Senator Pacione-Zayas readies to resign to officially work in Mayor Johnson’s inner circle
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
State Senator Dr. Cristina Pacione-Zayas (D-20) said she is finishing work on several bills in the Illinois legislature before she resigns to officially continue in her new role as first deputy chief of staff in Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration.
The senator, who was appointed to fill out the term of former Senator Iris Martinez in 2020, and won re-election last year with 86.25 percent of the vote, said that joining the mayor’s inner circle is a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” and a “great honor.”
“The Johnson administration is very ambitious,” she said. “We will be able to leverage our experience and have an all-hands-on-deck approach to governing.” During the campaign season, Pacione-Zayas helped to mobilize the vote for Johnson.
“This is the first time in history that we have a teacher as mayor,” she added. She said that education is an important issue to her and she will continue to be a cheerleader for early education. Prior to being appointed senator, she was the associate vice president of policy for the Erikson Institute, which is an organization focused on child development.
Pacione-Zayas said that rumors about her filling both roles as senator and city official are simply not true.
“No, not at all. I am a full time senator for the short time being (until May 31) and a ‘super volunteer’ for the city (she reportedly doesn’t collect a paycheck yet), but once I finish up the work during this legislative session, I’m going to shut down the district office and the Springfield office and I will resign,” she said.
However, she said that during the process to fill her position, the offices will remain staffed so that constituents of the 20th District can have a place to voice concerns.
“Me leaving will leave the district unharmed,” Pacione-Zayas said.
According to the state Constitution, the appointment must be made within 30 days after the vacancy. Since the vacancy is more than 28 months remaining in the 4-year term, the appointment will be interim until the next general election, when a special election must be held.
Each committeeperson casts a weighted-vote based on the Democratic vote in their ward in the district to appoint the new senator based on old ward boundaries. The committeepersons who will get to vote on a new appointee are Daniel LaSpata (1st), Angee Gonzalez Rodriguez (26th), Ariel Reboyras (30st), Felix Cardona (31), Scott Waguespack (32nd), Iris Martinez (33rd), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), Gilbert Villegas (36th), Ram Villivalam (39th), Jim Gardiner (45th) and Paul Rosenfeld (47th).
“I feel proud of the work I’ve done as senator,” Pacione-Zayas said. She said that she doesn’t know who the successor will be and will let the process decide that. There are rumors that state Representative Jaime Andrade Jr. (D-40) is interested in the job.
Pacione-Zayas said that the major issues that the administration will work on will include creating opportunities in disinvested communities, working on the “treatment not trauma” agenda, building relationships with corporate partners, strengthening opportunities to help the city’s homeless, expanding youth programs and working on public safety.
“None of these are new problems and it’s not going to happen overnight but we have to serve as a model of what can be done,” she said.
Pacione-Zayas said that an important first step will be to help setup the office of the Deputy Mayor for Immigrant, Migrant and Refugee Rights, which was created by executive order by Mayor Johnson following his inauguration. The deputy mayor will make recommendations to Johnson with proposals “for inclusion in the city’s fiscal year 2024 budget on programs, policies, and expenditures to support newly arrived community members” along with existing immigrants, according to the order.
“Folks living in the police stations is not the plan,” she said. She also said that she would work to help people understand the historical context of immigration. “When you understand what we are experiencing you begin to see things through a different lens,” Pacione-Zayas said.
She said that her experience in the legislature will help her in job duties as the first deputy chief of staff for the mayor.
“If the city wins, the county wins and then the state wins.”
Editor’s note: Technically, Thomas Hoyne was the first school teacher (he only taught for several months) to be mayor of Chicago in 1876. In fact, the city had two mayors for 28 days that year. Harvey Colvin’s term was extended, but Hoyne won an election on April 16, 1876, but that election was later ruled illegal by a Cook County Circuit Court, according to the Chicago Public Library. So technically, he was never “mayor de jure,” but a “mayor de facto,” the library said. Monore Heath was later elected as the 28th mayor.
Photo from Twitter @SenPacioneZayas