West Chicago names first Hispanic mayor
Ruben Pineda was only a baby when he arrived in West Chicago with his parents in the early 1960s. They were migrant workers from Texas who were looking for work, and here they found it, in the corn and bean fields of Illinois.
Pineda, now 52, has never left the West suburban town, which has grown in size and population over the years, particularly from growth in the city's Hispanic community.
On Monday night, Pineda officially became acting mayor of West Chicago and is expected to finish out the term of Mike Kwasman, who died April 17 after suffering a heart attack at a local restaurant.
Pineda, a sitting alderman, becomes the first mayor of Hispanic descent in the 140-year history of West Chicago, where now just more than half the city's residents are Hispanic. Fourteen years ago, Pineda became the city's first Hispanic alderman when then-Mayor Steven Lakics appointed him to an open spot on the city council.
"I'm proud of this community. I always have been," Pineda said in an interview after his unanimous appointment by the city council.
Pineda, who works for a fire protection services company, says his parents instilled in him a strong work ethic at a young age.
"As a kid, you don't realize you're poor. As long as you have a full stomach," he said.
Pineda was civically involved early on, helping to establish a teen center inside a cabin at a local park. He also created a student support project in 1977 at West Chicago Community High School that still exists, as an opportunity for kids who may not have been in a "clique" to have some place to go and talk, Pineda says.
He was heavily involved in sports growing up: He was a state wrestling champion in junior high in 1974 and captain of the football team his senior year of high school in 1978.
Pineda has been married for 22 years to his wife, Julie. He has three brothers.
Pineda was a longtime friend and political ally to Kwasman.
"We're going to carry on his vision," Pineda said. "I'm going to carry on what we planned, and we have a lot of plans."
He hasn't officially declared if he's going to run for mayor when the current term expires in April 2013.