Candidate questionnaires

Portrait of Gilbert Villegas

Gilbert Villegas

Candidate for City Council, 36th Ward

Gilbert Villegas

Candidate for City Council, 36th Ward

Portrait of Gilbert Villegas

Education: Attended Northeastern University

Occupation: Government Affairs/Business Development Consultant

Home: Chicago

Age: Not answered

Past Political/Civic Experience: Not answered


Responses to the Chicago Tribune's questionnaire

Q: Last year, the Chicago Tribune's investigative series "Broken Bonds" reported that, since 2000, Chicago had issued long-term bonds to spend nearly $10 billion, much of it for short-term operating expenses. Hundreds of millions of dollars went to delay bond payments by refinancing old debts, a tactic known as "scoop and toss" that extends payments far into the future. Was this borrowing justified? Going forward, how should City Hall change its finances to pay down existing debts and provide services? Will you argue primarily for cuts in spending or for tax increases? Please be specific.

This game of "kick the can down the road" was mismanaged and poorly planned. Only in times of absolute panic should "scoop and toss" be used. We have not been in a panic for decades. The finances in this city have been in disrepair for so long that we will need to both cut spending and increase taxes. There is not much left to cut however, so we are going to need to rely on reforming the tax structure. To do this, I would use a two-step approach. The first is to encourage Springfield to pass the Fair Tax bill that has been floating around for years. The second is to increase the City's share of the income tax. The Fair Tax will help increase revenue while also lowering taxes on most of the residents of the city. Raising the city's share of the income tax will be more painful, but we need to make good on the promises we have made.

Q: Chicago will face a substantial increase in contributions to its police and fire pension funds in 2016. Chicago's unfunded pension liability amounts to about $7,000 for each resident of the city. How should the city solve its pension crisis? Please be specific about pension changes, spending cuts or revenue increases you would support.

This is the main reason I believe we need to pass the Fair Tax as well as raise the city's share of the income tax. It is both illegal and wrong to short change our Police and Firefighters and I will not stand by and allow this to happen. I would be willing to listen to those who are proposing spending cuts, but we cannot allow our front-line workers to pay the price for years of mismanagement.

Q: What changes should be made in the city's use of tax increment financing? Would you support expansion or extension of TIF districts in your ward? How should excess TIF funds be spent? Do you support the $55 million allotment of TIF funds to buy land for a Marriott Hotel and DePaul basketball arena? Please explain.

TIF funding is of vital importance to the city and to the 36th Ward but we must ensure that it is used responsibly. That is why I believe each TIF should be individually addressed by the City Council. In the 36th Ward the excess funds should be spent on economic development that will provide long-term revenue. Finally, I do support both the Marriott and the basketball arena for the same reason I support economic development in the 36th Ward. These are projects that will provide long term economic benefits, while we are facing difficult problems now, we need to make sure that future generations do not face the same problems.

Q: The Tribune Editorial Board recently offered "12 ways to heal a city" — the best ideas among more than 1,000 suggestions from readers on how to craft "A new Plan of Chicago." These proposals are available at Please tell us which ideas you would champion. We invite you to offer additional ideas for dealing with Chicago's challenges.

When I originally read through these 12 plans I was inspired by all the great ideas. There is one that has stuck in my head ever since, "Listening to the Neighborhoods". As a life long Chicagoan I can tell you that Chicago really is a city of neighborhoods. The 36th Ward alone includes five neighborhoods, each with their own challenges and charms. The diversity of each individual neighborhood is one of the reasons I will institute Participatory Budgeting if I am elected. The idea of letting taxpayers spend their own dollars just makes sense. I have already been talking to voters across my Ward and I have heard dozens of great ideas.

Q: Should the City Council keep or abolish the office of legislative inspector general? Should the city inspector general be given the authority to investigate aldermen and their staff members? Do you have other ideas to improve government ethics in Chicago? Please explain.

Absolutely we should keep the office of legislative inspector general and they should be given authority to investigate all facets of the City Council. Just recently you saw a report come from the IG's office that there was political work being done on legislative time. That is unacceptable and I was disappointed to hear the IG say that there is nothing that can be done about it. We need to hold our public officials accountable and the IG is one way to do that. Another way to do that is through Participatory Budgeting, this has already increased transparency into the spending of menu dollars in a number of Wards and I plan to bring the same transparency to the 36th Ward. Beyond Participatory Budgeting, I look forward to learning about any potential ethics reforms, because I believe that ethics and transparency should be top priorities for all elected officials.

Q: The Chicago Public Schools system has seen significant improvements in freshmen on track and high school graduation rates. CPS has also closed dozens of schools, used fiscal 2016 revenue to balance its 2015 budget and faces a roughly $700 million pension payment in 2016. Please give us your assessment of the academic and financial performance of the city's public schools. What is the key to improving public education in the city? Should members of the Board of Education be elected by the public or continue to be appointed by the mayor? Do you support the longer school day and year? Should CPS expand or reduce the number of charter schools? How should CPS close its significant budget gap?

The recent successes of CPS cannot be overlooked but there is still a great deal to be done. Charter schools have been around for years now, and there are plenty of lessons that can be learned from them. We need to take the best practices from those schools and insert them into CPS classrooms. We must make sure that students, teachers, parents and schools themselves are learning from one another. I do support the longer school day and school year because educating our students is the number one priority and study after study has shown that more time in the classroom means better results. The truth is I think the emphasis on charter schools has been misleading. We need to focus on neighborhood schools no matter what form they take. Here in the 36th Ward we have public schools, private schools and charter schools and all three are good but have the potential to be better. We need to focus on each school and the students that attend them, only then will all neighborhood schools improve. This is also the main reason I support an elected school board, we need to have diverse voices representing this diverse community. We must be careful though, we cannot let corruption into our schools, so I would have to read any legislation carefully. The fiscal crisis seen at CPS must be addressed before it gets any worse. This is another reason I am strongly supporting the Fair Tax and increasing the city's share of the income tax. These are two forms of new revenue that could help to fund quality education for students across the city. The days of relying on property taxes for education is over, we must find a more equitable way to educate all of our children.

Q: How would you attract more employers to your ward? How would you encourage employers to hire local residents? What have you done to promote economic development in your ward?

I would attract more employers and businesses to the 36th Ward in a number of ways. First, I would make it clear that we are serious about economic development by presenting a number of community renewal plans to our Participatory Budgeting committees. Simple things like fixing roads and sidewalks go a long way. Second, I would work with employers, both large and small, to bring top-notch goods and services to the 36th Ward. Third, I would work with residents and partner with the local chamber of commerce to market and incentivize buying locally. Finally, I have worked with local non-profits focused on leveling the playing field for minority owned businesses. I believe once you level the playing field things will improve. Capitalism has been proven to work time and time again, you just need to give everyone a fair shot. That fair shot is what I will bring to the 36th.

Q: Do you support or oppose the City Council vote to increase the minimum wage in several steps to $13 an hour by 2019? Please explain.

I support the increase in the minimum wage because it currently does not have a cost of living adjustments (COLA). My hope is that before we get to 2019 we will be able to pass a living wage bill that will do much better than the $13 per hour. The $13 per hour is a step in the right direction.

Q: Should the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art be built at the proposed location on Chicago's lakefront? Please explain.

Yes it should. I support economic development in many forms and the Lucas Museum will draw tourists from across the country. Tourism is an industry that our city relies on and anything we can do to increase those tourism dollars should be considered.

Q: How can the city improve public safety? Please address the role and performance of the Chicago Police Department and the role of neighborhood residents in crime prevention. What have you done to improve public safety in your community?

Public Safety is at its best when the Police and residents work together. Chicago has an up and down history with this interaction and it is time we return our focus to mending this relationship. The Police Department in the 36th Ward is good but in desperate need of additional resources. We have had at least 4 different Commanders in the last decade, each with their own ideas on how to fight crime. This inconsistency with the leadership has not provided a stable vision for safety in our neighborhoods. Our residents can provide support to our Police Officers through groups like neighborhood watches and CAPS, but they cannot afford to pay for additional police on the ground. As an Alderman I will work to make sure the Police and residents both get what they need. I have been working on the relationship between the two groups. We have been handing out "We call the police signs" and those have been very popular in our communities. I have also met with a number of Police Officers to ask them what more I can do, and they have over and over again told me to highlight that they are members of the 36th Ward community. That is a message I bring to every door I knock on.

Q: Do you support Chicago's traffic light camera program? Please explain.

These cameras are extremely unpopular but they promote safe driving, so that is always a tough battle. I would like to see the decision of the cameras left up to the Alderman and Police District. This will make the system seem like less of a cash grab and more of a public safety issue. Any camera that has not shown a track record of increasing safety should be removed.

Q: Should Chicago reduce the number of aldermen in the City Council?

Yes! The fact that Chicago has 50 Aldermen is a very expensive overreach. I would love to be a part of a plan to redraw fewer Wards but make sure every community is still represented.

Q: What is your highest priority for improving your ward? What is the greatest concern you hear from residents of your ward?

Nearly every resident of the 36th Ward shares the same top priority as I do, economic development. Our Ward is filled with smart, hard working people that would love a chance to work close to home. I look forward to working with both small and large businesses to bring jobs to our ward. The residents are concerned about the lack of opportunity in the 36th Ward bringing down their property values and increasing crime in their neighborhoods and I share their concerns. If we can bring jobs and business to the Ward other things will start to fall into place.

Q: Please tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.

I am a big fan of BBQ food and after I retire I would like to open a BBQ restaurant that would combine the wonderful flavors of BBQ and Latin Food. I actually make a great rack of ribs with poblano peppers, but I will not share the recipe.