CHICAGO — When long time 23rd Ward Ald. Mike Zalewski announced in April that he planned to retire before his term was up — giving Mayor Rahm Emanuel a chance to appoint his replacement, and giving him or her a leg up in the race for a full term — Paulino Villarreal did not even apply.
Even though his 2015 bid for alderman was cut short by heart problems, Paulino Villarreal told The Daily Line he was certain the selection process was “rigged” for then state Rep. Silvana Tabares, an ally of House Speaker Michael Madigan.
“It is a farce,” Villarreal said in May. “The deal has been cut.”
Villarreal was prescient — one of four people to apply, Tabares got the nod from Emanuel and was confirmed by the City Council unanimously.
Tabares is now running for a full term representing the Southwest Side ward that includes Midway Airport — and will go head to head against Villarreal after three other candidates were knocked from the ballot after their nominating petitions were challenged.
A licensed private investigator, Villarreal faces tough odds — he’s never had more than $1,000 on hand, compared to Tabares, who has close to $500,000 in her campaign’s bank account, according to the Illinois Sunshine database.
Tabares, who was born in Little Village raised by her mother in Brighton Park, has the backing of several large labor organizations, including the Chicago Teachers Union.
Villarreal, who grew up in Pilsen, moved to Bridgeport and ended up in Garfield Ridge, said he is running because of the “limited, limited, limited activities” for children outside of baseball in the spring and summer, a lack of small business development in the ward as well as crime.
But Villarreal said his main motivation in challenging Tabares’ bid for a full term is her close ties to Madigan — which he said is bad for the community.
“The ward is suffering,” Villarreal told The Daily Line from a donated ward office a few blocks from Tabares’. He played Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra on the TV while his wife, Olimpia, sat a desk away. “People are afraid to vote against Madigan. This whole ward is basically city workers, state workers, county workers. And they have told me, they say. ‘Paul, we’re going to vote for you but we can’t put your yard sign up… because we know we’ll get repercussions at work for supporting you.’”
Tabares said she was proud of her connections to other elected officials.
“I want to be able to have a good working relationship with everybody in the ward, whether it’s our congressmen, our Cook County commissioners, our state legislators, I want to be able to work for them to make sure that the community benefits from that, because that’s how you get things accomplished and for your ward,” Tabares said.
While Villarreal’s campaign may not be flush with cash, Tabares is taking his challenge seriously.
Her campaign has flooded residents at least half a dozen mailers, including one slamming Villarreal for being in debt to the state of Illinois.
Villarreal said he is making payments and has a remaining debt of less than $30,000, which he said was incurred when his firm’s former accountant did not pay his company’s state taxes.
Tabares’ husband, Sean Murray, worked on her first campaign and was also been on the payroll of the Friends of Michael J Madigan and Democratic Majority committees during election years. Madigan is paying for Murray to work on Tabares’ campaign as well, according to records filed with the state board of elections.
“Has he donated? Yes, he’s donated. I’m one of the Democrats in Illinois House, he’s not only donated to my campaign but many others in the Democrats. I mean, we are Democrats, we both, as Democratic Party of Illinois, we both served,” Tabares said, explaining she and Madigan has both run for Democratic state central committeeman as well.
Tabares is named as a defendant in the “sham candidate” lawsuit brought by Jason Gonzales after the 2016 primary he ran against Madigan. Gonzales alleged Tabares told early voters at a polling place that Gonzales was a convicted felon.
Tabares said she could remain independent of Madigan while serving on City Council.
“Oh yeah, I vote — when I was a state Rep., I always voted my district,” Tabares said, laughing. “I always appreciated the feedback I got from residents, the calls, the emails, the walk-ins… that’s what I’m going to continue to do in City Council.”
Tabares served as the state representative for the 21st District in the Illinois for five and a half years.
She said fighting for more money for Chicago Public School funding and carrying a bill to “restore collective bargaining rights for teachers that were stripped away back in 1995” as her major accomplishments. That bill, HB1253, died at the end of the last session.
Tabares said she supports an elected school board.
Since taking office as alderman — replacing one of the last Polish aldermen to represent a ward with a growing Latino population — Tabares said she worked with neighboring Ald. Ed Burke (14th) and Ald. Marty Quinn (13th) to press the Chicago Department of Aviation to replace window insulation installed by the city to reduce jet noise that emit a foul odor.
Tabares says she backs a ban on outside employment for aldermen — one of many proposals to clean up City Hall in the wake of an ethics scandal that erupted after Burke was charged with attempted extortion. Burke has said he is innocent.
However, Villarreal said Tabares’ mailers suggest she owes her allegiance to the 13th Ward.
In mailers, Tabares is pictured outside three locations not in the 23rd Ward — Pticek & Son Bakery, which is just on the other side of the ward border at 55th Street; Hale Elementary and Kennedy High School, both less than two blocks outside of the 23rd Ward.
Another mailer from neighboring Quinn, another Madigan ally, features a similar image as a Tabares mailer — a police officer walking a girl to school.
Tabares said she and Quinn are working with the city to crack down on the Rainbow Motel — known for selling hourly rates, “naps,” and its fantasy suites. Tabares said it attracts crime to the area.
Both Villarreal and Tabares agree the area needs more resources for officers.
“The 23rd Ward is home to a lot of police officers and teachers and city workers,” Tabares said. “And one of my biggest priorities is making sure that police have the resources they need to keep our neighborhoods safe.”
The alderman touted her efforts to install a security camera at a major intersection on Archer and support for more counseling and training for officers. She said she wants to assure residents she will protect them from shouldering a heavier property tax burden and wanted to help small businesses navigate City Hall.
Villarreal said he wants to attract a new hospital near the former site of Leclaire Courts, a new firehouse at the corner of Archer and Narragansett, add a community parking lot for those shopping on Archer Avenue, as well as providing flood relief and small businesses improvement funds to mom and pop shops between Cicero to Harlem.
“I want to turn this strip into the next downtown LaGrange area where it’s loaded with nothing but small mom and pop boutiques… I’m tired of them selling out to all these big businesses in our neighborhood,” he said.
Between March 2013 and June 2014, Alaina Hampton worked in Tabares’ office as part of her duties for for the Office of the Speaker.
Hampton filed a federal discrimination lawsuit in the spring of 2018 against Madigan and his political organizations, alleging she was prevented from moving up in the organization because she reported being sexually harassed by Kevin Quinn, the alderman’s brother. Kevin Quinn was fired. Madigan has denied retaliating against Hampton.
Tabares responded to a question about the alleged harassment of Hampton by talking about her efforts to “stand up” to former Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, but declined to comment on how Quinn handled the situation.
“I think as a woman, in politics, whether you’re running for office or you’re in office, you have to be tough,” Tabares said. “And you have to stand up for yourself and for your ward, and that’s what I’m doing. That’s what I did down in Springfield, stood up to Rauner when he wanted to cut funding, and that’s what I’m going to continue to do for my ward, is stand up. Stand up for the ward and what’s important to them.”
Tabares said she would focus on the issues important to 23rd Ward voters rather than concerns about workplace sexual harassment in Illinois politics.
“The No. 1 issue I hear going door to door is public safety and education, and that’s what I’m going to fight for in the City Council is the needs for the residents, because that’s what I’m hearing at the door,” Tabares said.
Hampton said it was disappointing that Tabares did not stand with her when she reported the harassment.
“It’s so important that women in politics stand up for one another, now more than ever,” Hampton said in a statement. “Ald. Tabares has had plenty of opportunities, including in this interview, to speak up and support me and other women who have been victims of sexual harassment in the organization we both came up in politics through. Instead, she has opted to stay silent. It’s disappointing. We’ll never see meaningful change in our Democratic Party institutions as long as women in leadership are tacitly or explicitly enabling sexual harassment in this way.”
Both Villarreal and Tabares said they have reservations about the consent decree now in place over the operations of the Chicago Police Department to ensure officers no longer violate the civil rights of Chicagoans.
“Any changes that we make in the police department I strongly believe that we need to have the police officers at the table to make those changes, so that’s my stance on the consent decree,” Tabares said. “Because police officers put their lives on the line every day, and we need to make sure that they come home safe to their families.”
Villarreal said the consent decree inappropriately limits police powers.
“Unfortunately we have groups out there that are stating, well you know, all police are bad or hate the police or blue lives matter or black lives matter,” Villarreal said. “You know, no, let’s find the common ground in the middle where it’s all lives matter, everybody’s lives matter, let’s all work together… let’s get a big table and at that table let’s have everybody we can have there and sit down and everybody talk and work out their problems. It’s that simple.”
In a 2014 video from Villarreal’s campaign announcement, he said public safety would be his top priority as alderman. He told reporters he planned to suit up and patrol the streets himself with a gun and his aldermanic badge.
“The alderman is a peace officer when he’s sworn in,” Villarreal said in the video. “He has the right to detain someone. He has the right to arrest someone. He has a city radio in his vehicle. He carries a badge. He can carry a weapon. This alderman doesn’t do that. No alderman has done that. I plan on doing that. I plan on doing it five nights a week,” he said. “I’m going to go out and buy a bulletproof vest. I’m talking about, I’m going to be out there Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. There’s guns on the street and we’re going to get them.”
In mailers, Tabares’ camp photoshopped Villarreal’s face onto imagery from the movie “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.”
“The last thing we need is a guy running around with a gun and trying to make arrests while he’s living out his fantasy of being a cop. It’s dangerous and reckless,” the piece reads.
Villarreal said the ad’s imagery was an attempt to bully him for using a mobility scooter — walking is painful for him because of Osteoarthritis, he said.