Villarreal, 55, of Onondaga, has led the Syracuse YWCA for a decade and served as a longtime leader in Syracuse’s Latino community.
Villarreal won the Onondaga County Republican Committee’s weighted vote Friday night over Caleb Slater, 27, of Syracuse, GOP committee leaders said. Slater said he works as a consultant in the real estate industry.
The vote percentages from the internal party election were not publicly disclosed.
Before the vote, Slater said he would continue his campaign and try to force a Republican primary election if he lost the party’s designation. If he submits enough petition signatures to qualify for the ballot, the primary would be June 25.
The eventual GOP nominee will try to unseat May, a three-term incumbent, in the November election for the 48th Senate District seat.
The district spans the entire city of Syracuse, some western and southern towns in Onondaga County and all of Cayuga County.
Democrats have a strong enrollment advantage in the district. As of November, the district had 75,941 enrolled Democratic voters, 53,540 Republicans and 52,554 independent voters who were not registered in a political party.
The battle between Villarreal and Slater was one of only two contested races that forced Onondaga County Republican Committee members to choose between candidates at the GOP’s convention at Driver’s Village in Cicero.
In the other contested race, lawyer Jason Zeigler won the party’s designation for Onondaga County Family Court judge over Tom Babilon.
Zeigler is a defense lawyer in Syracuse who most recently lost his campaign for Syracuse City Court judge in 2021. Babilon worked as a Syracuse city government lawyer for 10 years and unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for mayor in 2021.