by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producerBy CBS 2 Chicago Staff

CHICAGO (CBS) — Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) announced Tuesday he is resigning as Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s floor leader on the City Council, saying he wants to spend more time focused on his role as chairman of the Committee on Economic, Capital, and Technology Development.

“I am incredibly proud of what we have done so far, but more importantly, where we can go,” Villegas wrote in a letter to his constituents. “Spearheading technology changes and enhancements for our City can make a real money-saving and life-improving difference. The Technology Working Group that I formed is chomping at the bit to move things forward. So far, we have identified ways to save the City $200M in the first year alone and position our City to be more technologically advanced. This will help our young students, recruit more companies to relocate here, and reposition Chicago.”

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Villeagas, whose ward is located on the Northwest Side, also said he will be spending more time working with two national boards, the Democratic Municipal Officials and the National League of Cities, “to further Chicago’s initiatives in the technology space.”

Lightfoot tapped Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), whose ward is located on the South Side, to serve as her new floor leader. Harris also chairs the City Council Rules Committee.

“Alderman Harris brings years of experience in the City Council, including a long history of working within the Council to bridge divides and craft resident-focused legislation. I look forward to working with her in this new capacity and continuing to move Chicago forward in a more equitable and inclusive way,” Lightfoot said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

The mayor also announced Ald. George Cardenas (12th), whose ward is located on the Southwest Side, would serve in the newly created position of deputy floor leader.

“We are living amidst a tremendous challenge for our beloved city, and I am incredibly grateful to work with both Mayor Lightfoot and Alderman Harris to seize this historic moment for the great opportunity it is,” Cardenas said in a statement. “I have no doubt that together we will be able to make the tangible steps needed to support Chicago’s families, improve the lives of our communities, and build a future that is even brighter than our past.”

Villegas had been Lightfoot’s floor leader since she took office in May 2019, helping her wrangle votes for her agenda on the City Council, including two contentious budget votes. He also helped Lightfoot stave off a 2019 bid by the Black Caucus to delay the start of recreational marijuana sales in Chicago by six months, because they were upset at the dearth of African American ownership in the legal weed industry in Illinois.

The City Council voted down that bid to delay legal weed sales by a 29-19 vote just two weeks before the start or recreational pot sales in Illinois.

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Villegas said he submitted his resignation as the mayor’s floor leader in late December 2020, but stayed on for a month to ease the transition to a new floor leader.

“Alderman Villegas has been both a personal friend and powerful ally since I took office, and I thank him for his ongoing commitment to our city and its residents,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “While I’m sad to see Alderman Villegas leave his post, I am thrilled Alderman Harris will be taking reigns as my new Floor Leader and that Alderman Cardenas will serve in a newly-created role as Deputy Floor Leader. Michelle and George are smart, experienced, and respected by their colleagues. They will be a very dynamic team and will be great assets to help us do the people’s work.”

Villeagas’ resignation came after the second of two difficult budget fights for Lightfoot.

In November, in one of the closest budget votes in decades, aldermen approved Lightfoot’s $12.8 billion spending plan for 2021, including a $94 million property tax hike, and a laundry list of other new and increased fees and taxes to help close a record $1.2 billion shortfall. Aldermen voted 29-21 to approve the mayor’s spending plan, and 28-22 to back the revenue package needed to fund it.

One year before, aldermen approved Lightfoot’s first budget plan by a 39-11 margin which, despite being more than enough votes needed to pass, was a much closer vote than Chicago mayors typically get for their spending plans. Lightfoot’s two predecessors, Rahm Emanuel and Richard M. Daley, enjoyed nearly unanimous support for the vast majority of their budget votes.

Lightfoot’s relationship with aldermen has never been the most cordial, as she took office vowing to strip aldermen of their treasured “aldermanic privilege” over zoning issues, licensing, and permitting in their wards; saying the practice “breeds corruption.”

While the mayor has signed some executive orders limiting aldermen’s authority over various permits and licenses, she has yet to move to strip them of their essentially unilateral control over zoning matters in their wards in the face of strident opposition. Such a change would require approval from a majority of the City Council, and aldermen are loath to give up that power.

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