Once the dust settled after Democratic Rep. Luis Gutiérrez’s surprise announcement Tuesday that he would retire from Illinois’ 4th Congressional District at the end of his term, something even more unexpected happened.
The frequently disappointed activists who occupy the left wing of the Democratic Party publicly rejoiced at their good fortune.
Two prominent progressives, Cook County Commissioner Jesús “Chuy” Garcia and Chicago Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa immediately announced their intention to run for the seat that Gutiérrez has held since 1993. (The district, where Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump by 68 percentage points in 2016, is gerrymandered to bring together heavily Latino swathes of northwestern and southwestern Chicago with nearby suburbs.)
For hardline progressive voters, a potential showdown in the March 20, 2018, primary between Garcia and Ramirez-Rosa, a dues-paying member of the Democratic Socialists of America, amounts to an embarrassment of riches. They see it as a plum opportunity to capitalize on the leftward drift of the Democratic Party since last year’s presidential run by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
“There is no doubt that progressive politics are the way of the future for the Democratic Party and there is a real opportunity to bring someone who represents that into Congress,” said Nomiki Konst, a former Sanders convention delegate who serves on the Democratic National Committee’s Unity and Reform Commission.
“It’s a Democratic district. Why not go for somebody as progressive as possible and have a real fighter in Congress?” Konst added.
What’s more, both Garcia and Ramirez-Rosa would be more reliably left-wing and anti-establishment than Gutiérrez has been, according to several activists.
Unlike Gutiérrez, who backed the 2015 re-election bid of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, himself a centrist Democrat, Garcia and Ramirez-Rosa are both ardent Emanuel opponents. The two-term mayor has attracted the ire of Chicago progressives for, among other things, closing public schools and mental health clinics and enabling the upscale development of historically diverse, working-class neighborhoods.
Garcia, 61, challenged Emanuel in the 2015 mayor’s race, forcing the first mayoral runoff in Chicago history. Ramirez-Rosa, 28, has been one of Emanuel’s most vocal critics on the city council since his own election in 2015.
“We saw the work that [Gutiérrez] did for Rahm Emanuel in 2015 after Emanuel…