Lightfoot appoints Cardenas’ former chief of staff to replace him as 12th Ward alderperson

Attorney Anabel Abarca, a McKinley Park resident, is the mayor’s fourth appointment to fill an aldermanic vacancy.

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Anabel Abarca

Anabel Abarca


Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday appointed Anabel Abarca, chief of staff to now-former Ald. George Cardenas (12th), to replace her former boss in the City Council.

Before resigning to take his seat on the Cook County Board of Review, Cardenas served as Lightfoot’s deputy floor leader. He helped to marshal support for the mayor’s budget and programs amid resistance from alderpersons emboldened by the mayor’s dismal public approval ratings and angered by her contentious relationship with the City Council.

Given Cardenas’ loyalty to the mayor, it’s not surprising that Lightfoot would follow Cardenas’ recommendation to fill his vacancy with his chief of staff.

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The City Council’s Rules Committee is expected to confirm Abarca’s appointment on Tuesday, followed by a full Council vote Wednesday that will pave the way for Abarca to take her seat and immediately start voting at the last meeting of the year.

In a news release announcing the appointment, Lightfoot hailed her fourth aldermanic appointee as a “pillar of the 12th Ward community” whose “passion for public service and deep connection to her community makes her the best candidate to serve the residents of McKinley Park, Brighton Park and Little Village.”

A McKinley Park resident since 2015, Abarca is also an attorney who “supports the business goals of real estate and construction leaders by helping resolve disputes and negotiate contracts,” the mayor said.

Abarca said she is “ready to help my community grow and deliver the resources it deserves.”

“Our ward is filled with motivated and passionate people who see our community’s potential, and I look forward to bringing their vision to life as alderwoman. Together we will make the 12th Ward strong and ensure every neighbor thrives,” Abarca said in the news release.

In a span of just a few months, Lightfoot has had the rare opportunity to make four aldermanic appointments.

She chose Nicole Lee, the first Chinese American to serve on the City Council, to replace convicted Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th); Timmy Knudsen (43rd) to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Ald. Michele Smith (43rd); and Monique Scott to replace her brother, former Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th).

Abarca is the daughter of Mexican immigrants. Her father drove a cab and ran a car repair business in Belmont-Cragin. Her mother cleaned offices and worked at a factory.

Abarca developed her interest in law while translating legal and city documents for her parents, setting her on a path that ultimately led her to receive a law degree at Loyola University.

A treasurer of Women in Planning and Development, Abarca has also served on the executive boards of several nonprofits, including the McKinley Park Development Council, Latinos Progresando and the El Valor Associate Board.

Cardenas wasted no time in sending out invitations to a Dec. 21 fundraiser for his protege at Tree House Chicago, 149 W. Kinzie St. That would give Abarca an even bigger leg up on the competition in the Feb. 28 race for 12th Ward alderperson.

“She’s qualified. Very well-educated. Humble beginnings. Immigrant story. She represents that hardworking community of Brighton Park and McKinley Park,” Cardenas said. “She’s very competent. You can’t find competency like that any longer.”

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