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  WINDY CITY TIMES

ELECTIONS 2019, 44TH. Tom Tunney on accomplishments, LGBT issues, Wrigley Field
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2019-02-13

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Tom Tunney has been alderman of Chicago's 44th Ward—which includes Lake View—for more than 15 years, and was the first openly gay person elected to city council. Tunney ( also known as the owner of the Ann Sather restaurants ) currently chairs the council's Committee on Economic, Capital, and Technology Development.

Tunney recently talked with Windy City Times about his accomplishments, crime in the ward and LGBT issues.

Windy City Times: You have been at the forefront of LGBT issues for quite some time.

Tom Tunney: It's been about 40 years! [I've been involved] since 1980—pre-AIDS diagnosis.

I was going through some old photos from early IMPAACT dinners from the early '80s—I was the fundraising chair. But I have to say I like what I do; it's the whole issue of community.

WCT: What are two or three of your accomplishments that you're proudest of?

TT: Before I talk about accomplishments, I think breaking the glass ceiling as an openly gay elected official—obviously, Larry McKeon preceded me but it's pretty amazing that we now have gone from one to five [LGBT] members on city council.

I think the most important accomplishment within the LGBT community is the whole redevelopment of Addison and Halsted. You were around when they were going to close the old 23rd District police station; that would've been devastating to the community. The re-use of the old station, after we landmarked it… Ann Sather was historically a community center for many, many years, and to be instrumental in that whole [redevelopment] project and to work with Gov. George Ryan and [others] to make sure that the center was built and open was amazing.

That was phase one. Phase two was that whole LGBT senior housing and the re-use of the police station. When I see how much work was done by the community, and with me as alderman, it's just breathtaking.

WCT: Your ward is seen as one of the more progressive in Chicago. What else do you feel should be done for LGBTs in that ward—or should the focus be on the community as a whole?

TT: Yes, and yes. It's about community, but the LGBT senior housing was instrumental and is being modeled in other parts of the city. The other part is the youth and what we've done with The Crib [the part of The Night Ministry that focuses on people 18-24], working with Howard Brown and Broadway Youth Center—affordable housing and shelter for youth. To realize that 50-60 percent of the homeless youth population is identified as LGBTQ—that's crazy. Families forcing youth out—that's reality, unfortunately.

I'm not even going down the road with Trump. Let's say Hillary was the president—the importance of education in our curriculum, and just raising healthy families. This whole situation with Trump is just [sad], rolling back civil rights, employment rights and the military. If and when he's no president, you'll see a swing back.

We still have, as [former Windy City Times Publisher] Tracy Baim would say, an affordable-housing crisis for everybody. But it's about protecting youth, educating society, and giving parents and families the positive role models they need. These people are our future, and we need to continue investing in our youth and protecting our most vulnerable people, who are seniors.

WCT: Another issue that's come up in your ward is crime. How safe would you say your ward is?

TT: Our ward is safe, and I think that our stats validate that. However, we're seeing ( and you're seeing it on the news ) are things like carjackings. The crimes that are happening in our neighborhoods tend to be crimes of opportunities, like cellphones being ripped off; you see so many open garages sometimes. So there's this false sense of security in this city, and some people feel like it should be like Des Moines, Iowa. This is a big city and there are plenty of good people—but there are also some bad people. People in areas like Gold Coast, Bucktown and North Center are not as safe as some would like them to be. But we've added police and now we have that spotter technology.

WCT: I have to ask about the Ricketts family. [Editor's note: The family, which owns the Chicago Cubs, has been very vocal in criticizing Tunney.] Laura Ricketts wrote an op-ed in Crain's…

TT: … And I responded.

WCT: And you responded. But for those who don't know, she said that you are a rubber stamp for the mayor, among other things. How do you respond to their charges?

TT: First of all, I have a lot of respect for the Ricketts family. Rebuilding that stadium [Wrigley Field]—we've bent over backward to accommodate the Cubs and that family, and their investment in our neighborhood. My job is to manage the interest of the residents. My belief is that the Ricketts will never stop until they control the alderman and the neighborhood.

I have to work with developments of all sizes and shapes, and maintain the integrity and vitality of Lake View; they'd take over Boystown if they could. But their interest in my voting record pales next to their self-interest in protecting their investment—and they are making a whole bunch of money, with the support of the alderman.

Go to Clark and Addison; there's been so much work done there, and it's been transformed. We hope to make it a 360 environment.

WCT: It's definitely changed—although, as a minor side note, I know people who are upset that the Taco Bell is gone.

TT: Well, Taco Bell is coming back. I believe it is coming back to that intersection. You can be the first to leak it! But there are some people who feel we've given too much to the Cubs, and that [the area] is becoming a theme park.

WCT: Term limits for alderpersons?

TT: I don't believe in term limits. I believe that every four years, you're term-limited. You produce for your community and city, and you stand by your record.

I honestly think that, as much as I knew about Lake View and Chicago prior to being an alderman, you need one or two terms to get your feet firmly settled. We couldn't have gotten Addison and Halsted as well as Wrigley Field done if there was a two-term limit.

This is a full-time job but I also work hard at Ann Sather. I work there as well, but look at my attendance and voting records. You can't phone it in with this neighborhood—no frickin' way.

WCT: Los Angeles is larger than Chicago, but only has 15 people in its city council. Does Chicago need 50 in its city council?

TT: Los Angeles runs its government as a county-wide system. We have 17 Cook County commissioners. Our description is different than L.A.'s. We are responsible for every inch of our ward—safety, sanitation, cleanliness. We have 50 aldermen because we're the boots on the ground; we're the voices of the residents.

I'm not opposed to reducing the number, but I'm not opposed to changing the job description, either.

We've been losing population. So I think we should reduce the size based on population trends, maintaining the same number of residents ( 60,000 or so )—and adjust based on the demographics.

WCT: Is the LGBT Caucus still a united front? There have been reports of conflicts between [Ald. Raymond] Lopez and [Ald. Carlos] Ramirez-Rosa.

TT: Look at the nature of the LGBT elected officials: We come from different neighborhoods and backgrounds. In a city that's dynamic, you have individuals who are dynamic.

I think it's actually beneath both of them to go after each other; let them each do what they need to do to get elected. I don't criticize any alderman, whether they're gay or straight. I'm not screaming about Ed Burke; he has to defend his record.

See www.tomtunney.com .


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