A former U.S. Marine who also worked as the chief of staff at the Illinois Capital Development Board in Springfield, newly elected 36th Ward Alderman Gilbert Villegas wants people to know that while he may be new to City Hall, he is not new to government.

“So, I know how it works, and I know how it doesn’t work and I’m looking at capitalizing in the areas where [government] does work and addressing issues  where it doesn’t,” Villegas told Aldertrack in a recent interview.

Gilbert Villegas beat Omar Aquino, a candidate backed by Cook County Democratic Party Chairman Joe Berrios, in a runoff to win the newly redistricted, predominantly Hispanic seat on the Northwest Side of Chicago. The ward’s former alderman who now represents the 38th Ward, Nick Sposato, endorsed and supported Villegas throughout the campaign. Sposato also gave the Villegas his old ward service office. But Ald. Sposato wasn’t Villegas’ only supporter, his campaign also received support from State RepLuis Arroyo, Sr., his son, Cook County Commissioner Luis Arroyo, Jr., and Cong. Luis Gutierrez.

Villegas is also co-founder of StrataGem, a government relations and business development services consulting group, and a former lobbyist for the Hispanic American Construction Industry Association.

Priorities: Villegas says he will be spending most of his first term addressing ward-related issues, because that’s what voters were most concerned about during the election. “I’m really going to focus on my platform, which was peace, public safety, education, accountability, city services, and economic development,” Villegas explained, adding that he will be working with the local police commander to find out what resources he needs to address issues of crime. “And I’m calling my ward office like a community command center, where we will be able to have dialogue, you know, monthly, or quarterly, or whenever it is needed for hot topic issues,” Villegas said.

Caucus Alignment: Villegas ran as a progressive candidate and secured the endorsement of mayoral candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia during the runoff campaign, but he says at this moment he is only committed to the Latino Caucus. “I feel there are issues that need to be addressed as it relates to employment, as it relates to diversity.” Villegas believes the Latino Caucus will help him do that. Villegas says shortly after winning the race he was also approached by leaders of both the Progressive Caucus and Paul Douglas Alliance, but, “is not prepared to make a decision,” on either of those groups.

Biggest Obstacles: Like most of his peers in the Council, Villegas says addressing the city’s pension debt will be his biggest obstacle. He advocates for more communication between City Hall and Springfield. “We need to engage and work with our state officials and governor’s office and have the governor take a look at implementing legislation that is favorable to the city,” Villegas said. “Also, we need to be more active in getting as many dollars as possible from Springfield. We need to take a look at the motor fuel tax. We’re putting in over 50-cents on the dollar and only getting 45-cents back.”

Ward Office: Sposato’s old office, 6934 W. Diversey Ave.

Chief of Staff: Magdalena Fudalewicz