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Lightfoot’s Floor Leader Gilbert Villegas Resigns, Ald. Michelle Harris Taking Over Role

Villegas' resignation comes 18 months into Lightfoot's first term. Under a newly created position, Ald. George Cardenas will serve as deputy floor leader.

Left: Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th); Right: Ald. Michelle Harris (8th)
Colin Boyle/ Block Club Chicago; Provided

CHICAGO — Mayor Lighftoot’s City Council floor leader has resigned 18 months into her first term in office.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) announced his resignation as Lightfoot’s chosen floor leader in a letter Tuesday, saying he’ll instead focus on his role as a committee chair.

“It has been my honor to serve as the Mayor’s floor leader since May 2019, but serving time in this role has pulled me away from where I believe my time is much more valuable for the city — as chairman of Economic, Capital and Technology Development Committee,” he said.

Villegas will be replaced by Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), Lightfoot’s office announced. Under a newly created position, Ald. George Cardenas (12th) will serve as deputy floor leader.

Lightfoot selected Villegas as floor leader and committee chair as part of a council shakeup when she took office in 2019. First elected in 2015, Villegas had previously served as chair of the Latino Caucus.

But, since then, he has been tasked with the difficult job of herding votes for unpopular measures, including the Mayor’s 2021 budget, which advanced by the slimmest margin since the 1980s. The 29-21 vote was one of several close tallies in the year-and-a-half since Lightfoot took office.

In recent months, Lightfoot faced criticism from aldermen for her handling of the botched police raid on Anjanette Young’s home and a super-majority of the City Council signed onto a letter expressing concern with Lightfoot’s plan to reopen Chicago Public Schools.

Villegas said he submitted his resignation in December, but stayed on for another month to “ease the transition.” He could not be immediately reached for comment. 

“Alderman Villegas has been both a personal friend and powerful ally since I took office, and I thank him for his ongoing commitment to our city and its residents,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “While I’m sad to see Alderman Villegas leave his post, I am thrilled Alderman Harris will be taking reigns as my new Floor Leader and that Alderman Cardenas will serve in a newly-created role as Deputy Floor Leader. Michelle and George are smart, experienced, and respected by their colleagues. They will be a very dynamic team and will be great assets to help us do the people’s work.”

Harris, a lifelong Chicago resident, has been an alderman since 2006 and represents South Shore, Chatham, Calumet Heights, Burnside, Pullman, Avalon Park, and South Chicago.

Villegas’ resignation comes after key communications staffers have resigned in Lightfoot’s office in recent months, including former spokeswoman Anel Ruiz, former director of communications Michael Crowley and former spokesman Patrick Mullane.

Before being ousted by the election of Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th), longtime North Side Ald. Patrick O’Connor served as floor leader for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s two terms.  

Lightfoot, who has faced criticism for not building relationships with aldermen, vowed this summer to work better with the Council.

“… I need to push myself harder to work with people with whom I do not agree and who do not agree with me,” she said. “If you are focused on creating a better tomorrow for all of our residents, then I will be even more intentional in finding common ground with you,” she said in August.

Earlier that month, several aldermen told Block Club Lightfoot shut them out of the discussion. 

RELATED: Some Aldermen Say Lightfoot Is Shutting Them Out When Chicago Needs Collaborative Leadership The Most

However, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), Lightfoot’s selection to chair the powerful Finance Committee, said Lightfoot’s reluctance to horse-trade votes was a good thing.

“They’re not threatening people or telling people they have to vote one or another. … I think it’s healthy,” he said.

With a budget of $387,500, Villegas’ Economic Development Committee is among the most active of the Council’s 19 committees, meeting monthly to consider property tax incentives, special service area budgets and tax increment financing projects, among other issues.

During budget hearings this fall, Villegas focused his questions to city department leaders on areas of increasing efficiency in government through technology upgrades and said in his resignation announcement he’ll use his position on the national boards of the Democratic Municipal Officials and the National League of Cities to “further Chicago’s initiatives in the technology space.”

“The Technology Working Group I formed is chomping at the bit to move things forward. So far, we have identified ways to save the city $200 million in the first year alone and position our city to be more technologically advanced,” he said.

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