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Rep. Luis Gutierrez Memoir Dishes on Obama, Rahm

By Patty Wetli | October 2, 2013 9:54am | Updated on October 2, 2013 10:54am
 Cong. Luis Gutierrez has penned a memoir, "Still Dreaming," due out Oct. 7.
Cong. Luis Gutierrez has penned a memoir, "Still Dreaming," due out Oct. 7.
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Facebook/Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez

LINCOLN SQUARE — If there's one thing Rep. Luis Gutierrez makes abundantly clear in his new memoir, "Still Dreaming," it's that he's not one to pull punches.

The infamous Chicago machine, which Gutierrez challenged and defeated, comes in for its share of hits as expected, but the congressman also takes a few jabs at President Barack Obama, who's portrayed in a less-than flattering light after reneging on a promise to push for immigration reform.

"So when Barack Obama asked me to support him for president, I didn't ask for a cabinet position.... I didn't ask to be an ambassador. I talked to him about comprehensive immigration reform," Gutierrez writes. "And Barack Obama was clear. He told me he would fight for comprehensive immigration reform."

Following Obama's election in 2008, Gutierrez, the son of native Puerto Ricans, recounts a number of meetings between the president and the Hispanic Caucus in which the one-time community organizer plainly signals that immigration has been put on the back burner.

Who was in charge of immigration policy? Gutierrez asked the commander-in-chief.

Rahm Emanuel, came the response.

"Rahm had once called immigration the 'third rail of politics' for Democrats," writes Gutierrez. "Telling us Emanuel was in charge sent a clear message — nobody was in charge."

The congressman reacted by hitting back harder.

"If you want change, you have to force it," he writes. "And I didn't care whether the man sitting in the Oval Office was my friend or not."

Gutierrez, representative of Illinois' fourth congressional district since 1993, has had his share of fights. This is a guy who cut his political teeth campaigning against machine heavyweights Ed Vrdolyak and Dan Rostenkowski. A gasoline-fueled explosive was once tossed through the window of his home.

The house was a goner, Gutierrez wasn't.

He built his reputation as a foot soldier for Mayor Harold Washington, initially in appointed positions. Gutierrez regales readers with tales of chasing down city crews on break before the workday even began, or staking out workers who spent the entire afternoon in a bar rather than fixing broken streetlights — efforts that would ultimately prove futile.

"I wish I could say I upended a culture of city workers who were more committed to getting their committeeman reelected than filling potholes or trimming trees," he writes. "I didn't."

Eventually, Gutierrez was elected alderman of the 26th Ward and served as a Washington ally.

"There was nobody quite like him," Gutierrez writes of Washington. "He ... made you feel like politics was joyous, something to celebrate. The excitement of his new power bounced around City Hall like lasers had been set loose."

Gutierrez and his wife Soraida were preparing for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday when he received a phone call from Ald. Dick Mell, telling him Washington was dead.

"One of my guys was the paramedic. On TV they are going to say he still has a chance, but I'm telling you, he's dead," Mell said. "I'd like your help. I want to be mayor of the city of Chicago."

Gutierrez hung up the phone.

"It was clear to me that we were losing more than Harold," Gutierrez writes. "We were losing everything we had fought for."

Today, even after 20 years as a congressman, Gutierrez is still very much a scrapper.

"When people tell me I should be a little nicer, or try to get along, I think, Why? What do I have to lose? I've reached my dreams."