Luis Gutierrez returns to Chicago ready for latest grandson — but not the rocking chair

Luis Gutierrez returns to Chicago ready for latest grandson — but not the rocking chair

Former U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez discusses his plans at the Puerto Rican Cultural Center in the Humboldt Park neighborhood Wednesday. | Mark Brown/Chicago Sun-Times

Gutierrez said being back in Chicago will also give him easier access to friends in Congress from Chicago and Milwaukee whose support will be needed to pass the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act. 

Former U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez is back from Puerto Rico with a new home, a new grandson on the way and a new project that returns him to his political roots.

The project (others may follow, he hints) is to campaign for passage of the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act, an effort to slow a push by Congressional Democrats to make the U.S. island territory the 51st state, instead creating a convention process that would allow Puerto Ricans to decide their own future.

“What got me into politics was the fight for the independence of Puerto Rico,” said Gutierrez, a statehood opponent who has worked since high school to make his ancestral homeland a sovereign nation.

His current effort reunites him with his mentor from his earliest days in the local independence movement, Jose Lopez, executive director of Chicago’s Puerto Rican Cultural Center.

I met Gutierrez Wednesday at the center’s offices above Division Street, looking out on the Humboldt Park neighborhood where Chicagoans were introduced to him in 1986 during his raucous first campaign for 26th Ward alderman.

You’ll recall Gutierrez left Congress after helping Jesus “Chuy” Garcia secure his seat in 2018, but may not know he then left Chicago in April 2019 after assisting his daughter Jessica’s unsuccessful bid for 30th Ward alderman.

Gutierrez had maintained a home in Puerto Rico for years, but after retiring from Congress, decided to make it his permanent residence. He said he switched his driver’s license and voter registration, then happily donned the green and white colors of his once outcast Puerto Rican Independence Party to cast his vote in November.

But last week Gutierrez moved into a modest ranch home in Norwood Park with revised plans to split his time between here and the island, snowbird-style.

With his wife Soraida, left, and daughter Jessica by his side, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez announces he will retire from Congress in 2017. Scott Olson/Getty Images file
With his wife Soraida, left, and daughter Jessica by his side, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez fights back emotions as he announces he will retire from Congress during a news conference in 2017.

“What ward is that?” I asked, because I’ve never known a Chicago politician for whom that wasn’t a home-buying consideration, but Gutierrez just threw up his hands to indicate he had no idea.

I’ll take that as a sign Gutierrez has bigger fish to fry these days (although let the record reflect the house is in the 41st Ward).

More importantly, the new home gives Gutierrez and his wife a better vantage point to stay engaged with one particular small fry during the six months he and his wife now plan to spend here each year.

That’s daughter Jessica’s latest plans, the expected birth of a new son to be named Luis David, or Luis II as Gutierrez called him, not to be confused with Gutierrez’ other grandson, Luis Andres, the college-bound son of his older daughter Omaira.

Luis Gutierrez celebrates on election night in 1986 with his wife Soraida and daughter Omaira Chicago Sun Times Archives
Luis Gutierrez celebrates on election night in 1986 with his wife Soraida and daughter Omaira.

Gutierrez said being back in Chicago will also give him easier access to friends in Congress from Chicago and Milwaukee whose support will be needed to pass the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act.

That legislation, proposed by Reps. Nydia Velázquez and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, both New York Democrats, along with similar legislation from Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., does not advocate for any one outcome on Puerto Rico’s future relationship with the U.S.

But the clear expectation is that the proposed convention — composed of elected representatives from Puerto Rico’s Statehood and Commonwealth parties and “independistas” — would create a fresh opportunity for those preferring some form of sovereignty over statehood, which has its own Democratic support in Congress. In a non-binding referendum last year, 52% of Puerto Rican voters supported statehood.

“I really do believe we don’t need to block statehood because statehood has never achieved a majority of the people of Puerto Rico in any legitimately sponsored electoral contest,” said Gutierrez, dismissing last year’s referendum.

Gutierrez’ desired outcome: “I like to think of a treaty of friendship and solidarity between the people of Puerto Rico and the people of the United States, because I think to speak about us being totally separate in every aspect is not something that’s realistic.”

“The question here is sovereignty. No longer will the U.S. Congress be able to impose or act upon the people of Puerto Rico unilaterally. Their sovereignty will be restored to them.”

Luis Gutierrez celebrates winning a runoff election in 1986 for the 26th Ward City Council seat. Chicago Sun Times Archives
Luis Gutierrez celebrates winning a runoff election in 1986 for the 26th Ward City Council seat.

In between advocating for Puerto Rico, Gutierrez says he will be pursuing unspecified business opportunities, but said he does not intend to do any lobbying “ever.” He hinted at a new nonprofit initiative involving immigration reform, the issue on which he is most closely identified, but said he’s not ready to announce it.

Gutierrez’ push for Puerto Rican independence was once considered radical and through the years fueled many of his turf fights in Chicago with other Puerto Rican politicians.

Now he’s just a grandfather wanting to spend more time with Luis II, a grandfather who just happens to always be near the eye of the storm.

Category Latest Posts