Villanueva named successor to Tabares in 21st Illinois House District
Community activist Celina Villanueva was named Monday night as the new State Representative for the 21st Illinois House district to fill the vacancy created when State Rep. Silvana Tabares who resigned to accept appointment as alderman of Chicago’s 23rd Ward.
Villanueva, a youth engagement activist with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), was one of five candidates nominated by the 11 Democratic committeemen and women whose districts include part of the 21st Illinois House District.
Villanueva was one of five nominees, who included: Carlos Aparicio, Chief of Staff for Cook County Commissioner Tobolski; John Chojnacki, Law enforcement instructor at Calumet College; Sergio Rodriguez, Mayor of Summit; and Myra Ortiz, Village Trustee in Summit.
A statement was released by the committee and endorsed by all 11 members of the committee following the vote:
“After careful deliberation by the committee, we agreed to appoint Celina Villanueva as the new 21st District State Representative. Although we had a diverse and highly qualified group of candidates, Ms. Villanueva had the characteristics and experience that the voters of the 21st District want in their representative in Springfield. Like Silvana Tabares, Celina Villanueva is a Chicago-based Latina community leader with great communication skills and work ethic. The committee believes Ms. Villanueva will meet the expectations of voters in the 21st District who have supported and identified with the representation provided by Silvana Tabares.”
The selection process to nominate a successor is set down by Illinois Statue and requires the elected committeemen and women whose districts include parts of the district of the vacating official’s political party to select the successor. Tabares, being a Democrat, was selected by the Democratic Committee officials. Villanueva will take over as acting Representative for the 21st House District but will have to run for re-election in the next election cycle.
The 11 Democratic Committeemen and women who voted are:
- 12th Ward Democratic Committeeman Anthony Munoz;
- 22nd Ward Democratic Committeeman Michael Rodriguez;
- 23rd Ward Democratic Committeeman Michael Zalewski Sr.;
- Stickney Township Democratic Committeeman Vincent Cainkar;
- Cicero Township Democratic Committeewoman Blanca Vargas;
- 15th Ward Democratic Committeeman Ray Lopez;
- Riverside Township Democratic Committeeman and 23rd District State Representative Michael Zalewski Jr.;
- 24th Ward Democratic Committeeman Michael Scott;
- 14th Ward Democratic Committeeman Ed Burke, the 14th Ward alderman;
- Berwyn Township Democratic Committeeman Robert Lovero, the mayor of Berwyn.
- Lyons Township Democratic Committeeman Steve Landek, who served as the meeting chairperson. Landek is also the State Senator of the 12th Senate District and mayor of Bridgeview.
Each member cast a “weighted” vote based on the number of Democratic primary voters who voted in the last primary election.
Attendees said each nominee introduced themselves and described their reasons for seeking the appointment. Interviews lasted two hours with various committee members voicing support for their preferences. Upon completion of the interviews, the committee went into closed-session to begin the voting-selection process.
Although the meeting was closed to the press and public, sources attending the meeting reported that no consensus was clear at the start of the balloting, as Committee member made cases for their preferred nominees. After five ballot votes, however, Villanueva received the largest majority vote. Thereafter, the committee agreed to make the decision unanimous by consensus not just to show unity but to also reflect a commitment to the needs and wishes of the district’s voters.
Mayra Ortiz, a Village of Summit Trustee and Sergio Rodriguez, the mayor of Summit, all made a strong push and were in the running. Carol Aparicio’s experience as the chief of staff for Cook County Commissioner Tobolski was also a preferred choice by several committeemen.
Although some political pundits asserted Villanueva was the clear choice of Speaker Madigan and Cook County Commissioner Chuy Garcia, it took more than those endorsements to secure Villanueva’s nomination. The selection committee wanted someone everyone could agree on and support.
However, in the end, the signal of a unified voice and cooperation by all the committeeman finalized the selection and the beginning of the term of service of Ms. Villanueva.
Villanueva vowed to work hard to represent the interests of all of the voters and residents of the 21st Illinois House District and to work with all of the district’s Democratic leadership.
Working with the ICIRR, Celina has helped to expand voting rights through her efforts on Online Voter Registration, Election Day Registration, and most recently Automatic Voter Registration, all of which are now law in the land of Lincoln. Additionally, Celina leads the largest immigrant civic engagement program in Illinois that has registered over 200,000 new American voters and mobilized hundreds of thousands more to get out to vote.
Prior to joining ICIRR, Celina served as the Director of Organizing at Chicago Votes, as well as working on various issue-based campaigns including the fight for Marriage Equality in Illinois. She also previously served as Outreach Coordinator for Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a role that superseded her work on various state and local electoral campaigns.
When she’s not busy trying to change the world into a place where we can all live openly, freely and safely, Celina is an avid reader, lover of musicals, dancing and a great brunch. A born and bred Chicago girl, Celina graduated with a B.A in Latina/Latino Studies with minors in African-American Studies and Spanish from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
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