Who fills the seat? (RoundTable photo)

If Ninth Ward City Council member Cicely Fleming carries out her declared intention to step down from her ward seat, that would set a series of steps in motion, leading to a special election in 2023, said city officials, asked about the process.

Fleming announced near the end of the Dec. 20 City Council meeting that she would vacate her seat, leaving after the Council’s selection of a City Manager, which is expected later this month.

Fleming was the only Council member to run unopposed in the April election, winning a new four-year term.

Although she stated her intention to step down, Fleming would still have to file a notarized written resignation with the local election officer, City Clerk Stephanie Mendoza. Mendoza and Corporation Counsel Nicholas Cummings both cited the relevant state statute.

Once filed, the resignation will become valid on the date Fleming specifies, which may be within 60 days of the filing.

Once Mendoza has received the notice, she is to furnish a certified copy of the written resignation to the mayor within seven days.

Council has advice and consent on two choices

Under state statute, an appointment by the mayor must be made within 60 days after the vacancy occurs.

The appointment is subject to the advice and consent of the nine ward Council members.

If the Council fails to approve the mayor’s first choice within 30 days, the mayor may submit the name of a second person.

Should that person fail to receive Council approval, then the mayor, acting alone, may make a temporary appointment of one of those two people he previously recommended.

Fleming’s term of office would have carried four years, until the next municipal election in April 2025. The state statute, however, requires a special election if the unexpired portion of a four-year term is 28 months or more; the special election is to coincide with the next general municipal election. In Evanston the next scheduled election is scheduled for April 2024, when new School Boards will be elected. The next city election is not scheduled until 2025, officials said.

Cummings and Mendoza said whoever wins the special election for the Ninth Ward Council member in 2023 will then fill the remainder – through April 2025 – of Fleming’s term. Mendoza said she conferred with the county on the process. 

If more than four candidates file for the race in 2023, that would trigger a primary election, which would be held Feb. 28, 2023, in Illinois.

If there are four or fewer candidates, there would be no need for a primary election, and the candidates for Ninth Ward Council member – running to fill the remainder of Fleming’s term, through April 2025 – would run in the April 4 consolidated election.

Two approaches 

Former Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl took different approaches in filling the Council vacancies that came up during her time in office.

In 2011, instead of going out to the community to fill the vacancy left by then-Second Ward Alderperson Lionel Jean-Baptiste, she named Peter Braithwaite, a close supporter of  Jean-Baptiste, to fill the more than two years left in Jean-Baptiste’s term, not going out to the community before her appointment.

In 2015, however, Tisdahl departed from the practice previous mayors had followed to fill vacancies, agreeing to residents’ call for a public forum to hear candidates seeking to fill the remaining two years of then-Ninth Ward Alderperson Coleen Burris.

A packed house of 9th Ward residents attended the session in April of that year at the Levy Center to hear the five candidates present their credentials.

Tisdahl eventually chose one of them, Cook County attorney Brian Miller, to fill the position.

Tisdahl named Eleanor Revelle  to fill the remaining 14 months left on the seat of then-7th Ward Alderperson Jane Grover. Grover left to accept a job with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. Miller resigned his seat in 2017 and unsuccessfully ran for mayor. Braithwaite and Revelle, given the boost provided by their appointments, went on to win full terms of office in the next election for their seats. 

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.