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  WINDY CITY TIMES

ELECTIONS '11: 46TH WARD Don Nowotny
2011-02-02

This article shared 4614 times since Wed Feb 2, 2011
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Windy City Times interviews three gay candidates for 46th Ward alderman

Openly gay candidate Don Nowotny has been superintendent for the 46th Ward for almost two decades—and during that time, he feels that he has fostered relationship and seen how this district can achieve progress. ( He went on leave last Sept. 30 to campaign full-time. ) He is running to be Alderman Helen Shiller's successor on a platform of public safety, low-income housing and economic development.

Nowotny—who said that he is sometimes called "the ponytailed man" because people may not remember his name—met with Windy City Times recently at his office. During the discussion, he talked about his background, the platform and hypothetical criminal investigations.

Windy City Times: Just so that people know, what does a ward superintendent do?

Don Nowotny: Each ward has a superintendent who is directly responsible for street cleaning; garbage and sanitation issues; and snow removal—and, then, works with other departments to bring city services to the ward.

WCT: So how long have you lived in this ward?

Don Nowotny: I lived at 4300 N. Marine, which is a vintage condominium, for about the last 10 years. Before then, I lived farther north in Uptown on Argyle and Marine for about five years.

WCT: So you've seen a lot of changes in this ward. You announced your intention to enter this race long before Helen Shiller said she would step down. What compelled you to enter?

Don Nowotny: Well, I think it was time for me to move on from Streets & Sanitation, and I enjoy working with all the residents of the ward, bringing city services and dealing with quality-of-life issues. As ward superintendent, I've had a great opportunity to work with all people from across the ward, from condo owners to [ those ] in high rises and even the homeless people. And I think what we all need to do is work together to move the ward forward.

The ward has been divided quite a bit in the last number of years. Having the opportunity to work with everybody, I think we can work together to make this a better ward.

WCT: Divided, how?

Don Nowotny: Usually by economic level.

WCT: How much political experience do you have?

Don Nowotny: [ Laughs ] Well, I was high school president. When I came out as a gay man in the late '80s, I got involved in the community; before then, I was involved in professional organizations and environmental groups. After coming out, I was on the board of Howard Brown [ Health Center ] for a while; then, I helped start the Illinois Gay Rodeo Association and then I got involved in the Illinois Federation of Human Rights, which is the forerunner of Equality Illinois. Through that organization, I started getting involved in politics and, although I've never run for any political office, I've been involved.

The other thing is, in the condo building we live in, I've been on that board for nine years and the board president for two and a half years. I believe that is great training for alderman. Two and a half years I was vice president. the president resigned, the treasurer resigned, the property manager quit and the head janitor left; people were yelling at each other, and our building was on deferred maintenance for 20 years. Two and a half years later, we had our annual meeting in September; we did a $1.5 million assessment, which nobody liked. But if you lay out all the facts and make [ the residents ] part of the process, people understand why things have to be done. Now, people are talking with each other, and are cordial again.

High-rises are like a neighborhood. We have seniors on fixed incomes, we have unemployed people, we have foreclosures—people in high-rises sometimes are not the wealthy [ ones ] people think they are. So it's been good training for me because you're dealing with assessments and quality-of-life issues.

WCT: So you see the condo and the association as a microcosm of the ward?

Don Nowotny: Yes, a little bit. But we have other issues, such as housing.

WCT: Now, of course—to extend the metaphor a bit—you're possibly going to be interacting with 49 other condo presidents. Are you prepared to deal with all of the machinations that could happen in city council?

Don Nowotny: [ Laughs ] That's a very good question. I'm really excited about next May; we're going to have a new mayor for the first time in about 22 years, and we could have 15-20 new alderman—and I will be very independent-minded. I will look to build coalitions, but I'm not just going to roll over and support something the mayor or other aldermen want if I don't believe in it.

WCT: Even if that could come back to bite you?

Don Nowotny: Absolutely. As alderman, you have to think about what's best for the residents of the 46th Ward.

WCT: I remember you launching your campaign at the European and U.S. Auto Service last May, and you talked about the issues in your platform. Which do you feel is the most important?

Don Nowotny: I think, right now, it's safety. We've been dealing with gang shootings; just a couple weeks ago we had a killing about two blocks from here over drug territory. People need to feel safe in their homes and neighborhoods—and this goes across all economic lines. We need to get a handle on the drugs and guns, and get them out of the ward.

WCT: And how do you do that?

Don Nowotny: Right now, we're very lucky because Kathleen Boehmer, the commander of the 23rd [ Precinct ] , is very hands-on. She's talked about putting in more police cameras as well as tying the business cameras at Truman [ College ] to the 9-1-1 center.

But the one thing that I've talked to her about that she's already started to do is identify problem areas in the ward, and then look at the buildings around those areas to determine if there are people living in those buildings who shouldn't be—and I'm not saying that all the problems come from low-income areas. There are buildings that are well-run, like 920 Lakeside; it's a 200-unit Section 8 building. So my thought and the commander's thought is to start working with property managers to make sure that who is living [ in a building ] is supposed to be living there.

If the manager/owner wants to work with us, that's great. If they don't, an alderman can put pressure on the building—calling in other departments for inspections, calling in the fire department for inspections. That would force them into working with us.

WCT: What about the LGBT residents of this ward? I didn't see a page devoted to LGBT issues on your page—was that a conscious choice?

Don Nowotny: I'm an open gay man. There's so much more to me than being a gay candidates. All of the residents are important to me, and I will fight for all of their rights. I believe that I will fight as hard for gay rights in the ward as I will for Hispanics or Asians or Buddhists or Native Americans. We have such a diverse ward that I want to represent them all.

WCT: That was a nice aldermanic answer. [ Nowotny laughs. ] You mentioned that you were a Howard Brown board member. Obviously, the spotlight has been on Howard Brown recently. Did you take any lessons away from what's happened there?

Don Nowotny: [ Beats desk repeatedly, smiling ] Open transparency, open transparency, open transparency. And that's a good lesson for us in the 46th Ward, and in Chicago. There's been a lot of discussion about TIFs [ tax-increment financing ] recently and there are people who don't understand where the money is coming from and where the money is going. Decisions are made about zoning that the community is not part of, and I would be an alderman that would take a lot of input.

In the first 30 days, I would establish five standing committees: safety, economic development, zoning, education and health & welfare. But we might have to go outside and get some professionals for the economic development committee; we'd need urban planners and marketing people to create a master plan of the business streets of the ward.

My undergraduate degree is in landscape architecture from Iowa State, and I understand the value of master plans to bring in desirable retail and successful businesses to the ward. Along with safety, the more retail we get, the more people we get on the street and the more that pushes gangs out.

So getting the residents involved [ is important ] .

WCT: Let me ask you this: Do you believe that if an alderman is being investigated for illegal activity, he or she should step down while being investigated?

Don Nowotny: That's a very good question. If the process could be expedited, then "yes." But if it's a long, drawn-out process, I think that asking someone to step down when they're not really proven guilty is unfair. But if someone is accused from day one and it could go to trial or committee within 30 days, then I would say that person should step down—without pay.

WCT: Are you behind any one mayoral candidate?

Don Nowotny: Not right now. I can work with any of the candidates, and I'm excited about having a new mayor and an independent city council.

WCT: Is there anything you wanted to add?

Don Nowotny: I think the diversity of the ward is one of our strengths. We have Black, white, Latino, Asian, gay, straight people of every economic background and religion. Although that can be a challenge, I think it's our strength, and most of the ward residents like that. So it will be the challenge of the next alderman to unite people to live in harmony.

The way we do that is that, when there are issues, we get people to sit down, like a roundtable. We, as a group, can come up with a compromise solution; we're all part of the process.

See www.DonNowotny.com .


This article shared 4614 times since Wed Feb 2, 2011
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