Ald. Sue Ellingson resigned her seat on the Madison Common Council Thursday, surprising colleagues and leading to speculation about who would fill her near west seat.
"In the last two months I have had pressing family matters arise that require extended periods away from Madison," Ellingson wrote in a message to her constituents. "I simply don't have the time to adequately represent my district."
Ellingson, whose term would have been up in April 2015, could not be reached to elaborate. She has served in the council since 2011.
It is up to the council, not Mayor Paul Soglin, to find someone to fill the remainder of Ellingson's term, says Ald. Mike Verveer.
Ald. Chris Schmidt, the council's president, says the body has two options: hold a special election in November or take applications through the Common Council Organizational Committee, which would recommend someone to the full council for a vote.
He said it would probably be at least a month before someone could be appointed to Ellingson's seat.
"I can't imagine it would be any sooner than the end of April," he said.
"State statute limits the special election to November -- that is our only option," Schmidt explained. "So we do have to start an appointment process now and also have to determine if we will hold a special election come November.
In the past, the council has turned to former alders to temporarily fill in for members that step down. Julia Kerr, Ellingson's immediate predecessor, decided not to run for reelection in 2011. But she remains active in the neighborhood.
Kerr says she has no interest in serving out the remaining of Ellingson's term. She thinks a special election is the best way to fill the seat.
"That way the district gets a say in who represents them," Kerr says. "A year is a long time to be in office as an appointee."
Zach Madden ran against Ellingson in the 2013 election. In a phone message, he said he's still interested in representing the district, but is open to letting Kerr fill out the remainder of Ellingson's term.
"I obviously ran for this seat, I'm still interested in representing people in this district," Madden said.
Damon Terrell, an activist, also ran for the seat in 2013.
Ellingson's District 13 is a mix of high-density urban areas and traditional neighborhoods. It has a high student population and is facing a lot of development pressure. One project in particular, an apartment complex at Monroe and Knickerbocker streets, stirred considerable controversy among neighbors. Ellingson supported it.
"She has a very demanding district," Verveer said. "Among other things, the amount of new development in the 13th district was significant during her tenure."
He added: "It was an honor to serve with her. She represented her constituents with distinction and energy."
Schmidt agreed, saying that Ellingson has seen more controversial development than any other council member, except perhaps Ald. Ledell Zellers, who represents a portion of downtown.
"She's had her share of controversy on the council," Schmidt said. "She's managed that pretty well. I'm sad to see her go."
[Editor's note: This article was updated at 5:38 p.m. March 20 with comments from Julia Kerr, and was updated again March 21 at 11:42 a.m. to reflect Ald. Chris Schmidt's corrected information and statement on the timing of a special election. It was also corrected with the District 13 aldermanic map for the city of Madison.]