Lakeshia Collins (left) is sworn in the 5th District state senator following the Aug. 15 selection committee meeting | Credit: Igor Studenkov/Staff Reporter

Correction: The earlier version of the story stated that Gov. J.B. Pritzker lobbied for Lakesia Collins to be appointed to 5th District. He did not make that call. Austin Weekly News regrets the error.

State Rep. Lakesia Collins (D-9th) was selected Tuesday to fill the largely West Side-based 5th District state Senate seat after Sen. Patricia Van Pelt retired in early August.

Collins, a political progressive, was a frontrunner from the start, edging out State Rep. Jawaharial “Omar” Williams (D-10th) with support from Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, labor unions and statehouse leaders.

Collins, who heads the Illinois House Black Caucus, worked as a nurse before becoming an organizer for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare. She was first elected in 2019 from a field of seven candidates after incumbent state Rep. Art Turner decided not to run. She ran unopposed in the 2022 election.

At the selection meeting, she said that her familiarity with the district and the issues it faced made her a good fit for the seat. She touted her record in the General Assembly and her working relationship with legislative leaders and Pritzker, saying that her goal is always to serve her constituents, no matter what position she holds.

Both Collins and Williams had a large contingent of supporters at the meeting. Yet many of Collins’ supporters came from labor unions, and she pointed out that several unions, as well as mayor Brandon Johnson, called the committee on her behalf.

“[I] set up meetings with the committeepersons, talk about the work I’ve done,” she said. “And then, I had my colleagues in both chambers [of the General Assembly] make calls. I had community members, and then I had labor to reach out on my behalf.”

Johnson, she said, made a call on her behalf Aug. 15, and that Gov. J.B. Prtizker called to congratulate her.

Pritzker’s spokesperson Natalie Edelstein told Austin Weekly News that “the governor never made an endorsement in the race but he looks forward to working with Senator Collins in her new role.”

Collins said she believed that this, along with lobbying from General Assembly majority leaders — as well as her record — “all played a factor in separating me from the other candidates.”

In the interview after the appointment, Collins told Austin Weekly News that after all the struggles she faced growing up and all the times she was told she wasn’t good enough, she was grateful that the committeepersons recognized her worth. Collins said she was looking forward to working with Williams in the new capacity.

“I think my next journey into the Senate is going to be a great journey,” she said. “I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues and the Senate President. I’ve been a public servant for my entire life, since I was a young girl, and it kept growing [as a public servant]. I want the district that works for all of us.”

Williams was originally appointed to 10th District House seat in 2019, after incumbent Melissa Conyears-Ervin resigned to run for Chicago city treasurer. He faced two opponents in the 2020 Democratic primary and ran unopposed in the general election. He faced no opposition in 2022.

Williams touted his own legislative accomplishments, such as the requirement that event venues carry overdose-reversing drugs. He said that his major priority would be removing barriers to employment.

During the selection meeting, several committeepersons asked the candidates about their positions on social issues. Collins commented on the often-voiced criticism on the West Side that the city seems more spending money on asylum seekers, who largely come from Central and South American countries, than on the majority-Black communities suffering disinvestment for decades. She said there’s no reason the city and the state can’t do both – it’s just the matter of budgeting it right. She also called for civility in the discussions.

“[We need to] stop using derogatory terms when you don’t have the full information,” Collins added. “That bring division to our community, and we need to be together.”

While Collins said that she supported lifting the state ban on rent control as a way to preserve affordability in gentrifying neighborhoods, Williams said that he was worried that rent control would hurt mom-and-pop landlords of two- and three-flat buildings who are already struggling to pay property taxes and water bills. At the very least, he said, he wouldn’t support rent control citywide.

“I just don’t think we’re in the position where we can put the caps on what the rent could be with the property taxes going up,” Williams said.

Now that Collins has been appointed, the committee has 30 days to fill her Illinois House seat. The newly minted state senator said she doesn’t have a successor in mind. Both she and her successor will need to run for reelection in 2024 if they want to keep their seats.

The 5th Senate District spans most of East Garfield Park, North Lawndale and West Garfield Park, a few sections of Austin and West Humboldt Park, as well as the entire Near West Side community area and parts of Near North Side, West Town and Wicker Park.

The 9th House District mostly falls within the south half of the 5th Senate District including all but a small portion of North Lawndale, while the 10th House district includes West Garfield Park, East Garfield Park and Austin portions.

Other vying for the seat were public health and LBGTQ+ rights advocate José “Che-Che” Wilson and Dr. Tamela Odom, Van Pelt’s chief of staff. Odom told Austin Weekly News that her employer encouraged her to run and that she was “grooming [her] for this opportunity.”

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...