Ald. Michele Smith to resign City Council seat Aug. 12

The decision by the Lincoln Park alderperson gives Mayor Lori Lightfoot the rare chance for a third appointment to the Council. Lightfoot already has replaced Patrick Daley Thompson, forced to resign after a federal conviction, and Michael Scott Jr., who left for a private sector job.

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Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) attends a Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Wednesday, July 21, 2021.

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), shown at a Chicago City Council meeting last year, has announced she will resign her seat next month.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

One day after winning approval of an ethics ordinance watered down at Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s behest, Lincoln Park Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) on Thursday joined the Chicago City Council exodus.

In an email to her constituents, Smith announced she would resign her Council seat on Aug. 12.

That gives Lightfoot the rare chance to make a third Council appointment.

The mayor already has replaced Patrick Daley Thompson, convicted on federal charges, in the 11th Ward and Michael Scott Jr., who took a job with Cinespace Chicago Film Studio, in the 24th Ward.

Lightfoot nominated Nicole Lee, the first Chinese American to serve on the Council, to the 11th Ward seat, and appointed Monique Scott to replace her brother.

Smith is a former federal prosecutor who has served the 43rd Ward — which includes Lincoln Park, Old Town and the Gold Coast — for the last 11 years.

She called the decision to resign “a difficult and deeply personal one” made due to “deepening responsibilities toward family and friends.”

In 2019, Smith was forced into a runoff against challenger Derek Lindblom, surviving with 53.5% of the vote.

“This is entirely a personal decision. I am the youngest of a family. I’m 67. And I have elderly relatives — people to whom I have responsibility. There comes a point in life where I just have to think about my family,” Smith told the Sun-Times.

“I have loved this job for the full 11 years. I am very sad about leaving. … I believe I would have been reelected. I’m not leaving because of fear of reelection. I think we’ve been serving the ward well. It’s just a 100% personal call. … I’m the fourth-oldest person in the City Council, I think. It’s just time for me to go.”

Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th) and Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) chat during a Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall on July 20, 2022.

Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th) and Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) chat during Wednesday’s Chicago City Council meeting.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Earlier this week, the Council unanimously approved yet another in a string of ethics ordinances. It hasn’t stopped the parade of present and former alderpersons marching off to federal prison or being charged with corruption.

The ordinance would have been even tougher if not for a series of changes demanded by Lightfoot to benefit her City Council allies.

On Thursday, the retiring Ethics Committee chair took her final legislative battle in stride. She described the fight for ethics reforms as a “marathon,” not a sprint.

“In 2011, somebody introduced an ordinance for this thing called the ‘legislative inspector general,’ and I voted against it … because I thought it was a fraud. And it proved to be a fraud,” Smith said.

“It took until 2019 to actually get the inspector general to have full authority over the City Council. Eight years to do the right thing. So, I actually think in the last four years, we’ve made more progress than had been made in, probably, the prior 20.”

Smith said she agreed to the changes demanded by Lightfoot because “in legislating, you don’t get everything you want every time. You make your compromises and you move forward.”

Lightfoot issued a statement praising Smith’s “great legacy of service” and calling the retirement “a great loss for her ward and our city. … A fierce champion for ethics reform, she has made our city a fairer and more equitable city for all.”

The process for naming her replacement will be announced Friday, the mayor said. 

Having run for alderperson to “keep families in the city,” Smith said she’s proud of having doubled the number of school-age children in her ward — with 15 more preschools and increased enrollment in every one of the ward’s public and private schools. She even got an addition built to Lincoln Elementary.

She also was outspoken recently about the epidemic of strong-armed robberies, burglaries and carjackings in Lincoln Park.

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) speaks to constituents during a community meeting near Oz Park on  Friday afternoon, June 4, 2021.

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) speaks to constituents during a community meeting about public safety and policing near Oz Park in June 2021.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“We worked hard and very deliberately to make the city a place where people wanted to not just live here as young singles but to stay here and raise their families and keep their businesses here,” she said.

Smith also reflected on the political donnybrook following the closing of Children’s Memorial Hospital in Lincoln Park and its move to Streeterville, where it became Lurie Children’s Hospital.

“We lost the biggest employer in our ward and the biggest source of business. Six thousand people a day went through the doors. When they closed, it really killed the entire area around it,” she said.

“We built the replacement. And it is now a thriving crossroads of our neighborhood.”

Smith’s decision to resign early speeds the transition to a Chicago City Council that will look dramatically different in the next term.

Uptown Ald. James Cappleman (46th) is not seeking reelection. Neither is Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) or indicted Ald. Carrie Austin (34th).

Alderperson Howard Brookins (21st) is awaiting an Ethics Board ruling on conflicts posed by his law practice before deciding whether to seek reelection after losing a judicial race.

Alderpersons Roderick Sawyer (6th) and Ray Lopez (15th) are giving up their seats to run for mayor. Ald. Sophia King (4th) may do the same. Ald. George Cardenas (12th), Lightfoot’s deputy floor leader, is leaving after winning a seat on the Cook County Board of Review.

A handful of veteran alderpersons may join the exodus, including indicted Ald. Edward Burke (14th), dean of the council.

Why so much turnover?

“This job has always been a combination of fun and toughness,” Smith said. “The pandemic was the most challenging work environment I have ever had in my professional career.”

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