In his latest run for public office, 1985 Loyola Law School graduate Gery Chico is hoping his experience as a city official will get him elected as mayor in Chicago’s Feb. 26 election.
A Chicago native, Chico, 62, is running for mayor for the second time since being defeated by current Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2011.
According to a Feb. 14 Telemundo Chicago/NBC 5 poll, Chico is in fifth place at nine percent behind Lori Lightfoot (10 percent), Susana Mendoza (12 percent), Daley (13 percent) and Toni Preckwinkle (14 percent). The poll showed 19 percent of voters are still undecided.
Chico said he attended law classes at Loyola’s Water Tower Campus and said the law school, now in Corboy Law Center, was located where Quinlan School of Business now sits.
Chico, who took night classes at Loyola, said he formed close relationships with his classmates, and they still remain friends more than 30 years later.
He said several classmates held a campaign fundraiser for him downtown several weeks ago.
“When you [take night classes] you’re probably doing it because [you] have a family already or are working, and it just really builds a strong bond between your classmates, and so I remember that very fondly,” Chico said.
Chico has worked as a lawyer and public figure, most notably as the chief-of-staff under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, and as the president of the Chicago Board of Education, Chicago Park District and of the Chicago City Colleges. He’s also served as the chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education.
Chico said he’s been successful in implementing changes in each position, inspiring him to want to get more accomplished as mayor.
“Every one of those places, we delivered very good results for the people,” Chico said. “Once you get a feel for that, you feel like you might want to do more.”
He grew up in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood on the Southwest Side of the city, and attended Kelly High School in the Brighton Park neighborhood. He earned his undergraduate degree from University of Illinois at Chicago.
Chico and his wife, Sunny, have five children, who they raised in the Little Italy neighborhood. Sunny said they now live downtown.
“This city is in my blood,” Chico said. “I come from the streets, I come from the neighborhoods, and I think my city needs help right now … that’s why I’m running for mayor.”
Chico said his most memorable Loyola professors were Richard “Dick” Michael — who still teaches in the law school today — and Nina Appel, former dean emerita of the law school. Appel retired in April after more than four decades at Loyola.
From his time as a law student, Chico said he remembers Loyola’s interest in the community surrounding it.
“It was right there with the finest law schools in Chicago, but Loyola always enjoyed a purview of the local,” Chico said. “They had a great reputation as an academic institution and people would not hesitate to hire lawyers from Loyola like I would today.”
Similar to Daley and Ford, Chico noted the university’s growing infrastructure and student population. During Loyola’s historic March Madness run last year, Chico said he watched every game, and he said the notoriety has benefitted the university.
“Sister Jean being the face of the program was just a wonderful combination of the success that the team enjoyed,” Chico said.
Sunny said when she first started dating her husband, he used to take her around Chicago’s different neighborhoods.
“I couldn’t quite understand why, but he would show me new windows a school needed, or new windows a school got or what parks needed help,” Sunny said.
If elected, Chico said he intends on making living in Chicago more affordable, improving the public school system and preventing violence, among other issues.
Chico also said he wants to start a program purposed at retaining college graduates in Chicago, which would relieve student loan debt for young people who work for the city.
To get to the heart of corruption cases in Chicago, Chico said he’d propose a referendum to put term limits on aldermen and mayors. He said alderman shouldn’t have as much power as they currently do and shouldn’t have income other than their salary from the city.
John Pelissero, a Chicago politics professor at Loyola, said Chico’s experience working for former Mayor Richard M. Daley and several different city departments could prove beneficial if he’s elected.
“He’s been an executive who’s headed up everything from schools to parks to community colleges in Chicago, and that’s given him broad experience across other policy areas in which the mayor will have to deal,” Pelissero said.
In 2004, Chico ran for the Democratic nomination for the U.S Senate, but was defeated by former President Barack Obama, who ended up winning the election.
Early in his political career, Chico was an aide to 14th Ward Alderman Ed Burke’s Finance Committee in the 1980s, and said he’s still a friend of Burke, who endorsed Chico.
A federal case unsealed Jan. 3 revealed charges of attempted extortion against Burke for using his political status to gain business for his law firm. Burke sat on Loyola’s Council of Regents before his name was removed from its website, The Phoenix reported.
“I don’t approve of [the extortion] at all,” Chico said. “I think if what is claimed in the criminal complaint is the case, it’s just wrong, and the alderman, like any of us, would have to answer to those actions. There’s nothing you can do about it, that’s just wrong.”
If he’s elected, Chico said he would solely work as mayor, leaving his law firm, Chico & Nunes, and taking his name off the door.
Chico worked for Burke when Harold Washington was elected as Chicago’s first African-American mayor. Then 10th Ward Alderman Ed Vrdolyak and Burke started a group comprised of mostly white aldermen who opposed Washington’s election and worked to challenge Washington’s initiatives as mayor.
Chico pointed out that he wasn’t hired by Burke, and worked for 34th Ward Alderman Wilson Frost, an African-American alderman and Burke’s predecessor. He said after Burke left the chairmanship, he worked for then-4th Ward Alderman Tim Evans, who’s now the chief judge of the Cook County Circuit Court.
“I’ve worked for a lot of different people in my career,” Chico said. “You try to work hard and do the best job you can for the people, and I’ll continue to do that … I think that’s the way you have to live your life … trying to do whatever job you have, and do it to the best of your ability.”
Burke didn’t respond to request for comment from The Phoenix by the time of publication.