December 29, 2021

No one ever said it was going to be easy. At one point it seemed that it was going to be easy for Alderman Gilbert Villegas (36th).

It was supposed to be a quick up-and-out - from Chicago's City Council to the U.S. House. He was supposed to clear out the field.

Instead, it was the far Left, including those pesky democratic socialists, who cleared out the anti-Villegas field for state Representative Delia Ramirez (D-4), who wants to go to Washington as well and join Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Also known as "The Squad."
Not running in the new 3rd District is state Senator Omar Aquino (D-2), an intra-party rival of Villegas on the heavily Puerto Rican near Northwest Side, which consists of the 26th, 30th, 31st, 33rd, 35th and 36th wards.

Aquino is an ally of former Democratic Party powerhouse Joe Berrios, and Villegas of the now-indicted former state rep Luis Arroyo. Also NOT running are aldermen Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), who is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America and chair of the council's 7-member Democratic Socialist Caucus and Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd), another socialist caucus adherent who defeated Deb Mell by 13 votes in 2019. All three have endorsed Delia Ramirez, as have a slew of Hispanic state legislators, as well as Will Guzzardi (D-39), who beat Berrios's daughter in 2014.

Aquino was instrumental in designing the new statewide congressional map and in creating a new district that runs northwestward from Chicago to Elgin. Illinois' Black population is at 16 percent and they have three minority-dominated and Chicago-dominated congressional seats, while Latinos are now at 19 percent and they have only one seat - Chuy Garcia's (D-4). The current 4th Illinois House District was created for Luis Gutierrez in 1991. It takes in all of the Chicago Hispanic areas, wrapping the north side Puerto Ricans and south side Mexican-Americans into one horse-shaped majority-minority district with a connecting corridor through Cicero-Berwyn. The Latino population has doubled in the past 30 years.

So Springfield Democrats capitulated to Latino demands for a second seat and both districts are Chicago-dominated, with Garcia's seat extending out into the southwest suburbs and the 3rd District extending out into the northwest suburbs.

The 3rd District is not majority-minority, with Latinos at 47 percent of the census population and just under 40 percent of the voting population. But the Democratic primary is what matters and Latinos will comprise 60-percent-plus of that turnout, and two-thirds of that will come from Chicago.

The new district contains West Town, Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Belmont-Cragin, Montclare, Dunning and parts of Portage Park, Albany Park and Old Irving Park in Chicago, plus a string of suburbs with large and growing Latino populations stretching in a crescent from Elmwood Park to Elgin, including River Grove, Franklin Park and Elk Grove Village and west to Bartlett and Hanover Park, in Cook County and then south into northeastern DuPage County, including Addison, Wood Dale, Bensenville and then reaching westward to parts of Wheaton, Wayne, Glendale Heights and West Chicago. The mapmakers identified and absorbed every findable Democratic precinct with a presumed Latino voter base. Those suburban areas are working-class, not flush with woke-ism.

Villegas's candidacy is problematic for some Latino Democrats because he does not fit the woke profile expected by Leftist Democratic voters in urban areas: He is a military vet and businessman, and he does not have a solid 36th Ward base, even though he is now committeeperson. Aquino lives in the ward, will be running for re-election in 2022, and will challenge Villegas for the party post in 2024. The aldermanic seat is up in 2023, and a 2022 primary loss would diminish his credibility.

Villegas supported Lori Lightfoot in the 2019 runoff, and he was her anointed floor leader for 2 years. He told me he quit because he wanted to pursue other interests, such as membership on national boards of municipal officials and Latino officials.

Obviously he was looking nationally, not locally. He remains chair of the council's Latino Caucus. Having detached himself from Lightfoot, a 2023 mayoral race was a possibility, but he was not a fund-raising machine, having $$77,572 on-hand as of Sept. 30. Also he would have to give up his aldermanic job to run for mayor, but can keep it while running for Congress.
Conversely Ramirez, age 39, daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, fits the woke profile: She is a social worker who has focused on homelessness. Without a doubt, Washington needs more of those.

Ramirez resides in Humboldt Park, was elected to the IL House in 2018 and is a member of the Progressive Caucus. She was executive director of the Center for Changing Lives from 2004-13 and president of Latin United Community Housing Association from 2010-19. In her 2018 primary, which she won with 48 percent, Ramirez was endorsed by CTU, SEIU-Healthcare, AFL-CIO and United Working Families.

The 4th Illinois House District contains West Town, Ukrainian Village, East Village and Logan Square, with precincts in seven wards. That gives her a hypothetical base of 45,000 that is quadruple to Villegas's 36th Ward base of about 8,000. But she is unknown outside her district, and both contenders are totally unknown in the suburbs.

One game-changer could be the candidacy of Eira Corral Sepulveda, a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner elected in 2020, who resides in Hanover Park. Sepulveda's husband is a political operative for Garcia, so the congressman has skin in the game. Her potential candidacy cuts both ways: As a woman she takes votes away from Ramirez, but as a suburbanite she takes needed votes away from Villegas. If Sepulveda does not run, it means Garcia is with Villegas.

Villegas, age 51, resides in Montclare and is a Marine Corps vet who served with the 2d Light Antiaircraft-Missile Battalion in the Gulf War. He was a businessman and chief-of-staff for the Illinois Capital Development Board before his election as alderman in 2015. He is a political protege of Arroyo, the area's former state representative and ward committeeman who is under a federal bribery indictment and has plead guilty.

The city council redrew ward boundaries in 2011 (as it is doing now) and made the old 36th Ward (Galewood, Montclare, western Belmont-Cragin) much more Hispanic, with the map designed to beat then-Alderman Nick Sposato in 2015, when the map took effect.

In 2013 Joe Berrios was a powerful Democrat, being both county assessor and county party chairman; he was also 31st Ward committeeman. His alderman was Rey Suarez. The ward covered Belmont-Cragin east to Avondale. Arroyo was a state rep just to the west and coveted the new 36th Ward committeemanship held by Sposato. So Arroyo and Berrios cooked-up a deal: Arroyo's son Luis Jr. would get the area county board seat in 2014, Luis Sr. would get the 36th Ward party post, and Omar Aquino, son of Suarez's best buddy, would get the 36th Ward aldermanic seat in 2015. That was "The Son Swap" which didn't happen.

After Luis Jr. was elected commissioner in 2014, Luis Sr. "reneged" on the deal. He backed Villegas for alderman in 2015 and Villegas beat Aquino 4,574-3,656; and Arroyo backed Millie Santiago for alderman against Suarez in the 31st, and she won 4,218-4,139. But the Berrios/Aquino tandem tricked state senator Willie Delgado in late 2015, promising to deliver him petition signatures for his 2016 re-election, and passing Aquino's senate petitions to those same signers earlier. Delgado discovered that his signatures were invalidated by Aquino's earlier signatures and knocked off the ballot, giving Aquino the nomination/election by default.

Berrios got his revenge in 2019 when protege Felix Cardona beat Santiago 3,584-3,017 for alderman, but by then he had become ensnared by allegations of mismanagement, pay-to-play misconduct, nepotism and favoritism in the assessor's office that he lost re-nomination in 2018 to Fritz Kaegi and immediately thereafter the party chair to Toni Preckwinkle. The feds poked around for a while, but Berrios has gone on to a comfy retirement with 2 pensions. The feds also poked around in Arroyo's connections with sweepstakes gambling, had a state senator wear a wire, and nailed Arroyo for bribery and wire fraud. He plead guilty.

The outlook: Each IL congressional district has about 1,050,000 people, but Hispanic-majority districts have a notoriously low turnout, especially in primaries. Garcia won his first primary in 2018 with a turnout of 70,000. Given the 3rd District's demographics, with over half the TOTAL vote in the suburbs, the June 28 Democratic primary turnout will be around 60,000, with two-thirds in the city.

Villegas's task will be to not get less than 45 percent in any ward, to get 55-60 percent in his ward, and to get 55 percent in the 33rd Ward, where Clerk of Circuit Court Iris Martinez, the ward committeeperson, has endorsed him. Martinez wants to take out Rodriguez-Sanchez in 2023 and needs to prove her clout by delivering for Villegas. And the alderman must get at least 60 percent of the suburban vote. That's a 52-48 win in a 2-person race.

It will be a nasty, negative race, but I think Villegas will prevail.