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ELECTIONS 2024 Raymond Lopez talks congressional run, Chuy Garcia, migrant crisis
by Andrew Davis

This article shared 11103 times since Mon Feb 26, 2024
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Chicago Ald. Raymond Lopez has been a member of City Council since 2015, representing the 15th Ward and making history as one of the city's first LGBTQ+ Latine alderman.

Now, he is setting his sights on a higher office, challenging congressional incumbent Jesus "Chuy" Garcia to represent Illinois' 4th District, which includes the southwest side of Chicago as well as parts of suburbs such as Berwyn, Hinsdale, Melrose Park and Elmhurst, among others. In a recent conversation, Lopez—who said he would run for no more than five two-year terms as a congressman—discussed his run, being a centrist and his favorite politicians.

NOTE: This conversation was edited for clarity and length.

Windy City Times: This latest run—is this more about wanting to be in Congress or about being away from City Council?

Raymond Lopez: To be perfectly honest, I love being an alderman. I love being able to help people. Those are two wildly different elected offices: a member of Congress and a member of City Council. But at the same time, my ability to help people is now being hampered, as many of the issues that are affecting us are stemming from Washington.

If you look at the migrant/asylum-seeker situation, regardless of what your politics are about immigration, that is something that originated outside of our city and which has been brought to our doorstep. When you look at the amount of violence in our city and the weapons that are used, the fact that Congress could not rally itself to pass an assault-weapons ban again shows the dysfunction in Washington. When we talk about inflation and the economy, that's not something that originates in Chicago; that's the dysfunction of Washington.

But there's also the positive, as we can talk about how to invest federal dollars in our community. There are also opportunities for minority- and women-[based] participation—something that's specifically excluded in many federal grants. While serving the people of Chicago has been a great honor, I don't see anyone stepping up to the plate to address the issues that are impacting our communities the most. We need someone who's willing to advocate for change and work not only with our Democratic caucus but with the other side of the aisle as well, pushing the ball farther down the field. There's a lot of bloviating and not a lot of return or results. We need results.

WCT: So obviously you don't feel the incumbent is generating results.

Lopez: No. I think Chuy Garcia has lost his center. I think Chuy Garcia has forgotten who he is and who he represents. This hasn't been more evident than with the migrant crisis. We have leapfrogged over the undocumented people who have been here for years and the DACA kids who have been waiting nearly a generation for a path to legalization and security.

He has jumped at the opportunity to help the … asylum-seekers who have admitted to manipulating our asylum laws; they come into this country and have protected status once they get here. No one is offering the same benefits to the DACA kids or the undocumented.

As someone who is an immigrant himself and proudly broadcasts that at every turn, shame on [Garcia] for forgetting that fact. He's left millions of people in the dark. Before we take on the next group, let's not forget the people here who have been waiting.

WCT: And how do you feel about Chicago having sanctuary city status?

Lopez: I have no issue with sanctuary city status. The only change I've tried to make to [that] status is that individuals who are here who choose to engage in crimes involving guns, gangs, prostitution or sex crimes with minors should not be given refuge in our city.

We have to acknowledge that we are targeted because of our welcoming city laws by people like [Texas Gov.] Greg Abbot, [Florida Gov.] Ron DeSantis and others. But the federal government has deposited individuals in our city as well. And if we're going to commit hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to this idea, then it should be up to the voters to weigh in as well and say they're with it or not.

WCT: And from talking with constituents, a lot of them are in line with your views?

Lopez: Yes, and I represent a lot of undocumented individuals. They know my concerns, and that when it comes to those four disqualifiers, that I'm not referring to them; there's a very small percentage of people who are not here for good purposes. But I will say this: There would not be sanctuary city or welcoming city ordinances—here or anywhere else—if Congress would finally start taking some decisive action regarding the broken immigration system. What these laws represent are Band-Aids to the failures of the federal government, and none of this would be required if we had a functional front door to this country, instead of the workarounds we have because Congress has refused to do anything about this since 1987—and that is a failure of both parties.

Both of the [main parties] play to their core constituencies while doing absolutely nothing for millions of people who have been left to the side as political pawns for both parties. It has to stop.

WCT: There are some Democrats and Republicans who feel their respective parties have left them behind or have gotten more "extreme." Do you ever feel like you are more of an independent—or a political island, if you will?

Lopez: No—I absolutely feel that I and many voters feel that the parties have left them. Whether it's MAGA or socialists, everybody's going [out] instead of [coming in]. I think that's one of the threads we see in our democracy: People have forgotten how to talk. We have to be able to listen and try to find where 80% of the common ground is.

I know immigration is a "hot-button issue" but I also know that my red-blooded Republican friends who are ultra-patriotic understand that there's a case to be made for the DACA kids who have known no other country through no fault of their own—and who love America just as much as I do. We need to focus on those small instances where we can come together and find some commonality, and break through the stagnation in Washington. There's no trust within the systems, no trust within the parties and, more importantly, no trust between the politicians and the public. We need to start rebuilding all of it but it's going to take time.

You can't have a congressman like Chuy Garcia, who only shows up when there's an important vote. How can he be an advocate for change? If there's anyone who's on an island right now, it's Chuy. He's, like, the fifth most extreme member of Congress, politically speaking. Someone who's that far out in the wilderness will look at someone like me, who's in the middle, and say that I'm extreme simply because he's forgotten where the center is. But I've been told that I need to move to Florida because I don't fit the ideology being preached by certain organizations.

WCT: I want to get more of an idea of where you stand politically? Who's one of your favorite politicians ever, and why?

Lopez: I think if you look at Chicago's elected officials, we have more than enough colorful characters to choose from. We need to get back to the [former U.S. Rep] Bill Lipinski/[ex-Chicago Mayor] Richard M. Daley mindset, where you have your political ideologies but you need to be guided more by your conscience, scruples and values. You have to be pragmatic, be able to take criticism and, most importantly, be able to listen so you can better serve the people. Those are the kinds of leaders who I think I'd like to most emulate. When you think back to what they were able to accomplish, they were able to have communities come together while understanding people had different needs.

Yes, Chuy Garcia brought in $10 million the first four years he was in Congress, but he's completely forgotten about the district during the last two, because he's so busy running for mayor and doing everything else. We don't have an incumbent who's proactive; instead, he's reactive. For example, there was the flash-flooding that took place last year; many West Side and suburban communities were hit; the infrastructure was rocked because it was aged, and homeowners were impacted. Where was Chuy Garcia during the 18 months before to ask residents about their needs and to bring money to proactively impact their sewer and drainage systems? These [once-in-a-century] storms are happening every year now.

WCT: What do you feel is the biggest issue for the LGBTQ+ community?

Lopez: That's a very good question—and I have to [answer] this from what I know and who I am. … I think we should never lose focus on the fact that our community is just as diverse and expansive as any other; sometimes, that's lost when dealing with communities of color.

Demographically speaking, Chicago is one-third white, one-third Black and one-third Latino but, yet, there's a situation where those numbers are not reflected in the outreach and support of LGBTQ+ people. We used to have organizations that went into the communities and made sure we had condoms and HIV/STD testing. We don't see that anymore. At a time when everyone else is branching out and showing how inclusive and diverse they can be, it almost feels like we're subconsciously pulling ourselves in, as a community. There are gay organizations and large gay communities in Berwyn, Cicero and the northwest suburbs, but they're not getting any sort of recognition, advocacy or support. There are young LGBTQ+ people who don't get any support outside of their towns. We need to elevate each other.

WCT: What's your biggest advantage and disadvantage in this race?

Lopez: I think they're one and the same—the fact that I'm known by many. I come in with a recognized name brand, for better or for worse. People are either going to love me or hate me. There are people who love the values that I profess and there are people who hate me—probably because they don't understand what I'm talking about. But I use that as an opportunity to show voters that I'm from a time when critical thinking mattered. Right now, because I'm able to articulate my beliefs, you may love or hate me—but you know where I'm coming from.

The Illinois primary election will take place Tuesday, March 19. Ald. Raymond Lopez's campaign website is .

This article shared 11103 times since Mon Feb 26, 2024
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