the state’s only Hispanic majority district.
The gerrymandered seat ignited controversy when the Democratic legislature first drew it in 2011. The IL-4 configuration appears as a giant letter “C” that covers communities north and south of downtown Chicago, beginning at Lake Michigan and moving west toward the merger of Interstates 290 and 294 near Elmhurst. The CD houses the Chicago communities of Avondale, Logan Square, Belmont Cragin, and Melrose Park on the north, while the district’s southern belt includes the Brookfield, Cicero, and Brighton Park neighborhoods.
Many argued that Chicago’s sizable Hispanic population could control two seats, but the legislative leaders wanting to protect the city’s three African American districts chose to combine this particular minority group into one district in a configuration that, at the far western point, is contiguous only through two intersecting freeways.
Rep. Gutierrez’s announcement moves the open House seat count to 37, one of which (PA-18) will be decided in a March 13 special election to replace resigned Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pittsburgh). Counting Gutierrez, there are now a dozen Democrats leaving their congressional posts for various reasons as opposed to 25 Republicans.
Earlier, the open seat count was slow to develop and, for a time, appeared to be running well below the number we’ve seen in the most recent election cycles. Now, with some candidate filing deadlines beginning to come into focus, thus forcing re-election decisions, the incumbent-less district figure is quickly increasing.
The largest House open seat number in recent elections came in the 2012 reapportionment and redistricting cycle when 62 seats comprised this category. In 2014, the number dropped to 47 before slightly ascending to 49 in the 2016 campaign cycle. To date, from the first election under the various 2011 redistricting plans, 195 House seats, or 45 percent of the entire body, have opened at some point during the last four elections, including the developing 2018 campaign season.