Newly elected 2nd Ward Ald. Brian Hopkins finished putting together his office staff this past week and decided the best candidate to run it was the one he just defeated.
Hopkins said he has hired Stephen Niketopoulos, who finished fourth behind him in a six-way contest in February, to be his chief of staff.
It’s not exactly a Team of Rivals redux of Barack Obama borrowing a page from Abe Lincoln to make Hillary Clinton his secretary of state.
But by Chicago political standards, the selection is awfully open-minded of Hopkins and possibly unprecedented.
“We’ve asked around. No one can think of a situation like this before,” said Hopkins, noting that he has checked with veteran Ald. Edward Burke (14th), the City Council’s historian, and Burke concurs.
Admittedly, this would be a bigger story if Hopkins had hired Alyx Pattison, the second-place finisher with whom he engaged in an expensive and bitter runoff campaign.
Unfortunately, she didn’t apply.
I’m sure there are cynical political types who will take this as an indication Niketopoulos was a put-up candidate all along, someone whose candidacy was secretly designed to help Hopkins.
That was my first reaction, too, being a cynical political type, because that’s not an uncommon occurrence in these multi-candidate ward races where top contenders play numbers games to avoid or reach a runoff.
But Hopkins assured me that’s not the case, pointing out he never knew Niketopoulos prior to being introduced on the campaign trail. I’m aware of no evidence to suggest otherwise, so I think we probably ought to believe him.
Hopkins said he and Niketopoulos “didn’t start off on a good note” when he saw his opponent’s campaign materials claiming to be the only candidate connected to the community.
But he said they developed a mutual respect over the course of the campaign based on their approach to ward issues. In addition, their wives got to be friends while attending the 14 different candidate debates. Topping it off, the two candidates bonded over their mutual interest as recreational hockey players.
Niketopoulos finished with 12 percent of the vote and noted afterward he was proud he “never went negative” on his opponents.
Later, Niketopoulos endorsed Hopkins in the runoff over Pattison, praising him as someone who “understands the needs of the communities.”
Hopkins ended up winning the runoff handily with 57 percent of the vote, but not before the combatants had spent more than $1 million to make it one of the most expensive aldermanic races in Chicago history.
As the long-time chief of staff to Cook County Board Finance Chairman John Daley, Hopkins knows the importance of a politician having good staff work.
Niketopoulos, 37, described himself during the campaign as an educational television producer. His big selling point as a candidate was that he had developed a social media network to keep community residents informed about issues in their neighborhoods.
Niketopoulos is a cultural anthropologist by education, and I can certainly see how the City Council could afford him some unique opportunities for a field study.
Hopkins replaced Ald. Robert Fioretti, who chose to run for mayor instead of seeking re-election in the extraordinarily gerrymandered new 2nd Ward that was intentionally remapped to leave him out in the cold.
The ward now snakes ridiculously through 13 different neighborhoods.
Hopkins, whose strength was in the Gold Coast and Streeterville portion of the ward, expects to benefit from Niketopoulos’ reach into Ukrainian Village, where he is president of a neighborhood association.
During the campaign, Niketopoulos had said he would join the City Council’s progressive caucus. Hopkins is expected to stick with the Emanuel administration.
If hiring one’s opponent ever becomes a trend, I would expect we’ll have a lot more candidates in the future.