Jesús “Chuy” García is a progressive leader who has fought to improve the lives of all people. Chuy emerged as a national leader during his 2015 bid for Mayor of the City of Chicago. Chuy received an outpouring of support and acclaim and has continued to be vocal on local and national policy issues. He currently serves as Commissioner for the 7th District on the Cook County Board.
Chuy was born in a village at the edge of the Sierra Madre in Durango, Mexico. His father worked as a bracero in the fields of California, Kansas and Texas. The family moved to Chicago when Chuy was 10 and settled in Pilsen and then the Little Village neighborhood.
Chuy developed his first interest in politics at St. Rita High School, inspired by the speeches of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and United Farm Workers Union leader Cesar Chavez. He got his first taste of political organizing when he and fellow students threw a picket line around the old Atlantic movie theater on 26th Street, which had become seedy and rundown. It closed but reopened in a cleaned up version and the newly minted activists could take pride in their work.
The election of Harold Washington as mayor in 1983 spawned what some view as the golden age in progressive politics in Chicago. The new mayor tapped Chuy to become the city’s deputy water commissioner. In 1986, Chuy was elected alderman of the 22nd Ward and tipped the balance on the City Council to Mayor Washington’s favor, ending the furious clash known in Chicago history as Council Wars.
As Alderman, Chuy secured city funds to construct the giant Little Village Arch that sweeps across 26th Street in the 22nd Ward. He also pushed through an ordinance providing help for immigrants with filling out forms, writing letters and applying for green cards issued by the federal government.
Chuy left the City Council to run for the Illinois Senate in 1992 and became the first Mexican-American elected to that post. He succeeded in passing legislation that set limits on fees charged by notary publics to immigrants for assistance with legal matters. Chuy also won passage of a bill requiring interpreters be made available to hospital patients who could not speak sufficient English to understand their treatment options.
Chuy’s time in Springfield came to an abrupt end. He was defeated for reelection in 1998 and turned to community organizing. Chuy founded and became executive director of the Little Village Community Development Corporation. The group, whose name is now Enlace Chicago, began with a single employee (Chuy), but by 2009, had grown to 27 full time employees, 120 part-time workers and an annual budget of $2.9 million. Enlace has successfully lobbied for money to upgrade housing in the community and organized a hunger strike to force city bureaucrats to build the Little Village-Lawndale High School, which was the first High School built in the community in nearly 100 years.
In 2010, Chuy was elected to the Cook County Board of Commissioners, a legislative body that allocates the county’s $3.5 billion budget. He was named floor leader by Board President Toni Preckwinkle and helped enact the reform agenda. Chuy stood up to an army of real estate lobbyists and pushed through a ban on the practice of some suburban landlords refusing to rent homes to low income families, veterans, the disabled and others who rely on housing choice vouchers.
Chuy also passed a measure to put an end to Cook County’s cooperation with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency. The ordinance prevented County officials from detaining a person based on the suspicion of being undocumented. The measure became the first of its kind in the nation and more than 250 localities followed Chuy’s lead nationwide.
Chuy was re-elected to a second term on the County Board in 2014.
Chuy launched his campaign for Mayor of Chicago on October 27, 2015. He put together an impressive coalition of support across the city and forced the first ever run-off election in the city’s history. Chuy fell short of winning the mayor’s seat, but inspired and reawakened the progressive movement in Chicago.
Chuy has received many distinctions for his tireless advocacy of social justice and has served on the boards of several organizations. Chuy and his wife, Evelyn, reside in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood. They have three adult children: Jesus, Samuel and Rosa.
Chuy earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s in urban planning from the University of Illinois-Chicago. During his undergraduate experience, he held a job as a paralegal helping immigrants and low-income families.