Villegas and Aquino Exchange Blows in 36th Ward Runoff Forum

36th Ward Debate

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he highly contentious 36th Ward elections that seek to fill the space vacated by former Ald. Nicholas Sposato grew more tumultuous at the ward’s special election debate last week.

“Aquino needs a crash course in everything,” read candidate Gilbert Villegas off a Chicago Tribune report during his opening statements.

Throughout the forum, Omar Aquino and Villegas verbally sparred with each other in front of a small crowd of supporters at the Narragansett Church of God.

The candidates are vying for the coveted position of the ward’s new alderman after neither could secure the required 51 percent of the vote to gain the position.

The newcomer to the Chicago political foray, the 27-year-old Aquino, earned 35.61 percent of the ward’s vote, narrowly inching above Villegas, who has a long record in public service and earned 32.61 percent of the vote.

Before and after the February elections, both candidates have racked up an assortment of endorsements from local and state leaders.

Aquino is quick to point out that Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Sherriff Tom Dart and Illinois Congresswoman (D) Tammy Duckworth have endorsed his candidacy.

Not to be outdone, Villegas also has big names supporting his run. The Illinois Fraternal Order of Police and candidate for mayor, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia have endorsed him. Most recently, the Chicago Tribune also endorsed Villegas’ candidacy.

At the forum Monday night, both candidates wasted no time rolling up their sleeves to talk about their platforms and put down their opponents.

On the issues of public safety, more opportunities for youths after school and a charter school moratorium, both candidates have similar platforms.

Their ideas stress greater cooperation with the public and police, jobs and programs for youth and changing the policies about charter schools funded with taxpayer money.

But the gloves came off as the issue of the city’s ever growing budget crisis was presented to the candidates. Both candidates have different ideas on how to close the gap.

Aquino supports what he calls a progressive tax swap where there are incremental tax raises in wealthier neighborhoods to help offset other neighborhoods that are struggling.

“The way that we generate revenue and tax people in this city is not equitable,” said Aquino. He said people who can pay more aren’t and those who can’t are the struggling working classes.

He called participatory budgeting “a farce” in neighborhoods and citywide, citing failed opportunities around Chicago in the past.

Villegas is backing what he is calling a Fair Tax Bill that is a statewide bill that works to tax those who earn more. According to Villegas, families who earn less than $50,000 will receive a tax break, those that earn between that and $164,999 will see no change and those whom earn more than $165,000 will be taxed more. He said that the plan should be rolled out at the end of 2015 or early 2016.

Villegas also said he is in favor of participatory budgeting and said that it has succeeded on the country’s West Coast.

The candidates grew more aggressive on the topic of campaign finances when Aquino called out Villegas’ campaign for skirting around the laws that govern contributions.

Villegas quickly refuted the claims and fired back that Aquino was too young for the job and lacked the experience necessary to carry out his duties.

“This is not the time for on-the-job training,” Villegas jabbed during his closing remarks.

But Aquino doesn’t believe his age equates to inexperience.

“I’m a young guy. A lot of our residents believe, and I believe, we need some new fresh ideas not only in this ward, but in the City Council,” Aquino said.

With early voting already underway, voters will decide the winner of the special runoff election on April 7.

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