GALEWOOD — Fifteen months into his first term as alderman of the 36th Ward, an enthusiastic Gilbert Villegas addressed a sparse crowd of constituents Thursday evening, sharing his office's current accomplishments, future plans for the recently redrawn ward and a vision for the city itself.
Speaking in the modest sanctuary of Word of Life Church of God, 2254 N. Naragansett Ave., Villegas pushed for a stronger connection between residents and police officers, encouraging those in attendance to put "We Call Police" posters in their windows.
"We want the police to know that we will call them," said Villegas, who recently met with Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson to increase the number of police patrolling underserved neighborhoods within the ward.
So far, Johnson has added several new officers to the 16th District but has yet to fulfill his promise to add more police to the 25th District. Villegas is certain that Johnson will keep his word.
"I'm sure we'll have more officers in that district by the end of the year," said Villegas.
Villegas also expressed his desire to work with other alderman to combat citywide violence, mentioning that he's consulted officials in major cities like Los Angeles and New York about best practices.
"I was born and raised here, and I have two sons," said the former marine. "Of course I care about what's happening in other neighborhoods. We as a City Council have to do something."
The 36th Ward includes parts of Belmont Cragin, Portage Park, Dunning, Montclare and Galewood.
He relayed news of a grand opening later this month of Gordon Food Service at 6431 N. Fullerton Ave. The site is a former Office Depot.
While Villegas is worried that some of his colleagues are more concerned with maintaining the status quo, he hopes to reach those willing to do the work of "revitalizing communities."
Noting the success of his Participatory Budgeting initiative, in which residents were allowed to vote on where to spend the $1.32 million allocated in aldermanic funds each year, Villegas announced his plan to bring it back in 2017.
This year, 792 constituents participated in the system — which has gotten international attention. They voted to spend the bulk of the money on infrastructure projects, including street resurfacing and the renovation of Locke Elementary's school field. Other funded projects included the crosswalk at Belmont and Natchez, the Prosser Community Garden, and Trees for the Parks.
Also in the offing is a plan for a county-funded health clinic on a parcel of land adjacent to Hanson Park Elementary, 5411 W. Fullerton Ave. With an assist from state Rep. Luis Arroyo (3rd), Villegas plans to offer health services to 5,000 children and teens in the area. Chicago Public Schools recently approved the use of the land, said Villegas, and now the project has two more rounds of meetings before construction can begin.
"It's been interesting," Villegas said of his first year in City Hall. "It's a lot like high school. People can be cliquish. But I was elected to do a job and I'm going to do it."
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