CHICAGO — Ald. Gilbert “Gil” Villegas emerged victorious Tuesday in the battle to represent the pool noodle-shaped 36th Ward, according to unofficial election results.
With all 27 precincts reporting Tuesday night, Villegas held 58.1 percent of the vote to challenger Lori Torres Whitt’s 42 percent, securing Villegas’ third term in City Council.
As alderperson, Villegas chaired the City Council’s Latino Caucus and served as Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s floor leader for more than a year. The retired marine and self-described “pragmatic progressive” unsuccessfully ran for Congress last year.
Torres Whitt is a progressive educator who had the backing of the Chicago Teachers Union and Brandon Johnson.
Villegas will be sworn in for his third term at the May 15 City Council meeting.
The mood was upbeat at Villegas’ watch party at Mexican restaurant Barcocina in West Town. Supporters munched on tacos and guacamole and chips and sipped free drinks as they awaited results.
With favorable early results in, Villegas arrived at the party to applause and cheering, declaring, “Drinks on me!”
After greeting supporters, Villegas declared victory while giving an interview with CBS2.
He said constituents voted for another four years of “independent” leadership, proving “the 36th Ward is not for sale,” referring to the Chicago Teachers Union, which threw its support behind Torres Whitt.
“We’re going to continue to be that independent voice, we’re going to continue to be that check and balance on the executive branch, whether it’s Rahm Emanuel, whether it’s Lori Lightfoot, whether it’s Brandon Johnson or Paul Vallas,” Villegas said. “People were betting against us … CTU said, ‘Oh, the alderman lost the congressional race. He’s done.’ I out-fundraised my opponent 3-to-1 and got 98 percent of union support in the city of Chicago.”
Stretching all the way from Dunning and Belmont Cragin on the far Northwest Side to Ukrainian Village, the newly redrawn 36th Ward is widely regarded by elected officials and political officials as the most gerrymandered ward in Chicago.
Villegas was forced to runoff with Torres Whitt after he failed to win a majority of the vote in the municipal election.
Villegas was first elected to City Council in 2015. As alderperson, he pushed for a universal basic income program and to reinstate the City Council’s Office of Veterans Affairs, among other initiatives.
Villegas made headlines for blasting the 36th Ward’s new boundaries, saying his colleagues in City Council sold him out in the remapping process.
Throughout the campaign, Villegas touted his government experience, saying political newcomer Torres Whitt would require “on-the-job training.”
Supporters pointed to Villegas’ experience, “pragmatic” approach to governing and his his “blue-collar” roots as reasons he’s earned another term. After serving in the marines, Villegas was a bakery truck driver, where he served as a shop steward for Teamsters Local 734.
“He really cares about the community, and he came up from very humble beginnings so he knows what it’s like to be blue collar and work really hard,” Stewart Munoz said.
John Beran, who runs electrical contracting company Chicago Voice & Data Authority and owns a 4-flat in the 36th Ward, said he supports Villegas because he’s a big proponent of ensuring construction job sites are made up of local and diverse workers.
“He really understands the need for diversity in construction,” Beran said. “He’s a wonderful alderman, my tenants love him if there’s a garbage issue, but from a city standpoint, he’s supporting the whole city with legislation.”
Villegas said public safety was the biggest issue on the campaign trail, and he plans to advocate for more police funding and to address the root causes of crime and violence.
Torres Whit conceded in a statement, saying, “We did not get the result we hoped for in the 36th Ward, but thanks to you, we’ve continued to build our movement and stood true to our values.”
“We are disappointed tonight, but we will keep working tomorrow. This isn’t the end,” she said.