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Sebastian Nalls (submitted photo).

Sebastian Nalls, the 21-year-old Purdue University student whose poise and quick command of issues impressed observers in the 2020-21 mayoral race, has declared his interest in filling the 9th Ward Council seat, expected to be vacated soon.

Nalls, a 9th Ward resident, announced in a press release his interest in succeeding Cicely Fleming as Council member of the far south Evanston ward.

He said he would like to build on the communication Fleming established with residents and her efforts to ensure their voices were part of the political process.

“In Evanston’s local government, transparency and participation in the political process has decreased over the years,” he said. “With my age comes a fresh set of ideas that would increase transparency and participation; quarterly town hall meetings would allow residents to be engaged in the political process while giving the City Council active input to make informed decisions. I will continue to build on the collective energy that is prioritizing making Evanston a diverse and equitable city.”

Fleming declared her intention to leave her seat near the end of the Dec. 20 Council meeting, saying the recent death of her mother, Marsha Cole, a much-praised senior housing advocate, figured in her decision.

Fleming was the only Council member to run unopposed in last April’s election. With several other incumbents defeated in that election, her voice was expected to be a strong one on the new Council comprised of five first-term candidates, including the mayor.

She still must declare her intention to leave in writing. Once that declaration goes to Mayor Daniel Biss, the mayor has 60 days to make an appointment.

The nine-member City Council has advice and consent on the issue up to two appointments.

If no candidate is approved, the mayor would have the power to appoint one of the two people he nominated to fill Fleming’s seat until 2023, when a special election would be held, local election officials have declared.

The winner of that special election would fill out the remainder of Fleming’s term, which runs until April 2025.

If the last time a 9th Ward Alderperson stepped down from her seat is any indication, Nalls could have competition in gaining the mayor’s appointment.

In 2015, after then-Council member Coleen Burris announced she was leaving her seat to accept an out-of-town position, five candidates submitted their credentials.

At least two have remained active in city affairs: onetime Ridgeville Park District Commissioner Daniel Coyne and attorney Shawn Jones, an attorney and former RoundTable writer with wide experience on zoning and small-business issues.

Spirited fight

Nalls’ entry into local politics came in the 2020-21 mayoral election. He joined Lori Keenan, a local issues advocate, in what was regarded as an uphill fight against Biss, a former state legislator and candidate for Governor in the Democratic 2018 primary.

Biss swept to an overwhelming victory, receiving 7,787 or 73.47% of the 10,614 votes cast, compared to 1,867 or 17.59% for Keenan and 960 votes or 9.04% for Nalls.

Both Biss and Keenan praised Nalls for the energy and insights he brought to the campaign.

Reflecting on the experience, Nalls said in his release that “the last two years have been a transformational experience for myself and residents across Evanston. My service journey started with Evanston’s Black Male Alliance’s walks, giving support for residents harmed by gang and gun violence, which ultimately served as the catalyst to my candidacy for Mayor of Evanston. 

“Though I was unsuccessful, the opportunity allowed me to connect with thousands of Evanston residents and enabled meaningful solutions to critical problems in our community. 

“Since then, I have worked relentlessly as a community collaborator and organizer, advocating for 9th Ward residents and greater Evanston; working relentlessly to convene Evanstonians on critical issues of public safety to government transparency. 

“Directly after my mayoral run, I was asked to join Governor JB Pritzker’s inaugural Office of Equity. This role has given me the opportunity to make vital contributions to the State’s strategic diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility plan; ensuring equity is at the core of our agencies, services, systems and protocols. 

“This work, that I take great pride in, culminates in the soon completion of my degrees in Accounting and Political Science with a minor in Sociology. My professional and educational skill sets can be utilized for the betterment of the 9th Ward and the entirety of Evanston.”

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.

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  1. Sebastian Nalls would be an excellent council member and quality representative of the people. Not only is he is trustworthy, he has extensive knowledge of the Evanston issues, government policies, and his financial literacy is exceptional. He has demonstrated a sincere commitment to good government and informing people on issues while seeking solutions. Take the time to get to know this man, you will see he is exceptional in his ability to grasp the intricacies of issues and understanding people. He listens, learns, and keeps the doors of communication open with everyone he meets. He values people, transparency, and accountability with an ability to build bridges of understanding and agreement.

    Sebastian is the type of person who digs in and helps solve problem. He has continuously demonstrated the willingness to do the heavy lifting necessary to make his community a better place. There are people who are much wiser than their years, Sebastian is one such person.

    1. Thanks for your perspective, Mary. I can see why someone who also also lost their last election by more than 20 points may sympathize with Nalls.

      Regardless, this is a 9th ward issue that should prioritize those voices over people from outside the ward.

  2. As a 9th ward resident I hope that Biss does not appoint Nalls to the seat. We need someone with much more experience either in government or the private sector. His whole campaign last year–and we see it again in this press release–is “I’m young you should vote for me.”

    If your only argument to the voters is based on ageist tropes, that seems pretty uncompelling. Of course, more than 90% of the voters last year agreed. Getting crushed in the mayoral race shouldn’t be enough to get you appointed to be alderman.