• Caroline Kubzansky
    APR 09, 2021

    Party bosses pick athletics administrator as ‘placeholder’ to fill Thapedi’s seat until remap

    Cyril Nichols, a senior athletics administrator with City Colleges of Chicago, was sworn in Thursday as the newest member of the Illinois House of Representatives. [Caroline Kubzansky / The Daily Line]

    Democratic Party officials on Thursday appointed Cyril Nichols, a 55-year-old senior administration official at City Colleges of Chicago, to represent a slice of Chicago’s South Side and southwest suburbs in the Illinois General Assembly for the next 21 months.

    Democratic committeepeople whose jurisdictions overlap with the 32nd House District chose Nichols from a slate of five candidates vying to replace Rep. Andre Thapedi (D-Chicago), who stepped down last month after 12 years in the seat.

    Nichols received 15,254 weighted votes from committee members to beat entrepreneur  Allyson Scrutchens, the communications director for Chicago’s Aldermanic Black Caucus, who received 9,496 votes. The other candidates who came before the committee were Lissette Zarco, a former staffer for Comptroller Susana Mendoza, Cook County Young Democrats president Chakena Perry and attorney and talk radio host Kimberly Egonmwan.

    The 32nd District spans multiple Chicago neighborhoods, including Grand Crossing, Englewood and Ashburn, as well as nearby suburbs, including Burbank and Hickory Hills.

    Related: Candidates line up for Thapedi replacement appointment as party bosses profess open minds

    The Democratic Party Committee of the 32nd House District includes Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6), Ald. Raymond Lopez (15), Ald. Stephanie Coleman (16) and Ald. David Moore (17), who all voted for Scrutchens. But Ald. Derrick Curtis (18), who controlled the highest share of votes with about 33 percent, threw his weight behind Nichols.  He was joined by Stickney Township Committeeperson Vincent Cainkar, Worth Township Committeeperson Patricia Joan Murphy and Palos Township Committeeperson Robert Maloney, giving Nichols about 57 percent of the weighted vote.

    A relative political newcomer, Nichols has been associate director of athletics at City Colleges of Chicago since 2012. In his speech to the committee on Thursday, Nichols emphasized his upbringing as a child of civically minded parents and his community work in athletics, recreation and education. He also touched on a need to facilitate connections among young Chicagoans and the need to use park spaces more efficiently.

    Scrutchens managed Sawyer‘s 2015 reelection campaign. She told The Daily Line the alderman had committed to voting for her ahead of the appointment meeting.  With about 21 percent of the votes in the weighted system, Sawyer’s backing was a significant boon for Scrutchens. But Curtis, whose 8,778 votes held the most sway, said Nichols was closer to what he was looking for in a replacement for Thapedi.

    Curtis wanted to select a representative with roots in the district, he said. Nichols, an 18-year resident of the 32nd District, fits that bill. But Curtis said he was also considering the upcoming remap of Illinois legislative districts when he made his choice.

    “I was looking for a placeholder, actually,” he told The Daily Line. “With the redistricting happening in the next couple of months, I really feel that the new district people should actually choose their own personal representative, because the remapping is right around the corner.

    Nichols acknowledged he may not even live within the 32nd District after legislators draw new boundaries this year, and he demurred as to whether he would consider running for reelection.

    “Right now, I’m only focusing on what’s in front of me,” he said.

    Murphy of Worth Township said she backed Nichols because of his community college background.

    "I’m passionate about education also...and I think we have to bring our youth up to be involved in the community, and bring them up from a young age on up,” she said. “I think he has a really good understanding of that.”

    Lopez said he chose to back Scrutchens because she had called ahead to his office and met with him before she came before the committee to discuss her vision for the district. He hadn’t heard from Nichols prior to the meeting, he said.

    “I didn’t even know he was a candidate,” Lopez told The Daily Line. “It’s an odd way of getting from point A to point B.”

    Lopez said he was ready to work with Nichols, though: “that’s how democracy goes,” he said.

    Moore said only three candidates reached out to him ahead of the appointment process: Perry, Scrutchens and Egonmwan, all of whom he knew through their work.

    “I’m always looking to see what they’ve done before the seat, and not just them running for the seat,” he said.

    Nichols said his first two priorities as a legislator will be meeting with committee members to discuss a path forward for the district and to learn the ropes in Springfield. But after that, Nichols said “the pandemic has to be the number one issue on everybody's minds.”

    “We have to focus on making sure we get the word out” about vaccination and testing, Nichols said. “Even for those that choose not to [get vaccinated] we have to make sure they understand the social distancing.”

    Asked if he was surprised by the committee’s choice, Nichols told The Daily Line that he is “always confident in my own abilities.”

    “Any time that you participate in [a] public forum there is nothing that is guaranteed,” he said. “Everybody that came out...put their best foot forward, and I just did it. And for the committee, my best foot was the foot they wanted.”

    Cook County Appellate Judge Carl Anthony Walker swore Nichols into office immediately after the appointment was announced.

    Party-led legislative appointments have long been associated with insider political deals that anoint winners before all candidates come forward, but Thapedi was the third legislator this year whose retirement produced a surprise outcome.

    After state Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) announced her retirement in January, Far North Side Democratic Party officials chose consultant and former Rahm Emanuel policy adviser Michael Simmons to finish out her term in an upset over state Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago), who was widely viewed as having the inside track to the seat.

    Related: Michael Simmons sworn in as newest state senator, beating out Cassidy for Far North Side seat

    And former Speaker Mike Madigan resigned in February, anointing Edward Guerra Kodatt to fill the seat in his place. But Kodatt stepped down days later at Madigan’s request, and Southwest Side party leaders reconvened to put Angelica Guerrero-Cuellar in the seat instead.

    Related: Quinn, Madigan staffer tapped to fill vacancy left by former House speaker

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