Gutierrez and the four-move checkmate

Gutierrez and the four-move checkmate

Just like that, the handoff unfolded. Less than 24 hours after the news broke he would not seek re-election, longtime U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez held a news conference to anoint his successor. And his successor’s successor.

The only surprise was the setting of the announcement — Maggiano’s Little Italy instead of Hotel Allegro in downtown Chicago, where Cook County Democrats usually crown their hierarchy.

Gutierrez, who has served in Congress since 1993, stood with Cook County Board member Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and showered him with praise. Gutierrez said he would not have stepped aside if Garcia had not agreed to run for the 4th Congressional District seat. The two of them joined the Chicago City Council in 1986 and navigated the Council Wars and the unexpected death of Mayor Harold Washington. They have history.

Also at the lectern Tuesday: Chicago Ald. Ricardo Munoz, 22nd, who intends to run for Garcia’s seat on the County Board. Mayor Richard M. Daley appointed Munoz to the City Council seat in 1993 when Garcia, who previously held it, advanced to the state Senate. And if Munoz transfers to the County Board, Mayor Rahm Emanuel gets to appoint Munoz’s replacement on the City Council.

That’s checkmate in four moves. Even in the greasy environs of Chicago politics, it’s slick. Outsiders interested in running against Garcia for Congress or Munoz for County Board have only until Monday to collect signatures to get on the ballot. The incumbents got a head start.

Luckiest guy in all of this? Emanuel, who can orchestrate his 2019 re-election campaign without the threat of Garcia, who forced him into a runoff last time around.

That’s the demoralizing aspect of Chicago-style politics. It’s rigged.

Gutierrez, Garcia and Munoz share more than 70-plus years combined in public office. Can’t they crack the window for newcomers instead of twisting the locks?

Sadly, voters are accustomed to the succession planning, ostensibly done on their behalf and for their own good.

When former Cook County Board President John Stroger suffered a stroke in 2006, his son, Todd Stroger, eventually took his place as president, a Chicago alderman took his seat as a voting County Board member and the alderman’s daughter took her dad’s spot on the City Council. That is, John Stroger to Todd Stroger to William Beavers to Darcel Beavers.

We have Chicago Ald. Deb Mell, 33rd, who took her father’s seat in 2013. We have Luis Arroyo Jr. serving on the Cook County Board while his father serves in the state House. Until recently, we had Toni Berrios serving in the House while her father, Joseph Berrios, Cook County Democratic Party chairman, pulled the strings in her campaigns.

We have Rep. Michael J. Zalewski of Riverside, appointed to the seat in 2008 with the clout of his father, Chicago Ald. Michael R. Zalewski, 23rd. And perhaps the most egregious manipulation of the election code — U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski taking his father’s seat in Congress in 2004 even though the younger Lipinski had been living in Tennessee. His father dropped out at the last minute, leaving no chance for a real challenger, just a friendly token Republican who had ties to the Lipinski organization.

We’ll stop there. We’ll also acknowledge the setup for the Gutierrez seat isn’t as slimy as some handoffs that have unfolded in the past. But it’s still unseemly.

Grease-wielding incumbency isn’t something magically bestowed. Voters tolerate it. Will they again?

Other candidates — even with a Monday deadline to get on the ballot — will emerge to challenge the lineup that unfolded on Tuesday. Will voters give other candidates a chance — or simply accept the succession plan that’s been clouted in front of them?

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