Clockwise from top left: Michael Simmons, Rep. Kelly Cassidy, Angela Giles, Joseph Alfe, Justin Koziatek, Joseph Struck Credit: Provided

EDGEWATER — Six candidates are seeking to be appointed to represent the Far North Side in the Illinois Senate, a decision left to local officials and one that is already being criticized as lacking transparency.

The Illinois Senate’s 7th District seat suddenly became vacant when Sen. Heather Steans announced her retirement last month. The retirement announcement came just weeks into Steans new term, after she won re-election to the seat in November.

Under Illinois laws, the decision on whom to appoint to the open office is left to district committeepeople. Six residents of the 7th Senate District have applied to seek appointment to the seat, but there appears to be a clear front-runner for the position.

Among those running to fill the senate seat is state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Rogers Park Democrat.

The five others are: Joseph Alfe, Banker’s Life financial representative; Michael Simmons, deputy director of My Brother’s Keeper; Joseph Struck, State Farm sales team leader; Justin Koziatek, district director for a Cook County commissioner; and Angela Giles, vice president of investment banking at Hilco.

Cassidy is an ally of Steans’, and the two were instrumental in passing Illinois’ cannabis legalization law. As a Democratic committeeperson for the 49th Ward, Cassidy has the third largest share of the weighted vote to fill the open seat she seeks.

In a candidates’ forum Wednesday, Cassidy said she wants to continue her work on impactful legislation in the state’s highest legislative chamber, and that her experience in Springfield will be handy in the role.

“I am seeking to move over to the Senate to continue that work, to continue those relationships but to do it at a time that is particularly impactful,” Cassidy said.

At least four people have come forward to seek Cassidy’s current seat in the Illinois House of Representatives, should she get appointed to the Senate.

Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) is the chairman of the committee voting to appoint a replacement to Steans’ seat. Not all members of the committee have an equal vote.

Osterman controls 27 percent of the votes to appoint Steans’ successor, the most of any committeeperson. Maggie O’Keefe, 40th Ward Democratic committeeperson, has the second highest share of votes, at 23 percent. Cassidy controls 22 percent of the vote. Other voting members include Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th) and state Sen. Ram Villivalam.

Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, Rep. Kelly Cassidy, Sen. Heather Steans and Sen. Toi Hutchinson worked together on an equity-focused cannabis bill.

The committee will meet at 1 p.m. Saturday to vote on the appointment. The meeting will take place at the Swedish American Museum in Andersonville, but much of it will take place virtually.

The virtual meeting is open to the public, and Osterman said the committee is taking in community input while it weighs the vote. Forums for the candidates seeking appointment have been held all week, including one held by Osterman and 46th Ward Democratic Committeeman Sean Tenner on Wednesday.

A forum for the candidates will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, hosted by Jane Addams Seniors in Action and One People’s Campaign. To register to view the forum, click here.

Some, however, are not happy with how the appointment process works.

The last time the Far North Side’s state senator was not appointed or an appointed incumbent running for reelection was 1976, according Chicago Magazine. Steans was appointed to the senate seat in 2008.

Indivisible Illinois’ Andersonville-Edgewater group joined four other Far North Side progressive political groups in demanding more transparency and voter involvement in the appointment process.

“To create a facade of transparency and accountability, they are publicly interviewing candidates for the appointment to replace Sen. Steans,” the groups said in a statement. “However, the real deliberation—and their votes — will be kept from public scrutiny, just as they have been for the past 43 years.”

Alfe, one of the candidates seeking appointment to the senate seat, also called for as transparent a process as possible.

“There’s already high barriers of entry, and I think we need to make this an inclusive process and a fair process,” Alfe said at Wednesday’s forum. “Appointment candidates ought to come from the community at large, and not political insiders or already elected officials who have committed to their current posts.”

Though the appointment vote will come down to the committee, Osterman said the public is encouraged to weigh in.

“We really want to hear from you on your thoughts about the candidates as we look to make a decision,” Osterman said.

Here is who is seeking the appointment to the 7th Senate district seat. Information comes from the candidate’s applications sent to the committee. The 7th District comprises Rogers Park, Edgewater, Uptown, Ravenswood and Lincoln Square.

Joseph Alfe

  • Employment/extracurriculars: financial representative, Banker’s Life. Constitutional law scholar, member of 40th Ward Committeeperson executive committee
  • Neighborhood: Budlong Woods
  • Bio: Alfe and his wife previously owned a firm that helped local residents fight eviction and get a fair share on their home’s short sale. His entrepreneur experience and legal knowledge would help him “fill a void that is missing in our lawmakers.” As a senator, Alfew would work to protect people from eviction, advocate for police accountability and support small businesses through the pandemic.

Michael Simmons

  • Employment/extracurriculars: deputy director, My Brother’s Keeper (via the Obama Foundation); deputy commissioner of Chicago Department of Planning and Development (2013-2016); policy director, Chicago mayor’s office (2011-2013); founder and CEO, Blue Sky Strategies
  • Neighborhood: Uptown
  • Bio: A native of the district, Simmons said his experience working for City Hall and knowledge of the district would make him a strong contender for the appointment. His parents owned Wild Hare bar and Salon Pastiche in Rogers Park, giving him perspective into the small business community. Simmons has also worked for a number of local advocacy groups and charities. “I will be an active and energetic presence in every part of the district because I know and love this community,” he said.

Joseph Struck

  • Employment/extracurriculars: sales team leader, State Farm; board secretary, Heart of Lincoln Square community group; participatory budget committee member, 40th Ward
  • Neighborhood: Lincoln Square
  • Bio: Struck is a veteran political campaign volunteer, having worked for state Rep. Will Guzzardi’s campaigns, among others. He also volunteers with My Block My Hood My City. As state senator, Struck said he would be community facing and lead “through the lens of social justice and racial equity.”

Kelly Cassidy

  • Employment/extracurriculars: Illinois State Representative, 2011-present; director of programs and development, Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office (2001-2011); legislative aid, State Sen. John Cullerton (1993-1997)
  • Neighborhood: Rogers Park
  • Bio: A prominent progress in the Illinois General Assembly, Cassidy has helped to pass major legislation in Illinois, including the Reproductive Health Act, the ban of for-profit prisons and the cannabis legalization measure. As a senator, Cassidy said she will advocate for “causes of racial justice, workers rights, LGBTQIA+ and gender equality, environmental justice and more.”

Justin Koziatek

  • Employment/extracurriculars: district director, Cook County Comm. Kevin Morrison (2018-present); Chicago Board of Governors, Human Rights Campaign (2014-present)
  • Neighborhood: Edgewater Beach
  • Bio: Formerly a quality control professional, Koziatek has moved into a career in politics. On top of working for Comm. Morrison, Koziatek has volunteered for the political campaigns of Ald. Matt Martin (47th), Rep. Lauren Underwood, Rep. Marie Newman and Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Koziatek is the co-found of LGBT group Proud to Run, has worked with the AIDS Foundation and advocates on behalf of the LGBT community. As senator, Koriatek said he would work to fight for human rights and strengthen community bounds.

Angela Giles

  • Employment/extracirriculars: vice president of investment banking, Hilco (2020-present); has 25 years experience in corporate leadership
  • Neighborhood: Andersonville
  • Policy stances: As a senator, Giles said she will use her experience in business to “[resolve] issues and [create] solutions. She says she would be an advocate for local business, would seek to enact social justice reforms, boost public education and make healthcare more accessible.

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Rogers Park, Edgewater, Uptown ReporternnRogers Park, Edgewater, Uptown Reporter Twitter @jaydubward