CHICAGO — For years, Chicago's Latino aldermen have had a standing lunch date after City Council meetings to discuss opportunities to advance the interests of their community. On Monday, they debuted a formal organization that will pursue those interests more aggressively: the city's first official Latino caucus.
"Previously, there wasn't any formal structure or purpose, that I can see, to what they were doing," said Matthew Bailey, spokesman for Ald. Proco "Joe" Moreno (1st), a founding member of the caucus. "This incorporation kind of formalizes it, and brings structure to it."
That structure includes the formation of a related foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, that can fundraise tax-deductible donations for scholarships and community building efforts, Bailey said. Both the caucus and its partner foundation will aim to "stay out of the politics and focus on the advocacy issues as much as you can in Chicago."
The formalized caucus will also be more accessible to non-Hispanic aldermen representing majority-Hispanic districts in a way the informal association was not. Ald. Toni Foulkes (15th), who is African-American, is a member, according to Bailey, as is Ald. Ed Burke (14th), who is white, but represents a growing Hispanic constituency.
Michael Rodriguez, executive director of Enlace Chicago, an advocacy group representing Little Village, said there are several issues he hopes the group will tackle right away.
"They could take leadership very soon here," Rodriguez said. "There's a major initiative going on to give [members of the Latino community] driver's licenses, so hopefully they will pass a pre-council resolution sponsored by this caucus to support that effort. I also believe that education is a major issue: that they're supporting quality, community-centered education, so we'll really be pushing for them to do that."
Chaired by Ald. Danny Solis (25th), the Chicago City Council Latino Caucus was born from the group's successful efforts to expand Latino representation in the recent ward remap, adding two new majority Hispanic wards, according to a statement from Solis' office.
"I think it's very interesting to me that in City Council people are willing to overcome whatever differences they have, because they do have differences, and try to act together on some things," said Jorge Mujica of the workers rights group Arise Chicago. "They have done it in the past a little bit, led by Ald. Solis, as related to the remapping that was on last year, but other than that they really don't act together. So in creating the Latino Caucus, that sounds like a pretty good way to advance the issues affecting the community."
Mujica said he hopes to see hearings held soon on the North and South sides to survey community members about the issues that most concern them.
The Latino caucus' founding members are Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), Ald. George Cardenas (12th), Ald. Rick Munoz (22nd), Ald. Danny Solis (25th), Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th), Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th), Ald. Ray Suarez (31st) and Ald. Rey Colon (35th).