Rep. Gutierrez's corruption is shielded by public support in Chicago
Chicago’s Latino community is struggling to come to terms with one of its leaders.
This week Chicago’s inspector general announced that the city will be investigating a program under which the daughter of U.S. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez was able to buy a piece of property and sell it months later at a 55-percent profit.
In 2008 Gutiérrez’s daughter, Omaira Figueroa, bought a four-unit building in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood under a program that reduced property prices and designated them to struggling families. She bought the property for $155,000 and sold it for $239,900 in 2009, earning herself an $84,900 profit in the process.
Rep. Gutiérrez – who has served Illinois’s 4th congressional district since 1993 – has become an ambiguous figure in Chicago politics. The congressman is simultaneously the highly-popular spokesman of the city’s Latino community and the shadowy politician regularly suspected of improper practices.
He has been linked to a 2004 scandal in which he lobbied Mayor Richard Daley to okay zoning for residential development. A few experts at the time commented on the peculiarity of a U.S. congressman lobbying on behalf of a development plan outside his own district. An investigation revealed that Gutiérrez had received a $200,000 loan from the developer, Calvin Boender, just months prior to Gutiérrez’s personal letter to the mayor advocating the rezoning
Boender was later federally indicted in connection with the same development Gutiérrez had lobbied for – the Galewood Yards project on the city’s West Side. Although Gutiérrez was never indicted himself, Ald. Ike Carothers pled guilty to taking bribes in exchange for supporting plans to rezone the area for residential use.
And if any improprieties are uncovered as a result of the city's current investigation, it won’t be the first time the representative is tied to the practice of buying properties at discounted rates only to quickly re-sell them when market prices climb – a practice known as “flipping.”
On the other hand, Gutiérrez has always presented himself as the “voice of the people” in Chicago, an image reinforced by his participation in various issues and causes. Most notably, Gutiérrez has been an outspoken critic of the federal government’s current immigration policy, arguing that the law destroys immigrant families by deporting undocumented family members.
Rep. Gutiérrez was even arrested Saturday for participating in an immigration reform protest outside the White House gate. While debating Rep. J.D. Hayworth – who is in a Republican primary race with John McCain (R-AZ) -- on CBS’s Face the Nation the next morning, Gutiérrez said he is working “to end illegal immigration as we know it.”
He also appeared on the show to attack Arizona’s new immigration law, which allows Arizona police officers to stop and question persons they may suspect reside in the state illegally. The new law also requires Latinos to carry identification at all times to avoid false arrests.
That Gutiérrez is of Puerto Rican descent and spearheads a number of campaigns to aid the Latino community – not only in Chicago, but across the country – goes a long way in Illinois’s 4th congressional district. Illinois’s 4th district is predominantly Latino – 74% – and contains a considerable amount of Puerto Ricans in its northern half.
Chicago’s Latino community is caught in an ideological dilemma: do they support Rep. Gutiérrez as the local champion of various Latino and Democratic causes; or do they revile him as the crooked politician in Chicago’s long line of crooked politicians?
It appears they’ve chosen the first option.
Gutiérrez’s backroom business dealings go generally ignored by his constituency. The representative’s strong advocacy for immigration reform – and the popularity it has garnered him – shelters him from public criticism and outcries for corruption investigations.
And the Latino voters of Illinois’s 4th district should not be the target of public criticism themselves for re-electing Gutiérrez every four years. It’s understandable that a community would support a leader who campaigns on its behalf and fights in its favor, even if he makes thousands of dollars on the side while doing so.
The strong electoral support for Gutiérrez shows how a small amount of political corruption is acceptable when the voters themselves get a few kickbacks.