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North Side Democrats choose former Rahm Emanuel policy director to fill Sen. Heather Steans’ seat

Mike Simmons, a lifelong resident of the district, was picked by a group of Cook County Democratic Party committeepeople to serve out the remainder of Steans’ term.

Mike Simmons participates in a Zoom meeting hosted by Indivisible IL-9 about the appointment to outgoing Sen. Heather Steans’ North Side seat.
Mike Simmons participates in a Zoom meeting hosted by Indivisible IL-9 about the appointment to outgoing Sen. Heather Steans’ North Side seat.
Screen image.

In a surprise move, North Side Democrats on Saturday chose a former policy director under Mayor Rahm Emanuel and deputy commissioner in the city’s department of planning and development to ascend to former Sen. Heather Steans’ seat.

Mike Simmons, a lifelong resident of the district, was chosen by a group of Cook County Democratic Party committeepeople to serve out the remainder of Steans’ term, garnering 67,516 weighted votes from members of the committee. He has never held office.

Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, received 22,493 votes — the winner needed 45,006 votes.

In a statement, Cassidy congratulated Simmons on his appointment and pledged to “continue to be a relentless voice for our values in the Illinois House of Representatives” on issues ranging from COVID relief to making sure communities are fairly represented in redistricting.

Cassidy was the first to declare her interest in the position, jumping in shortly after Steans’ announced her resignation last month, and was seen as a frontrunner for the position along with Simmons. She had the third largest weighted vote total, though she gave her votes to 49th Ward Ald. Maria Hadden, who served as her proxy Saturday.

Harry Osterman, who represents the 48th Ward as both its alderman and committeeperson — and shares a North Side office with Cassidy — gave his share of the weighted vote to Simmons, along with 40th Ward Committeeperson Maggie O’Keefe; Sean Tenner of the 46th Ward; and Paul Rosenfeld of the 47th.

Five others voted for Cassidy.

The group of committeepeople who represent the North Side state Senate district, which includes Rogers Park, Uptown, Andersonville and Edgewater, heard from Simmons, Cassidy and four others who were interested in the position Saturday.

Simmons did not immediately respond to request for comment on the appointment, but in a statement before the vote he told the members they had a “choice to make a historic decision to appoint the first person of color to represent the North lakefront and the State Senate, and as a progressive community, you can set the standard for what fully diverse representation can and must look like in 2021.”

Simmons, who is Black and gay — founded Blue Sky Strategies, which focuses on equitable urban planning and anti-racism in public policy, and serves as the deputy director of youth programs for the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance at the Obama Foundation.

“My lived experiences as a queer person of color from this community have equipped me with the advocacy skills to articulate the needs of the community and work to shape the policies that address those needs,” Simmons said during a Zoom forum last month.

His family moved into the area in 1981 — two years before Simmons was born — becoming one of the first Black families to integrate the Lincoln Square neighborhood after the U.S. Supreme Court mandated that public housing be built on the North Side of the city, Simmons said.

Simmons told the Chicago Sun-Times late last month that his experience will enable him “to work to serve the community to deliver on the kind of vision that allowed my life story to even be possible.”