PI Original Angela Caputo Friday February 19th, 2010, 12:55pm

Jesus "Chuy" Garcia On Beating The Machine

We caught up with Jesus "Chuy" Garcia to talk about how he clinched the Democratic nomination in Cook County's 7th District and to find out what's in store should he take office under board president nominee Toni Preckwinkle next year.

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Jesus "Chuy" Garcia knows a thing or two about moving progressive policy. His election as alderman in 1986 evenly split the Chicago City Council between supporters of then-Mayor Harold Washington and opposition leader Ed Vrdolyak, providing Washington with enough votes to push his agenda forward. Then, as a state senator in the early 1990s, Garcia shepherded immigrant-friendly health care and education reforms through the legislature. Now, he's taking a crack at shaping up Cook County government. Earlier this month, Garcia licked the political machine in the 7th District, beating incumbent Comm. Joseph Moreno in the Democratic primary. With victory in the general election all but guaranteed, Garcia is expected to swoop into office next year ready to help board president nominee Toni Preckwinkle carry out her reform agenda (assuming she too wins in November).

We caught up with Garcia to get his take on his recent victory and find out what's in store:

PI: On election night, you characterized your win as a victory for progressives that marked the emergence of "a new Democratic potential." Tell us what you meant by that.

GARCIA: [The conventional wisdom] that machine politics is the way to go was in contrast to the vision that we put out that democracy, transparency, and community engagement are the best ways to solve problems.

What people can draw from the experience of the West Side, Cicero, and Berwyn is that people can be responsive to reform and progressive politics. Groups that have been disenfranchised are seeing that a progressive approach is the best approach for dealing with the problems they are facing.

We were also able to channel some of the energy Obama created in '08 and figure out a local context ... and use technology and other ways to involve a lot of new and young people. I think that's exciting and innovative, particularly for the West Side of Chicago.

PI: The Chicago Reporter crunched the numbers and found that turnout among Latinos on the Southwest Side was low. What do you make of the numbers and what is it going to take to motivate voters?

GARCIA: That analysis is useful but limited. It provides the formal numbers but doesn't account for how the poll sheets may overrepresent voters, especially in more densely populated areas. We believe that more voters came out in this election.

It feels like the playing ground has become more level. The loss of traditional patronage and clout is allowing the community a greater say in the political process. This may help restore confidence in people getting involved.

PI: What milestones do you expect to hit when you mark your first year in office under a new Preckwinkle administration?

GARCIA: In our one-year anniversary, I'd like to see a general framework for reform so we can understand the size and scope of county government and we can account for agencies and their size. When we have [shined] the light of day on the county government, we can restore [the public's] trust. Then, people can feel like they're getting more for their tax dollars than in the past.

We also need to make sure that the county is pursuing an agenda of inclusion and that there's a sense of optimism and a growing coalition that reflects the composition of the county.

PI: What sort of influence do you see a progressive Cook County government having on politics in the region?

GARCIA: If people see a correlation between a reform administration and value for their tax dollars, it could have a spin-off effect in localities and legislation at the state level. I think there will be pressure on everyone if we can get a smaller, more efficient county government. That's going to put pressure on everyone.

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