By Andrew Davis
Brendan Reilly believes himself to be a 'man of the people'—a person who feels he can be a better advocate for the 42nd Ward stakeholders than current alderman Burton Natarus has been. Reilly—whose Web site states that he 'is firmly committed to holding the line on taxes for local property owners, consumers and employers'—also feels that he would be more accessible to the ward's constituents than the incumbent is.
Reilly recently talked with Windy City Times about the LGBT community and his vision for the ward.
Windy City Times: So, how do you like your chances against the current alderman?
Brendan Reilly: I think we have a great chance. The feedback on the streets has been fantastic. Wherever I go, people say that it's time for a change. People feel that the city council's lost touch. People are referencing recent headlines regarding the regulation of restaurant menus and efforts to put uniforms on cab drivers; they feel that bigger issues aren't being focused on.
WCT: What are your qualifications?
BR: I started my career working in the Illinois House of Representatives, working under then-Minority Leader Mike Madigan. I started as an environmental policy analyst and appropriations staffer; in that role, I help staffed the environment and energy committee, and was responsible for crunching state budgets that added up to roughly $6 billion. I was later communications director for Speaker Madigan and the Democratic Party of Illinois.
Following my six and a half years in the House, I joined Paul Vallas in his campaign for governor; I served as his spokesperson and communications director during the 2002 primary. I actually credit him for renewing my interest in public service. Even though he lost, I thought that the experience was very rewarding.
Afterwards, I joined AT&T, where I serve as Midwest vice-president of public affairs. I'm their youngest regional vice-president in the country.
WCT: I saw on your Web site that you want to make the 42nd Ward 'the most liveable and employer-friendly area in Chicago.' Do you mean to make it liveable for those who can afford it? I talked with some people about the ward, and they see it as 'pretentious' and 'homogeneous.' Are you seeking to incorporate more diversity into the ward?
BR: Honestly, I think that the 42nd Ward is pretty diverse. Certainly, it tends to be more upscale and real estate is more expensive. However, I think that it is pretty racially diverse.
When I say that I want to make it more liveable, I'm focusing on current residents who have to deal day-to-day with other aspects of the ward, including tourism economy and the commercial economy off of Michigan Avenue and in the River North area. That requires someone who's going to be proactive and who's going to work hard every day to balance those various needs. To me, it's about taking care of current residents and balancing future developments and growth in the ward. We need to have someone who provides more input to local residents: sharing information, soliciting input [and] bringing local stakeholders to the table to make sure we promote growth in a responsible manner and bring more transparency to the process.
WCT: Where do you stand regarding housing?
BR: We need to promote a balance of commercial and residential housing. In neighborhoods like River North, you have a tremendous amount of residential housing but not a lot of commercial development; I understand that residents there are looking for some of those neighborhood amenities, like a local dry-cleaner or a retail shop. In other areas, such as Streeterville, there's been a tremendous amount of residential development and I think that we can always promote additional retail space here. You have to look at it on a case-by-case basis.
WCT: What do you think the alderman's biggest weakness is?
BR: Well, I'm not going to launch into some sort of attack...
WCT: Or what do you feel he's not doing right? I'm assuming you're running because you feel he isn't doing something correctly.
BR: I would argue that the alderman has lost touch with the real priorities of residents. Voters are concerned that many development decisions are being made in a vacuum; people feel that their opinions are not solicited in a proactive manner.
From developments stem all kinds of issues, like traffic congestion and scarcity of parking. The one criticism I hear on a pretty regularly is that [voters] are not being invited into that process.
I'm absolutely willing to listen to the residents. An alderman's chief responsibility is being accessible and responsive. Every letter or call deserves a response in a timely fashion, and that response should include a clearly-stated next step and regular progress updates. Some constituents have sent letters and left voicemails and have never heard back. An alderman should respond to concerns and proactively share information.
WCT: Now I'm going to ask you to turn the mirror on yourself. What do you feel your biggest flaw is?
BR: Well, I'm a workaholic; I don't know if that's a weakness. [Laughs]
It would be a new role for me; I am a first-time candidate, but I think with that comes some new objectivity. I want to bring fairness to the office. I don't have preconceived notions regarding development decisions. I also bring an open-door policy.
WCT: What's your position regarding same-sex marriage and civil unions?
BR: I'm supportive of civil unions and I'm a strong supporter of same-sex partner benefits. [Having civil unions] is an issue of basic human rights, and gay couples should have the same rights afforded to everyone else.
WCT: Do you have any specific plans for the LGBT community?
BR: I don't, but I have a number of supporters from the [LGBT] community. I've been struggling with trying to understand the role of city government in forwarding the cause and addressing the issues that the community face. However, I do have an open mind and I'm supportive; I want to be as helpful as I can.
WCT: Campaigning door to door in a ward with lots of high-rises is a unique challenge, isn't it?
BR: It really is. When I worked in the legislature and for the party, I managed a lot of races in the suburbs, where you could win on shoe leather alone. What we've done here is organize building coordinators, who are like precinct captains; they host meet-and-greets, coffees [and similar events]. I'll be drinking plenty of coffee in the next few weeks. [Laughs]
WCT: Did you want to add anything?
BR: I'm running because I think it's time for new leadership in the 42nd Ward. I want to work closely with Mayor Daley to address issues like traffic congestion, parking and [even] government corruption.
One thing I failed to mention earlier: I was pretty disappointed when [Natarus] and his colleagues voted to spend our tax dollars to hire a private law firm to block the court-appointed federal hiring monitor from doing the job at City Hall. Scandal and corruption aren't just disappointing headlines; they're also evidence of an inefficient government—and, ultimately, taxpayers have to foot the bill.
See www.ReillyForChicago.com for more info.