Gutierrez should live in district he reps
But congressman says new home is for wife, daughter
May 4, 2010
BY MARK BROWN Chicago Sun-Times Columnist
Congressman Luis Gutierrez was calm and composed when he returned my call Monday, which is not what I would have once expected on a day the Sun-Times carried a story zinging him over a real estate deal involving his daughter.
Gutierrez didn't think it should have been a story, didn't want to see his daughter put through the news media grinder.
But when an alderman who happens to be the congressman's political protege free-lances his own off-the-books affordable housing program and one of the reduced-cost units winds up in the hands of the congressman's daughter, who flips it a year later for a nice profit, well, that's a story.
Still, it wasn't the story that prompted my call to Gutierrez.
What I wanted to learn more about was the little story off to the side, the one that said the congressman no longer lives in his own 4th Congressional District.
Now, it is not uncommon for someone to run for Congress from a district in which they do not live, and it is sometimes the case that an incumbent member of Congress will be displaced by redistricting. The only legal requirement is that they live in the state they represent, not the district.
Even those elected from homes outside their district usually move into it later, although I've been reminded that Rep. Melissa Bean never has gotten around to doing so, and Rod Blagojevich survived a couple congressional elections before he saw fit to move into his district.
Just the same, you do not often see a congressman move out of his district, or at least not do so openly. It's considered an insult to the voters who elected them.
It's the sort of thing that a politician only does when they're feeling awfully smug about their re-election prospects -- or when they're not planning to run again.
It was the latter reasoning that Gutierrez said was actually on his mind when he first moved out of his district two years ago to a condo at 3963 W. Belmont. At the time, he had announced his plans to retire, and even at that, the condo was just barely outside the district by less than a block. Then Gutierrez had a change of heart and won re-election in 2008 from that address.
Now he's running yet one more time, and in the process moved just a few months ago even farther from his district to another home in the 5300 block of West Cullom near Portage Park -- which puts him about two miles from his closest constituent.
Don't forget that Gutierrez does not represent just any old congressional district.
The 4th District is one of the most bizarrely gerrymandered pieces of political real estate in the nation -- a C-shaped creation that cobbles together the Hispanic populations on the Northwest and Southwest sides by using the Tri-State Tollway and forest preserve property as the linkage.
All of this was done for the purpose of devising a super-majority Latino district that would allow that under-represented population to send one of its own to Washington.
Now the individual who first won that seat upon its creation in 1992 no longer feels an obligation to live among the people who elect him.
I don't like that, and I called Gutierrez to tell him so. "I've never hidden where I've lived," said Gutierrez, who to my knowledge is correct on that count, although heaven knows it has been hard to keep track of him through the years as he has bounced from place to place. Gutierrez has made a practice of rehabbing homes and flipping them, taking advantage of one of the few legal means for a congressman to earn outside income.
Even with this latest move, Gutierrez has yet to change his voter registration to reflect the Cullom address, which might have caused somebody to take notice.
Gutierrez said the move to Portage Park was prompted by his wife and daughter, who he said picked it out.
He said he felt they deserved their choice after years of living in homes based on his political needs. He said he travels a lot, even when not in Washington, because of his responsibilities as a national leader on immigration reform -- an issue on which we're on the same side, by the way.
"I wanted them to be safe. They felt safer together," he said. "This is a safe place. It's a very humble place. It's not an ostentatious place. It's a home, not an investment."
Gutierrez said he didn't mean to suggest that he couldn't find a safe place to live in his district, which is good, because some 650,000 people live there.
I've known Gutierrez since 1986, when Hispanics were given their first real voice in city politics with the creation of three new seats in the City Council, including his.
Around that time I wrote a story headlined something like, "Stemberk Found Living in Riverside," the typeface so large that you would have thought I'd discovered a Nazi war criminal instead of a white Chicago alderman who had grown tired of living among his Hispanic constituents. The story helped his Hispanic opponent, Jesus Garcia, go on to win.
If it was wrong for Stemberk, it's wrong for Gutierrez.