IRVING PARK — Before Jessica “Washington” Gutiérrez was born, the first Black mayor of Chicago told her father, “You better name that kid after me,” she said.
Although Harold Washington died before Jessica Gutiérrez was able to meet him, she’s always been inspired by her namesake’s political legacy, especially his unique ability to bring people together, she said. Now, Gutiérrez is carving her own political path by running for 30th Ward alderman.
“I don’t think Chicago has seen someone who’s able to bring all walks of life together the way Harold Washington did,” Gutiérrez said. “I want to be a unifier like him. He supported Black and Latino aldermanic candidates and built a city hall that fought back.”
Gutiérrez is a known figure on the Northwest Side and nearly unseated incumbent Ald. Ariel Reboyras in the 2019 election — losing by about 300 votes — after forcing him to a runoff.
The daughter of former Rep. Luis Gutiérrez announced earlier this month her plans to run again, with a goal of uniting the diverse group of constituents who live throughout the ward by making local government more accessible, she said.
“Our last campaign was one of the first times you saw a campaign really organizing the community,” Gutiérrez said. “We started something personal, something organic, from the bottom up. I just feel like our community deserves another chance to take their voice back.”
The newly redrawn 30th Ward covers a variety of Northwest Side neighborhoods, including portions of Belmont Cragin, Irving Park, Portage Park and Avondale.
“I think there’s a new generation out there ready to be the new lifeline City Hall needs,” Gutiérrez said. “Being an alderperson has become the kind of job you just sit in and do the bare minimum, and a lot of aldermen are starting to see the residents getting restless. We’re all getting frustrated by the old-school dirty politics.”
Over the past few years, Gutiérrez has worked with the Puerto Rican Cultural Center in Belmont Craigin to acquire funding and provide COVID-19 relief resources to neighbors. She recently resigned to focus on her campaign.
“Having an understanding of the neighborhood, being in the community, understanding how difficult it is for these organizations to get their hands on the money that comes from these laws that are passed at every level of government, I think that makes a good representative,” Gutiérrez said.
Gutiérrez also got married and became a mother to her now 18-month-old son, which she said has “changed the way [she] looks at the world.”
“I’ve always known I wanted to stand up and fight for people, but as a mom, wow,” Gutiérrez said. “Your perspective changes, and it’s not only about protecting my child. It’s about protecting all the children that live here and making sure that they have an excellent education, that they feel safe, that they’re stable, that they have the best quality of life.”
All of these experiences have strengthened Gutiérrez’s beliefs about who an alderperson should be: someone closely connected to the community who feels comfortable putting pressure on city agencies to ensure constituents can access the resources they need, she said.
If Gutiérrez is elected, she plans to focus on public safety, mental health issues, school equity, empty storefronts and environmental justice.
Gutiérrez also wants to “reimagine the Police Department,” increase resources for mental health, better the public’s relationship with police and ensure officers are held accountable “since there should be accountability in every job,” she said.
“All children deserve excellent schools. We shouldn’t be picking and choosing which schools get resources over the others,” Gutiérrez said. “I want to make Chicago the greenest city because if we even have a future, it’s green. There are so many people who want to start businesses to invigorate the neighborhood who just haven’t been given the opportunity.
“These are all big issues to tackle, but I think the most important thing is bringing people together so I can listen to what they want.”
Although these issues “won’t be solved overnight,” Gutiérrez said she’s “ready to do the hard work” it takes to make progress.
This means “unifying” the ward through frequent community meetings, practicing transparency through a participatory budget, giving people opportunities to use their talents to benefit the community and making it easier for non-profits to access funding, Gutiérrez said.
“It’s so important to just get out there and show your community how hard you’re willing to work,” Gutiérrez said. “I want to hear about the problems people have and I want to solve them. Bringing people together in such a diverse ward is hard work, but it’s the kind of work that’s going to be the most gratifying for our community.”
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