The 63-year-old congressman has served his Chicago district since 1993 and is a senior member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Gutierrez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, is leading a bipartisan push to send tens of millions of dollars in federal aid to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico. He was also arrested this year outside Trump Tower in New York protesting the president’s strict immigration enforcement policy.
Speaking to Chicago Tribune, Gutierrez said, “I love Puerto Rico, and she’s in a lot of pain. And there’s a lot of people that have turned their backs on her, and she needs to be rebuilt. And I cannot be here in the 4th Congressional District and rebuilding the home of my mom and my dad, where my wife was born, a place that I love so much.”
But Gutierrez also was among the harshest liberal critics of former president Barack Obama, a fellow Chicagoan, whom he called the “deporter in chief” for ordering immigration agencies to deport hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants. He strongly disagreed with the decision by Obama — and his then-chief of staff Emanuel — to use the early years of his presidency to push for health-care reform instead of an immigration overhaul.
Before the Thanksgiving recess, Gutierrez told The Washington Post that he was planning to file the signatures he needed to collect to run for reelection.
“I’m filing my papers, and I’m doing it again,” he said at the time.
But he has privately hinted to colleagues in recent years that he wanted to retire, believing he could do so now that the Hispanic Caucus has more than 30 members, including several younger, more ambitious colleagues.
Gutierrez’s decision gives potential successors just one week to collect signatures and get on the ballot. Two potential candidates include Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and Chicago Alderman Carlos Ramirez Rosa.
Rosa said in a text message Monday night, “I’ve had many people reach out to me pushing me to run if the seat is open. If Gutierrez (rumor) is true, I will begin circulating tomorrow.”
Widely known across Chicago, Gutierrez is arguably the most high-profile and best-known member of Congress to Spanish-speaking Latinos who watch Univision and Telemundo national newscasts. Much like Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) or Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) frequent news programs in English, Gutierrez is an eagerly sought guest to weigh in on all issues of the day in Spanish.
In a 2013 Washington Post profile of the congressman, Jorge Ramos, who anchors Univision’s nightly newscast, “Noticiero Univision,” explained, “There are only a few names that are familiar to most Hispanic families, and Luis Gutierrez is one of them.”
Ramos said Gutierrez can draw a crowd “not just because he’s always on, but because he’s on the right side of history, or he’s on the side of Latinos and undocumented immigrants.”
Gutierrez isn’t the only senior Latino lawmaker stepping down after next year. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the most senior Hispanic female Republican in Congress, is also set to retire after next year.
David Weigel contributed to this report.