Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has nominated Nicole Lee to replace Patrick Daley Thompson as the 11th Ward Alderman, potentially making her the first Asian American woman to serve in the City Council.
Speaking at a media conference at Bridgeport’s Zhou B Art Center on Thursday, Lightfoot announced Lee, who has deep roots in Chicago’s Chinese American community, as the final candidate to replace Thompson.
“Nicole represents what’s good and best about our city,” Lightfoot said of Lee, the daughter of Gene Lee, a top aide of former Mayor Richard M. Daley who was convicted in 2014 for stealing from charities.
“I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and move the 11th Ward in a new direction,” Lee said at the conference.
Lee was among the 27 candidates considered to replace Thompson, who resigned in February following his conviction on federal tax fraud charges. Some of the other candidates considered reportedly had connections to Daley. The pool of named candidates also included other members of the Asian American community and first responders.
Before the nomination, Lee led fundraising campaigns for United Airlines and oversaw the airline’s relationship with charities as a director. She has held similar roles while working for Premier Bank and BP America in the past. Lee’s other past experiences include leading the Chinese Mutual Aid Association, the Local School Council at Haines Elementary School in Chinatown and the Chicago chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans.
Lee has a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Chicago and a bachelor of science in public affairs from Indiana University Bloomington, according to her LinkedIn profile. She also went to Whitney Young Magnet High School, a public magnet school in Chicago.
Reporters on Thursday asked Lee about her father’s political history. The elder Lee pleaded guilty to embezzlement and tax fraud in 2014 for purportedly stealing thousands of dollars from the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association in 2007 and 2008.
Lightfoot stepped in to “set the tone” and remind people that this is about Lee.
“I hope in asking her that, in asking the question, you’re not asking her to say anything other than, ‘I love you, Dad. I love you, Mom.’ She loves her kids, her brother and her family,” Lightfoot said.
“This is about her. Her life. Her experience. And how she’s going to do in leading this ward in this challenging time. So I hope the question is specific to her and not about anything else.”
Asked if she herself had any concerns, Lightfoot replied, “None whatsoever. Nicole’s her own person.”
Lee spoke about how her father tirelessly worked for the ward and “served the public for 30 years, driving the streets, taking the long way home, checking the lights, making sure stuff was picked up, taking calls at all hours of the night.” She added, “He was somebody in our community that people could look to.”
Lee laid down her top three priorities for the 11th Ward as management of city services, improving public safety and doing “everything we can to ensure that every child has great educational opportunities and that we don’t lose more families to the suburbs.”
“It is exciting and historic that the Mayor has appointed the first Alderman from the Chinese American community,” said State Rep. Theresa Mah, a Democrat who represents Chinatown and the first Asian American elected to the Illinois General Assembly. “I know Nicole, and I am confident that she has the right skill set to represent all 11th Ward residents well in City Council.”
If elected into the council, Lee would serve as the alderperson of the 11th Ward until the 2023 election.