Ald. Gilbert "Gil" Villegas is facing off against closest challenger Lori Torres Whitt in the April 4 runoff. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago; Provided

UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — The two candidates vying to be the next leader of the dramatically redrawn 36th Ward will debate the area’s issues this week.

Ald. Gilbert “Gil” Villegas and Lori Torres Whitt are slated to participate in a 36th Ward debate 7 p.m. Thursday at Homestead On The Roof, 1924 W. Chicago Ave.

The debate is being put on by the Ukrainian Village Neighborhood Association, East Village Association and the Chicago Grand Neighbors Association.

Both candidates will be asked a series of prepared questions, organizers said. The debate will begin at 7 p.m., and attendees should arrive early to get seats, organizers said.

Villegas is headed to a runoff April 4 after failing to garner a majority of the votes to secure reelection to his third City Council term.

As alderperson, the retired marine has pushed for a universal basic income program and to reinstate the City Council’s Office of Veterans Affairs. He’s also endorsed a plan to reopen the closed 13th Police District in West Town, which was closed in 2012 as part of a citywide consolidation of police resources.

RELATED: Ald. Gilbert Villegas To Face CPS Teacher Lori Torres Whitt In 36th Ward Runoff

Villegas has the endorsements of high-profile politicians such as Gov. JB Pritzker, Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García.

Villegas unsuccessfully ran for Congress last year in the newly created Illinois 3rd District, losing to Rep. Delia Ramirez. He also served as Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s one-time floor leader, a position he quit in early 2021.

“This is about experience vs. inexperience, and right now is not the time for on-the-job training,” Villegas said earlier this month.

Villegas faces Torres Whitt, a political newcomer and a Chicago Public Schools teacher for 20 years.

Torres Whitt is backed by the Chicago Teachers Union, United Working Families and mayoral candidate Brandon Johnson, among other groups and officials.

“We need someone who is going to represent the working families of Chicago. That’s now who’s leading the 36th Ward right now,” Torres Whitt previously said.

The new 36th Ward is a stick-like, 7-mile-long diagonal line tracing Grand Avenue from Damen Avenue to Oak Park Avenue, a case of extreme gerrymandering to some elected officials and political observers.

Villegas has slammed the new ward boundaries as disrespectful to the Northwest Side’s Latino community, and he opened a “satellite ward” office on Chicago Avenue to help residents access city services across the ward. Torres Whitt previously said she’d open satellite ward offices if elected.

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