“When I was in high school, my mom was incarcerated, and my family lost everything,” says Jorge Neri, choking back tears. “I had to quit sports and get a job.” Just a decade later, he landed a role in the Obama administration as the primary liaison to the Latino community. “I went from the lowest point in my life to working in the most powerful building in the world.”

Now a sought-after political consultant, Neri, 36, credits his tough upbringing in Little Village with making him an early achiever. A Mexican immigrant raised by a single mother, he grew up in a home that didn’t always have heat, and when the family’s water was shut off, he had to shower at school. “Little Village shaped my entire mentality to hustle, to survive and ask, ‘What am I doing to move forward?’ ”

After the White House, Neri joined Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign as its Nevada director, not just helping her win that state but also helping Democrats flip the Nevada Legislature and elect the first Latina to serve in the U.S. Senate. And in 2020, a year after returning to Chicago to work on Bill Daley’s mayoral campaign, he landed his highest-profile assignment yet, serving as a senior adviser for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign and later the Biden-Harris transition team — all from his basement in Oak Park.

These days, Neri is one of Chicago’s most influential connections to D.C. And while he has national ambitions — he wants to bolster efforts to pass immigration reform — he’s just as focused on his hometown, where he spent this winter as a self-described “supervolunteer” for Jesús “Chuy” García’s mayoral campaign. “I want to help push people to the next level,” Neri says. “I want to see more people like me win.”