By Bob Skolnik
A Chicago woman has been named to replace Silvana Tabares as the state representative for the 21st District, which stretches from the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago to Summit and includes the part of Riverside that is south of the BNSF railroad tracks.
On July 23, the 11 Democratic ward and township committeemen of the areas that make up the 21st District selected Celina Villanueva to replace Tabares, who resigned her seat in the General Assembly after being appointed the alderman of Chicago's 23rd Ward.
She replaced long time Ald. Michael R. Zalewski, who resigned from his aldermanic seat this spring. He is the father of state Rep. Mike J. Zalewski (D-Riverside),
Villanueva, who was sworn in on July 24, works as a youth engagement manager for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR).
Prior to that position Villanueva, a resident of the Little Village neighborhood, worked as the director of Organizing for Chicago Votes and worked on various issue campaigns including the fight to legalize gay and lesbian marriage, according to the ICIRR website.
Villanueva also previously worked as an outreach coordinator for Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, who is the Democratic nominee for Congress in 4th Congressional District. Garcia was, according to the Capitol Fax newsletter, a major supporter of Villanueva's bid to replace Tabares.
Villanueva was chosen from a field of five candidates. The other applicants for the position were Carlos Aparicio, the chief of staff for Cook County Commissioner Jeffery Tobolski; John Chojnacki, a law enforcement instructor at Calumet College; Myra Ortiz, a village trustee in Summit; and Summit Mayor Sergio Rodriguez.
According to a press release issued by the selection committee, the competition was vigorous at the meeting on July 23. After five ballots, Villanueva had garnered a large majority and then her selection was made unanimous.
State Rep. Michael Zalewski, who is also the Riverside Township Democratic Committeeman, was not at the selection meeting but was represented by a proxy.
Zalewski told the Landmark Tuesday that he supported Villanueva.
"I think she'll make an excellent state representative," Zalewski said. "I thought it made sense for Silvana Tabares' replacement to have, demographically speaking, the same characteristics as Silvana and I thought, from what I know about Celina she's actively involved in government, she comes at this from a policy perspective. So, all things being equal, I thought it was the right selection."
The selection committee also issued a statement after choosing Villanueva.
"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," the statement said. "Like Silvana Tabares, Celina Villanueva is a Chicago-based Latina community leader with great communication skills and work ethic."
Villanueva could not be immediately reached for comment.
But the Capitol Fax quoted a press release issued by Villanueva.
"I am humbled to accept this appointment to represent my community in the Illinois General Assembly," said Villanueva. "I am committed to advocating for the best interests of working people in the 21st District every day, and will always be a voice for social justice and democracy in Springfield."
Villanueva will serve out Tabares' term and run for a full term in the November 2018 general election. There is currently no Republican candidate in the overwhelmingly Democratic district, which was drawn to favor a Hispanic candidate.