Lightfoot ally abruptly resigns from City Council for job at Cinespace Studios

The surprise departure of Ald. Michael Scott Jr., Education Committee chairman, gives Mayor Lori Lightfoot the ability to appoint her second alderperson. The first was 11th Ward Ald. Nicole Lee, who replaced Patrick Daley Thompson.

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Ald. Michael Scott, Jr. during a Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall on Wednesday, July 21, 2021.

Ald. Michael Scott, Jr. (24th) at a Chicago City Council meeting in July 2021.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

In a surprise move, Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th), Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s hand-picked Education Committee chairman, is resigning his City Council seat to join Cinespace Studios.

Cinespace is the family-owned film and television production center partially located in Scott’s West Side ward. Last year, it was sold to TPG Real Estate Partners for $1.1 billion.

With studio operations in Chicago and Canada, the company is now planning a major expansion. Scott will oversee philanthropic, early education and job training programs as the company’s head of industry and community relations.

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That position may someday require him to lobby his former City Council colleagues — but not for one year, to abide by the revolving-door provision of Chicago’s ethics ordinance.

“I’m excited ... to help bring educational opportunities within film to — not just to my community, but to the South and West sides. They have a lot of trades jobs on the site. I would like to see more Black and Brown people, but specifically more African Americans, participate in this film industry — something that is growing,” Scott said.

“With COVID, there’s so much content that has been on all of these different streaming services. To be able to help folks get into that industry and be able to learn in meaningful, impactful ways is really exciting.”

Cinespace Chicago Film Studios at 2621 West 15th Place.

Cinespace Chicago Film Studios, 2621 W. 15th Place.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Lightfoot has 60 days to fill aldermanic vacancies.

The mayor will start accepting applications for the 24th Ward seat on Wednesday, with a deadline of 5 p.m. June 7.

Interested candidates can apply at aldermanicvacancy@cityofchicago.org or by mailing their resumes to the 24th Ward Vacancy Committee at City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St., Chicago, IL 60602.

As she did before replacing convicted former Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) with Nicole Lee, Lightfoot plans to form a search committee to interview candidates and narrow the list of applicants to three finalists.

Scott hopes to give his appointed successor a leg up in the next election, just nine months away. He wouldn’t reveal whom he recommends Mayor Lori Lightfoot appoint to replace him. He did say “multiple people” from his ward organization would vie for the job, perhaps including members of his own, public-service-oriented family.

“Everybody in my family — my wife, my children, my sister, my aunts — all serve in some sort of capacity. One of them may want to. I don’t know. I’m not pushing anybody. It has to be a job that folks want to do. It has to be a job that folks are capable of doing. And everybody might not want to step up to the plate. It is a really taxing job,” Scott said.

During the pandemic, Scott stayed home to care for his three children, including two younger than 12. He decided then the sacrifices he was forced to make to be the alderperson he wanted to be were too much to bear.

“I was able to see that I was not able to pour as much as I think that I should into raising my two boys. When this opportunity afforded itself, I wanted to make sure I was being unselfish in relation to my family and giving them more access to me,” said Scott, 46.

When a burgeoning lifeguard scandal at the Chicago Park District forced the resignation of CEO Mike Kelly, Scott let Lightfoot know he planned to pursue that position. He called it his “dream job,” having worked his way up through the ranks of the Park District.

Lightfoot promised to conduct a nationwide search, but didn’t, then handed the permanent job to Interim CEO Rosa Escareño.

On Monday, Scott acknowledged disappointment, but said Escareño’s appointment had nothing at all to do with deciding to leave the City Council.

“Coming from the parks and cutting my teeth at the parks for quite some time, it was something that I thought would be a natural fit and something that I would be good at. But Rosa is a more-than-capable leader over there and has done a magnificent job of righting the ship,” Scott said.

“Disappointed? Yes. Upset with the mayor? No. It was her pick. I understood why she chose a capable leader like Rosa. You have dreams. You have to wake up from dreams sometimes when it doesn’t happen. I wasn’t upset with the mayor at all. It is the board’s decision to make with the help of the mayor. They chose to go in a different direction. I’m OK with that.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks with Ald. Michael Scott during a Chicago City Council meeting on Oct. 14, 2021.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks with Ald. Michael Scott (24th) during a Chicago City Council meeting in October.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

During Scott’s nearly two terms as alderperson, the city identified a developer for the notorious Silver Shovel dump site at Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue.

Plans call for a distribution center and light manufacturing, creating at least 250 new jobs.

The Lawndale Christian Development Corporation, in partnership with Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, has an ambitious plan to build 1,000 homes over the next 10 years on what are now city-owned vacant lots in the eastern portion of the 24th Ward. Groundbreaking is expected this summer.

East Lake Management and Grace Memorial Development Corp. plan to build a 56-unit, all-affordable residential building in place of a police parking lot at Ogden and Homan avenues.

The West Side ward, decimated by riots after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., also has been buoyed by the plan known as Lawndale Redefined. It’s a mixed-use development, complete with affordable and market rate housing, a restaurant and a small convenience market. It’s part of Lightfoot’s signature Invest South/West program.

The North Lawndale Employment Network got a $2.5 million Neighborhood Opportunity Fund grant to build a state-of-the-art workforce campus at Roosevelt and Homan.

Ald. Michael Scott Jr. takes a photo during Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s first Chicago City Council meeting, on May 29, 2019.

Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th) takes a photo during Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s first Chicago City Council meeting, in May 2019.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Between all that and the Cinespace expansion, “the next alderman will have plenty of groundbreakings to attend,” Scott said.

“There is so much activity going on, it puts North Lawndale in a position to be successful — not just until the end of this term, but for years to come.”

As Education Committee chair, Scott watched as the Chicago Teachers Union battled constantly with Lightfoot. There were strikes and standoffs during the pandemic, as staff refused to report in person over safety concerns, leading to weeks of missed classes.

With Stacy Davis Gates elected as CTU’s new president, Scott said Lightfoot will “have to get her ducks in a row because the union is very organized.”

“All of the things they do aren’t wrong. But all of the things that they do aren’t right, either. I would like to see a balance,” Scott said.

“I don’t want to talk about what was done wrong or place the blame on anybody’s shoulders. It’s been a cantankerous relationship on both sides and, for the benefit of the children of Chicago, both sides will have to sit at the table and play nice.”

Michael Scott Sr. was an all-purpose troubleshooter for former Mayor Richard M. Daley and once served as Park Board president.

The retiring alderperson said his father “would be happy to see me get out of this life and start a new chapter.”

“He told me before I got into this game that there’s no money in running for public office. That it’s a thankless job and that, if I really wanted to do that, I should make money before running for office,” Scott Jr. said.

“I did the exact opposite because I thought my community needed help.”

Ald. Michael Scott Jr. holds his head during a contentious Chicago City Council meeting in December 2019.

Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th), during a contentious Chicago City Council meeting in December 2019 at which aldermen were scheduled to vote on an attempt by the Black Caucus to delay sales of recreational marijuana in Chicago for six months to give African American and Hispanic people a chance to get a piece of the action.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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