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Economic development key issue in 36th Ward

Residents in the Northwest Side’s 36th Ward — a blue-collar “bungalow beltway” with plenty of diversity — want more businesses and less crime, the wards’s aldermanic candidates say.

Vying for alderman in the April 7 runoff are Gilbert Villegas, a government affairs and business consultant, and Omar Aquino, recently an outreach coordinator for U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth.

It’s also a proxy battle between Rep. Luis Arroyo and Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios: Villegas is backed by Arroyo, while Aquino is endorsed by Berrios. Villegas is also endorsed by mayoral candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

Villegas wants to see economic development in the ward, including along Fullerton Avenue between Cicero and Narragansett avenues, where some 50,000 vehicles pass daily. The ward includes Dunning, Montclare and Portage Park.

“I want to go ahead and leverage that area as more of an entertainment center, more structures, more restaurants, more places for libations in that area because there is not really much of that on Fullerton Avenue,” Villegas said. “I usually go to a different part of the city to see my neighbors.”

He also wants to combat gang activity in the ward by partnering with the police department and building up trust.

Villegas, a Local School Council member at Steinmetz College Prep, wants to bring a technical curriculum to the school so students can learn trades.

Aquino, too, wants to work on economic development in the ward, including in the industrial corridor of Grand Avenue. “I’d like to see some small business, family-owned manufacturing companies go and use these facilities together and not have them be vacant,” Aquino said. “I want to bring in companies paying blue-collar jobs where people actually live.”

He said he’d like to work with academic institutions on a comprehensive study of how to create incentives for creating businesses in the ward and to learn how to attract entrepreneurs.

Aquino said he’s sick of being labeled a machine politician.

“I’m a progressive independent,” he said. “That’s why, unlike Gilbert, I stayed out of the mayor’s race. I don’t need to tell people who to vote for.”