UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — A longtime West Town resident and former aldermanic candidate is running to represent what will soon be the 8-mile long 36th Ward in City Council.
David Herrera, 39, is the latest candidate to challenge incumbent Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), who is running for reelection. Also running are Jacqueline “Jackie” Báez and Lori Torres, who’s been endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union.
Herrera has a background in municipal finance, consulting and real estate. He said his family has lived in the West Town area since the ’50s and he grew up attending local schools, including St. Nicholas Cathedral School in Ukrainian Village.
Herrera has also been involved in several neighborhood developments in recent years.
In 2017, Herrera redeveloped his family’s two-flat on Chicago Avenue into what was for several years a co-living building run by the company Common. In 2018, he was involved in a proposal to build a Latin dance hall and supper club in Humboldt Park, which has since stalled.
Herrera also unsuccessfully ran against Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) in 2019, coming in third behind Maldonado and Theresa Siaw.
Herrera — who lives near Smith Park in Ukrainian Village — has been remapped into the new 36th Ward, which stretches from Montclare on the Northwest Side down Grand Avenue to include most of Ukrainian Village and parts of West Town.
Herrera said his candidacy is inspired by his firsthand knowledge of the West Town portion of the ward, through his upbringing in the neighborhood and involvement in several community associations.
The ward’s former eastern boundary ended miles away in West Humboldt Park.
“Why run? This is my community. I do know it better than Villegas. Hands down, I know better. I know it better than most. … I care for my neighborhood. I care for my community. I care for my city,” Herrera said. “This is my backyard.”
The new boundaries of the 36th Ward have been widely derided as an example of extreme gerrymandering, with some likening it to a “pool noodle” or a water slide along Grand Avenue.
But Herrera said he’d make the thoroughfare his “pet project” if elected alderman by rezoning stretches north of the street to incentive mixed-use development and pedestrian improvements.
“We’ve seen Division Street blossom, Chicago Avenue, both are robust. Restaurants, bars, businesses, pedestrian-friendly. Grand Avenue doesn’t have that,” Herrera said. “I would loosen up the zoning code there to fit the character of that community. I would loosen it up to go four stories high, mixed-use, ground-floor retail and three dwellings above.”
Herrera said he’d also like to conduct a study to eventually build a bike trail from one end of the ward to the other, closely following Grand and possibly using land along nearby Metra tracks.
“Look at Milwaukee Avenue — that was hipster highway. I’d do hipster highway 2.0. Grand Avenue to the Metra tracks at Hubbard, Hubbard to Kinzie, you’re already in River North. You’re in The Loop,” he said.
Herrera said he’d also advocate to reopen the 13th Police District, which was closed in 2012 as part of a citywide consolidation of police resources. The district included parts of West Town and Ukrainian Village and was headquartered at 937 N. Wood St.
The idea has been tossed around at community meetings in the larger West Town area over the past few years as carjackings and other robberies spiked in the neighborhood.
In the meantime, Herrera said he supports launching what has become a popular yet controversial tactic in some Chicago neighborhoods: private security patrols.
Private security has grown popular over the past year in affluent areas of Chicago, such as Bucktown and Lincoln Park, although some aldermen and residents have raised oversight and civil liberty concerns.
Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) also recently said he’s considering the idea in the West Loop after two recent kidnapping attempts.
Herrera said he’d support a year-long security pilot program to gauge its effectiveness.
“We need to deter the crime. And I think if the word gets out there we’re patrolling the streets, we’ll see the numbers [decline],” Herrera said.
Herrera also wants to reform the city’s tax increment financing, or TIF, system. He said he wants to reroute TIF dollars to build affordable housing and replace lead water pipes, among other priorities.
Villegas, who was elected to City Council in 2015, did not return a request for comment on Herrera’s candidacy. The Northwest Side alderman served as Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s City Council floor leader before resigning from that post in early 2021.
Earlier this year, Villegas unsuccessfully ran for Congress in Illinois’ newly drawn 3rd district.
When the final city ward map emerged this spring, Villegas slammed the elongated boundaries of the new 36th Ward, saying it “disenfranchises” Northwest Side neighborhoods and “disrespects” the Latino community.
Now, as Villegas runs for reelection, he’s begun pitching himself to his potential future constituents.
In September, Villegas opened what he’s calling a “satellite ward office” in Ukrainian Village, even though he will not represent the area unless he’s reelected next year.
“The reality is, is that there’s 58,000 constituents that live in the ward and whether you live in … Ukrainian Village or Belmont Cragin, we’re going to provide a service,” he told Block Club last month. “And that’s what we’ve done where I’ve been alderman in that current area where I have five different neighborhoods, same thing here.”
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