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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2015-11-25
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Gay Evanston pol eyes re-election
Out and elected in the suburbs
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times

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All roads lead to April 9 for Mark Tendam, when Evanston's openly gay 6th Ward alderman is up for re-election—and his calendar already has more than 20 events scheduled with, no doubt, more to be added.

And that's just professional commitments. Personally, Tendam and his partner of 20-plus years, litigator Neal Moglin, have eagerly watched same-sex marriage debates in the state. After all, the two had a civil union in June 2011, immediately after it became legal in Illinois. Plus, last November, the two had a Jewish wedding at Beth Emet Synagogue in Evanston, attended by family, friends, elected officials such as Jan Schakowsky, and almost the entire City Council of Evanston.

"It's been very busy since the first week in January. However, I have a lot more hands-on support than I did four years ago when I managed my own campaign," said Tendam, who turned 58 on Feb. 24. "My team and I have been busy laying the groundwork for what I believe will be a very busy and successful campaign.

"It seems like my term has gone by quickly and the 2009 Council has accomplished a great deal, and that I've brought good projects to the 6th Ward. But there's so much more I can do. My priorities for the next four years are to continue with an emphasis on economic development. Over the past four years I have helped small businesses, [such as] the Old Neighborhood Grill, the Central Street Café and Curt's Café, succeed in my ward. As a member of the city's economic development committee, I can help establish new businesses throughout city.

"I've made good on my promise of four years ago—to help make the ward safer for the large number of children, seniors and mobility-impaired residents. I've secured funds for improving sidewalks and streetscape along Central Street, installing speed-monitoring signs and constructing badly needed crosswalks. Pedestrian accidents in Evanston and the 6th Ward have decreased 50 percent."

When property crime increased in his ward, Tendam secured additional police patrols and helped residents and police establish 10 neighborhood watch groups, he said. "These efforts greatly reduced residential and vehicle burglaries."

"I have worked hard to improve communications and cooperation among my fellow aldermen, city staff and residents. As a result, we have made real progress on difficult issues like making a meaningful down payment on the pension fund shortfall and saving the North Branch Library."

Tendam was elected in April 2009, replacing retiring Ald. Edmund Moran. He won by about 100 votes. His then-opponent, Mark Sloane, is Tendam's same opponent this year. Christopher Hart also ran in 2009.

"A little over two weeks into my first term, I was on a plane to Los Angeles to spend a couple days with one of the three remaining candidates for city manager," Tendam said. "Along with the senior alderman that I traveled with, I was able to convince the other members of Council to unanimously vote for [the] current manager. One of the first amendments I worked on was to provide partner benefits to gay couples and unmarried straight couples.

"During the first budget approval, along with two other aldermen, I led the struggle to keep open the branch libraries. We have held the line in subsequent budgets and Evanston has now adopted the library fund model, one of the two options required by the State of Illinois.

"For a longtime, the 6th Ward was known as the most conservative. I don't know if many are making that distinction anymore. I am alderman for the largest population and the largest voter turnout of all nine wards. The 6th represents about 20 percent of Evanston's total voter turnout. Staying connected to that many people keeps me busy. I've enjoyed seeing a boom in young families moving into the Ward, [which is] partly because we have two of the most respected elementary schools. We also have three large senior campuses."

In 2009, Tendam's sexual orientation was rarely discussed, although he spoke openly about his husband. "The LGBT community offers a lot of training and support for openly gay politicians," Tendam said. "I participated in the Victory Fund's annual training program and have stayed in touch with them since. I like being an example for LGBT youth and even their parents who may wonder what the future holds for their children."

Tendam is the first openly gay politician elected in Evanston.

"It's important that the LGBT community has representation in city government, but it has not been much of an issue. The mayor [of Evanston], city manager and fellow aldermen are very supportive," he said.

In fact, Tendam said being gay has never impacted his political career or any career aspirations.

"I'm doing exactly what I want to do, and making things better at the local level can make an immediate and personal difference in people's lives," he said.

Tendam tagged Dick Durbin and Jan Schakowsky as some of his political role models as each has represented "faithfully and tirelessly," he said. "A relative newcomer [to politics is my] good friend 6th Ward resident and State Senator, Daniel Biss, [who] has already made a big impact in Springfield and has always been outspoken about gay rights, especially marriage equality. Debra Shore has made the MWRD Board a much more forward-thinking organization. I'm also very proud of my old friend Tom Tunney. I've know Tom since the mid-1980s. At that time, he may have had ideas of becoming an elected official, but I certainly didn't. Tom has done so much for Chicago's LGBT community."

Tendam and Moglin had their civil union 20 years to the day after their first date—a party that Moglin invited Tendam to at Roscoe's. "I don't think the civil union changed much for us," Tendam said. "We had, for a long time, shared socks and bank accounts—just not bathrooms.

"We often joke that the key to our success has been separate bathrooms, and there probably is some truth in that. We give each other space and respect each other's likes and dislikes that we may not share."

The two first met at a party and, well, it wasn't exactly love at first sight.

"I remember chatting for a little bit. Neal didn't have much respect for a group I was involved with, CPNA, [the] Chicago Professional Network Association, and he made that clear. I told him that the only networking I was doing with that organization was finding guys to go out with," Tendam said. "That honesty may have given me some redemption."

Six months later, ironically, Moglin was pitching the AIDS Legal Council to the fundraising committee of CPNA. "A few days later, we ran into each other at Roscoe's," Tendam said. "I told him that [the] AIDS Legal Council was getting the money and he thanked me for not 'narking' on him. He invited me to a party," and the rest is history.

Tendam, a graphic designer, has lived in Evanston for 15 years. He was the president to the Better Existence with HIV (BEHIV) Board from 1998 to 2006.

"Just after Neal and I moved to Evanston, I ran into a BEHIV board member who was doing what all good board members do, recruit new board members. Neal had served with him on the AIDS Legal Council board, so he made a serious pitch," Tendam said. "He got me instead of Neal. I had never served on a board, just committees for fundraising. So it was good timing.

"What I didn't know was that our friend was leaving the BEHIV board and that the board [was] falling apart. It had more or less hit a wall at 10 years of service."

Six months later, Tendam was elected board president.

Tendam also has been an advocate and multiple youth services, such as Evanston's Youth Job Center, the McGaw YMCA, Y.O.U. and others.

See related story, Marge Paul earns four more years in Berwyn, here:

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