Forging New Paths: Alexandra Sims

Every year, Alexandra Sims (BS10) and her family travel to the Buckingham, Va., plantation where, several generations ago, her relatives toiled as slaves.

“It’s an important reminder of where I came from,” Sims said of the pilgrimage, which can include up to 300 cousins, aunts and uncles.

The trips helped the 28-year-old Sims, a senior adviser to Chicago City Treasurer Kurt Summers, realize the difference an education can make in the life of a young African-American like herself. Using her past as inspiration, she first threw herself into grassroots organizing and politics before segueing into her job with Summers as director of inter-governmental affairs and programs.

“Around age 13, I realized my life was not like my cousins’,” said Sims, whose grandfather was the first in his family to go to college and whose father is an executive at Ford Motor Co. in Detroit.

Inspired by former President Barack Obama’s education policies, Sims headed his 2012 campaign’s Missouri region re-election effort after receiving her degree in social policy. That’s when she more fully recognized the importance of voting rights, which led to a job as executive director of a group that promoted voting equality.

But then another transition loomed. Realizing that “economic equality is everything,” Sims took a position as a campaign manager for Summers’ 2015 campaign for city treasurer. She believed the candidate had the right combination of investment smarts and compassion for underserved communities.

In the two years with Summers, the office has not only doubled the city’s revenue through savvy investments but pushed for a transparency- in-lending policy 30 years in the making, Sims said.

Under the new ordinance, neighborhood banks must reveal to the treasurer’s office whether they are investing in local small businesses and homeowners. The loans, Sims said, boost a community’s stability and economic health.

Despite the accomplishments, Sims recently said she felt she was ready for another transition.

And in March, Sims launched APS & Associates, a public affairs consulting firm with clients that include JB for Governor and the Chicago Black Caucus.

“I want to help the black community leverage our power,” she told Laura Washington in the Chicago Sun-Times. “Until we have economic power, we need to use the power we have — in votes and numbers.”

By Ellen Almer
Last Modified: 6/14/17

Alex Sims: Chicago’s very own political strategist and ‘Olivia Pope’

Alex Sims (Photo credit: Danny Photography)

Alex Sims has a strong handle on public affairs. The former executive with the Office of the City Treasurer in Chicago knows “Change can be created and impact can be made.” It’s why she founded her APS & Associates, a full range public affairs consulting firm.

The political strategist has spent the better part of her career “connecting grassroots with grass tops” to create a winning formula that successfully ensures that two-way dialogue and considerations are established between communities and elected officials.

She formed the local Every Vote Counts campaign, which, in 2014, registered the nation’s largest number of voters in four months. She also provided strategic counsel for City Treasurer Kurt Summers to visit Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods.

But, while many would expect nothing less from this 2010 Northwestern graduate, CORO Fellowship recipient, and head of President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign in St. Louis, most are amazed at how quickly she’s been able to apply her special knack for helping to give a voice to urban, underserved constituents while opening the ears and minds of key public servants across the city.

“I’ve had that opportunity to do that throughout my career and I really wanted to be able to pass on my knowledge to others and have a large impact in different ways,” says the consulting firm founder. “I may have a client who wants to truly make sure their voice is heard. I know how to do that. Or I may have a client who needs to know how to pass a bill. I know how to help them win a campaign.”

With growing unrest and certainty in our political system, Sims is offering “her greatest and best self to help the community.”

As the gubernatorial race begins to heat up in the state, Sims is the go-to source when it comes to understanding how to properly scrutinize key issues, candidate platforms and campaign promises, and how to make the best, informed decision in the voting booth.

How do you describe the city of Chicago as a brand?
I’d describe Chicago by its communities and its neighborhood. I had the privilege of visiting the 77 neighborhoods in 77 days and creating teams in every neighborhood with Treasurer [Kurt] Summers.

I feel everyone is proud to live here and [identifies] with his or her community. Our job now is to create inclusion and equality throughout the city so that everyone can work together to make Chicago the greatest city. Although there is so much pride in each neighborhood, not all neighborhoods are equal.

We have approached that time to make that change.

What is a good platform for Illinois’ next governor in terms of making inclusion and equality happen?

Our next governor needs to get on the ground. The next successful candidate in this race is going to be the person who knows who they are running for and knows their constituents. It’s the person who can go into the Black community and truly articulate the problem, tell them “I know there’s violence in your community. And, I know why there’s violence in your community. There is a lack of economic stability. I know there are no jobs here.

“I know if there’s a young person who is making a bad decision, it’s not because they want to make that bad decision.” We need to hear that from a candidate to get the Black vote.

We also need a candidate who has finance experience, experience managing money. Money is a big factor to balance the budget. We need someone who can get on the ground and tell constituents what the day-to-day problems are, but also understand the big picture. Our state has a deficit and we need to fix it.

When you say there are no jobs, are there truly no jobs or the residents don’t have the proper skills to match the opportunity?

It’s a mix of both. You can’t create jobs and have no workforce development or training for young people. And you also can’t put the money into mentorship and workforce development and once the young people [complete the training], there is not job our there for them. There is currently money going into mentorship and workforce development, but there are no jobs in these neighborhoods. Jobs are popping up downtown and more innovative jobs like opportunities with Uber and Lyft, but not a lot of middle class jobs being created at this time.

For Black Chicago, feeling empowered isn’t the same as winning power

Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, shown here in March, is the most recent African-American to enter a crowded field for the 2019 mayoral race. Five of the current seven candidates are black. | Erin Brown/Sun-Times

Black people must be feeling empowered. Five of the seven candidates challenging Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the February 2019 mayoral election are African-American.

Given the boiling ire against Emanuel in black Chicago, the opportunity should be a sweet spot for a black candidate. Black folks have a lot at stake.

The African-American aspirants who have officially declared include Dorothy Brown, the five-term Cook County Circuit Court Clerk who also ran for mayor in 2007. Her entry in this go-round was a shocker, as she is the subject of a longtime federal investigation into allegations of corruption in her office.


Wealthy businessman Willie Wilson, who challenged Emanuel in 2015, is back, kicking off this latest effort with a $100,000 personal donation to his campaign.

Also running is Neal Sales-Griffin, a 30-year-old tech entrepreneur who first caught the spotlight when he appeared in campaign ads for Democratic gubernatorial nominee J.B. Pritzker.

Another candidate aiming at younger voters is Black Lives Matter activist Ja’Mal Green, 22. He was a surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign.

Troy LaRaviere, also a Sanders supporter, is president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.

(Joining them are Paul Vallas, the former Chicago Public Schools CEO, and ex-Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy).

There are more to come.

Black political, civic, and community leaders are watching, Alexandra P. Sims says. “Many of the African-American stakeholders are still looking at who’s coming. And who’s willing.”

Sims, one of my go-to sources on black politics, launched her public affairs firm APS & Associates a year ago. Her clients include the Chicago City Council’s Black Caucus and Bill Lowry, who is running for Cook County Commissioner in the 3rd District.

Sims is serving as a senior advisor to Pritzker’s gubernatorial campaign, working on political and field operations. She is neutral in the mayor’s race.

“There is a wide range of people with experience in Chicago who have government experience, corporate and private experience, non-profit experience,” who could run, she said last week over coffee.

African-American voters were pivotal for Pritzker. He won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination with 60 percent of the city’s black vote in the six-way race, shows Sims’ analysis of Chicago Board of Election data. And 51 percent of his Chicago vote came from African-American wards.

So just think what the black vote could do for a black mayoral candidate.

To make the runoff, the city’s black leadership will look for someone with the strongest credentials.

“A strong black candidate could win the election,” Sims said.  “Someone with experience in government, in nonprofit, in private practice and has the relationships and most importantly, the money.”

Those are big shoes to fill.

Other shoes that may drop into the race include Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot; City Treasurer Kurt Summers; Ra Joy, who ran for lieutenant governor with Chris Kennedy in the Democratic gubernatorial primary; and Stephanie Neely, a business executive, and former city treasurer.  I hear all are looking at the race.

A multitude of black candidates would split the vote, making it impossible for one to make the runoff.

If a credible aspirant can emerge to big-foot the race, Chicago’s black leadership must unite and muscle out the others.  Given the hefty egos, clashing agendas, and the fractured political history of black Chicago, that’s a dubious prospect.

Feeling empowered is not the same as winning power.


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Roeper Review Articles of Interest

The Roeper Review recently came out with their latest journal and there are two articles of interest to the Roeper Community that you might want to read. First is the Statement in Support of Black Lives Matter from The Roeper Institute Board of Directors AND second, is the most recent alumni “Ask the Expert” feature–“Promoting Equal Opportunity and Preserving Democracy: An Interview With Public Affairs Consultant Alexandra Sims“. Alex, daughter of our own Denita Banks-Sims and husband Glen Sims, started Roeper as a 3-year-old in Stage I and graduated from Roeper in 2006.

Building Presence, Power and Influence in Chicago and Beyond

Politics in Chicago is like nowhere else — they don’t call it the Windy City for nothing. So, when AARP Illinois wanted to engage with the Chicago City Council for the first time after a historic mayoral race, we knew whom to call: Alexandra Sims, the founder and leader of APS & Associates.

Alex is a power player in the Chicago and Illinois political scene. Driven by the belief that one’s birthplace and economic status should not disproportionately determine one’s life journey, Alex has dedicated her career, and the work of her firm, to voting rights and social justice. And her work has been recognized: She has been named a Chicago Urban League fellow and a Top 40 Gamechanger by Ariel Investments and WVON Radio, and has been recognized by Chicago magazine, the Chicago Tribune, VoyageChicago magazine, and In the white-male-dominated space of political strategy, Alex has built a team of women of color into one of the top political strategy firms in the state.

Alex worked with the AARP Illinois team to build an effective initial strategy for engaging the 50 members of the Chicago City Council, of whom over two-thirds were new to the council. From “City Council 101,” where the Illinois team learned the not-so-formal processes of the City Council, to critical introductions and working relationships with the various caucuses within the council, Alex’s support and guidance were critical to AARP’s success in our first year of Chicago advocacy: two successful advocacy campaigns — one on utilities, another on the passage of an accessory dwelling unit ordinance. As a result, AARP Illinois has now established itself as an important voice and policy expert on issues for older adults in Chicago.

And our work continues: Alex has helped AARP Illinois build critical relationships with the governor’s team, including supporting our statewide graduated income tax campaign, as well as with new leadership in the state House of Representatives. With the shifting political winds in Chicago and Illinois, it is important for AARP to have a partner like Alex by our side.

Learn more about AARP’s Supplier Diversity Program.

Mary E. Anderson is a manager of advocacy and outreach for AARP Illinois.