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Ninth Ward Council member Cicely Fleming announced she will be stepping down from her seat effective with the selection of the City Manager next month.
Fleming delivered her stunning announcement during Call of the Wards at the end of the Dec. 20 council meeting, saying the Dec. 8 death of her mother, Marsha Cole, a much-praised senior housing advocate, was a key factor in her decision.
It “reminded me that life is very short. I think we forget that because we are busy living and no one thinks about when they’re going to die,” she said.
“My mother was a fighter,” she said. “Many times she fought really just for her own basic needs or the needs of other people. More recently she was fighting for safe senior housing, which she did have but she knew there was not enough of it.”
Her mother “really fought to her last breath for things that she really saw as social justice issues, which I think we would all agree.
“And I want to spend my time doing the same,” she said. “I think what I realized from my mother’s death and what I realized for myself is that, while I love the City of Evanston, I don’t love my role on the City Council. I joined City Council to really improve the city in the way in which I thought that I could do and I’ve had some successes but ultimately this position has become more, I think, harmful to my health than joyful to me.”
“I love Evanston. It’s the home of my ancestors. People know that my family has been here since the late 1800s,” she said.
“And I’m the fourth generation to serve the city because that is how we were raised. But to honor my mother, to honor myself, to keep my integrity, to keep my sanity. I’m going to be stepping out from City Council. So I will be leaving at the end of January.”
Fleming, first elected to office in 2017, was the only council member who ran unopposed in the 2021 municipal election. Her term runs until 2025.
She plans to stay in her seat until next month when the council is expected to choose a new City Manager.
Fleming said she spoke to Mayor Daniel Biss about her decision. She said she plans to send a letter to her constituents on Dec. 21 about her decision and the process to find a successor.
Under council rules, the Mayor has the authority to appoint a replacement to fill an aldermanic seat.
Praise from colleagues
Biss was among a number of council members who praised the strong voice Fleming brought to issues and note the loss to the city as a result of her decision.
“Thank you for your service, your insight,” he said, speaking of the friendship Fleming extended as he learned his new job.
“And if your reasons for leaving were anything other than what they are, which I consider to be pretty sacred, I would do everything I possibly could to convince you to stay,” he said. “But out of respect for what you said and your commitment to yourself, I just simply want to say thank you for everything you’ve done for the city.”
City Clerk Stephanie Mendoza, who resides in Fleming’s southwest ward, thanked Fleming “for every single thing that you’ve done for us, for our families for – I’m going to say this especially – the Latino community.”
“I don’t think anyone on the Council has been as effective reaching out to the [Latino] community as you have,” Mendoza continued.
“You attend the monthly immigration and first-generation undocumented family monthly meetings that were put together during the pandemic. You’re the only council member who actively engages with the Latino community and actively attends those meetings. I truly, truly appreciate you for trying to work with every corner of our community and especially those communities who haven’t had an opportunity to be involved in the city in the past.”
Fleming’s announcement came a day after the Jane Addams Senior Caucus/Jane Addams Seniors In Action held a virtual memorial service, honoring her mother for a lifetime of fighting injustice.
Marsha Cole “was instrumental in passing the Senior Safety Ordinance and an active leader on the campaign for a national Homes Guarantee,” the organization said in a statement.
“Marsha was never afraid to speak the truth and had a clear vision of seniors aging with dignity. She regularly told everyone that she would be fighting until her dying days, which she did.”
Fleming said that watching her mother “die of COVID was quite hard. And I will say in her honor that she was regretful that she did not choose to get the vaccine,” she said. “So, hopefully, you know, her life would not be in vain, in that other people can just take our family experience and think more seriously about getting the vaccine.”