The Chicago City Council voted 45-0 to approve Nicole Lee as alderwoman of the 11th Ward on Monday, making her the first Asian American woman and first Chinese American to join the local legislature.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot previously nominated Lee among 27 candidates to replace Alderman Patrick Daley Thompson, who resigned in February after being convicted of tax fraud in federal court.
“To my esteemed colleagues, I’m so excited to say that for the first time today,” Lee said at her confirmation. “Thank you for making that possible. Thank you, Mayor Lightfoot.”
Lee is the daughter of Gene Lee, a top aide of former Mayor Richard M. Daley — Thompson’s uncle — who pleaded guilty to embezzlement and tax fraud charges in 2014.
Despite her father’s controversial history, Lightfoot has expressed confidence in the younger Lee’s ability to lead, stressing that she is “her own person” and that she represents “the possible.”
Lee’s historic appointment is expected to bring changes to the 11th Ward, which includes Chinatown and Bridgeport and is home to a growing Asian American population. She lists constituent services and public safety as her top priorities.
“I’ve spent most of my 47 years as a resident in Chinatown,” Lee told reporters after Monday’s confirmation. “I have deep roots in the community, I’m raising my two teenage sons and now they represent the 4th generation of Lee’s that live in the building my grandparents bought.”
Lee, who holds a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Chicago, has worked at United Airlines for the past 15 years, spending the last three as director of social impact and community engagement. She has also served as president of the Chicago chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans, vice president of the Chinese Mutual Aid Association, cofounder and co-chair of the Asian Giving Circle, leader of Haines Elementary Local School Council, and member of the UIC Asian American Advisory Council.
Lee will hold the 11th Ward seat until the city elections next year. She has not announced whether she will be running for the post.