Illinois 4 Special: The Potential Race to Replace Chuy García

by Erin Covey January 17, 2023 · 2:45 PM EST

The upcoming Chicago mayoral race has drawn a crowded field of candidates hoping to unseat Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Chief among her challengers is Democratic Rep. Chuy García, a progressive congressman from the southwest side of Chicago. If he wins, it’ll put another congressional special election on the docket.

This is Garcia's second run for mayor. Eight years ago, the then-Cook County commissioner challenged Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and with the support of labor unions and progressive allies forced the incumbent into a runoff. Garcia lost to Emanuel by 12 points, but was elected to Congress in 2018, succeeding Rep. Luis Gutierrez.

The nominally nonpartisan election is Feb. 28, but it’s almost certain that no one will win a majority of the vote and the top two candidates will face each other in a runoff election on April 4. The race has divided Illinois’ congressional delegation — freshmen Democratic Reps. Delia Ramirez and Jonathan Jackson are backing Brandon Johnson, a Cook County commissioner, and Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Reps. Danny Davis and Robin Kelly have endorsed Lightfoot. 

Illinois Democrats believe the race will likely come down to García and Lightfoot, and if the congressman unseats the mayor, voters in Illinois’ 4th District will have a special election to fill García’s seat.

With the runoff still three months away, it’ll be a little while before prospective candidates start making moves to position themselves for a special election. But Illinois-based political strategists agree that García would have a tremendous influence in the potential race to succeed him, and whoever received the congressman’s blessing would be the obvious frontrunner to win the Democratic primary.

Illinois’ 4th District is majority Latino and stretches around the west side of Chicago, encompassing Latino communities such as Little Village and Humboldt Park. García defeated his Republican opponent by 40 points last November, and Joe Biden won it with 72 percent in 2020, so whoever wins the Democratic primary would be poised to succeed García.

Several local elected officials would be well-positioned to replace the congressman. Multiple Democratic strategists mentioned state Sen. Celena Villanuave, an ally of García and a former progressive organizer in the region. 

Other potential candidates include 26-year-old state Rep. Edgar Gonzalez, state Rep. Aaron Ortiz, and Eira L. Corral Sepúlveda, the first Latina elected to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. 

Several aldermen could run as well; Byron Sigcho-Lopez and Michael Rodriguez were mentioned by Democratic strategists who spoke with Inside Elections.

The inauguration for mayor is not till May, and so if García wins, the special election to replace him would likely not be held till late summer or early fall. According to Illinois state law, the governor has five days from the time the seat is vacant to call a special election, and the special general election must be held within 180 days of that command.