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How Could He?

Many Lakeview activists saw Tom Tunney as the guy to beat Bernie Hansen, the machine's man in the 44th Ward, but he always refused to run. Now he's going for it--as Hansen's handpicked successor and with Mayor Daley's blessing.



For over a decade plenty of activists and independents in Lakeview pleaded with restaurateur Tom Tunney to run for alderman of the 44th Ward. And last month Tunney, the popular owner of the Ann Sather restaurants, finally agreed. But instead of cheers from his old friends and allies, Tunney's getting brickbats.

Why? Because Tunney's running as Mayor Daley's handpicked candidate, and his erstwhile allies in the insular world of north-lakefront independent politics see him as a sellout. They say he's being used by the mayor to put a new face--an affable, generous, gay one--on an old machine. If Tunney weren't running, they say, the 44th Ward might elect an independent--or at least an alderman with enough guts to break ranks occasionally. "They're using Tom, whether Tom knows it or not," says Karen Kennedy, one of Tunney's four opponents in the February 25 election. "They're using him to prop up the machine."

As odd as it sounds at a time when Daley enjoys overwhelming public support, maintaining an appearance of political independence still matters in the 44th Ward. After all, Lakeview is the birthplace of north-side-independent ward politics. It was there in 1971 that Dick Simpson, then a young political science professor at the University of Illinois, beat the regulars by putting together a grassroots campaign hooked to the antiwar and civil rights movements. And it was there that Simpson ran an open-door organization, turning zoning decisions over to an advisory council and voicing loud and clear opposition to insider deals and wasteful city spending.

Simpson retired in 1979, and the 44th hasn't had a strong independent since. In 1983 the ward elected Bernie Hansen, a former Streets and Sanitation superintendent who proved to be a smooth City Hall apparatchik. In exchange for his allegiance on most council matters, Daley gave Hansen nearly free rein in the 44th. Hansen had a laissez-faire attitude toward development--he often said he was reluctant to tell property owners what to do with their property. In the last decade developers have scampered to Lakeview, building permits in hand, to construct condos, town houses, and high-rises on almost every block.

Last summer many residents decided they'd had enough. They said the ward was too congested. There was no place to park. Condo owners in the complexes that had sprung up on commercial strips such as Halsted were complaining about the noise coming from long-established gay and lesbian bars. "Development was out of control," says Rick Ingram, a leading independent in the ward who's now running against Tunney. "We had to run someone against Bernie."

Tunney was a logical candidate, one of Lakeview's most recognizable figures. He'd grown up on the southwest side, but he'd moved north in 1980. He'd been feeding cinnamon rolls to diners at one of Belmont Avenue's most popular restaurants for more than 20 years. Everyone seemed to like him. He was charming, gracious, and generous. He opened his restaurant to countless causes and campaigns, helping activists raise thousands of dollars for senior citizen, pro-choice, feminist, and gay-rights campaigns.

"I'm not supporting Tom in this race, but I have to be honest about this--everybody knew Tom was the perfect candidate to take on Bernie because how can you not like Tom?" says Charlotte Newfeld, a longtime independent activist. "The thing about Tom is that he's got a big heart. I support Rick, but I have to be honest about this. Tom's opened up his restaurant to so many causes--just about anytime anyone needed anything he was there."

Each time the independents asked him to run against Hansen, Tunney turned them down. He said he was too busy with his restaurants to run for office.

So last summer Ingram, an openly gay lawyer who specializes in real estate transactions, quietly went around picking up support to run against Hansen. Though not as charismatic as Tunney, Ingram too seemed a natural choice. He'd settled in Lakeview after graduating from law school in 1981, and he's been active in his church, Holy Covenant Methodist on Diversey, as well as the Lakeview Citizens Council and the Lakeview Action Coalition. He helped build community support for Reverend Greg Dell, the Methodist minister suspended in 1998 by church higher-ups for sanctioning gay marriages. When a small but vocal group of antigay extremists came to town to protest at Dell's church, Ingram helped organize a counterdemonstration of more than 1,000 residents. He also used his influence to persuade the Chicago Police Department to establish bike patrols in Lakeview in 2000, which he credits for a drop in hate crimes and burglaries. And he led the fight to preserve the Rienzi Place apartments for low-income tenants.

Ingram vows to put the brakes on development in the ward and to speak out in the City Council. "My whole campaign is about being an independent voice for Lakeview," he says. "I think the mayor has done some good things, but I think there are some issues that have to be addressed. There are so many examples--Soldier Field, Millennium Park, the bus enclosures on Michigan Avenue--in which the city council has allowed Mayor Daley to basically throw away millions of dollars in city revenues as a result of inside deals or bungled management. Have you heard one alderman say a thing about it? No. They have their mouths taped shut. I have been speaking up."

Ingram isn't the only independent in the race. He's not even the most outspoken. That title probably goes to Karen Kennedy, a wry, often sarcastic "stay-at-home mom" with a raspy pack-a-day voice. A former reporter for the City News Bureau, Kennedy moved to Lakeview in 1997 with her husband and two children and has been raising hell ever since. "I came here to quietly raise my kids," she says. "But I have a big mouth. And when I see something wrong, I can't help it--I have to speak out."

In the past few years she's gone up against Hansen, the Tribune Company, the Wrigley Field rooftop owners, Mayor Daley, and the Army Corps of Engineers. In almost every case--including the fight against the Wrigley Field expansion and the mayor's move to replace the limestone lakefront revetments with concrete--she's suffered more setbacks than triumphs. "I know I'm usually the underdog, but so what?" she says. "I fight because it's fight or flight. If you don't speak up someone's going to speak up for you."

Like Ingram, Kennedy went to Tunney before she declared. "I said, 'Tom, I'm begging you to run,'" she says. "I figured Tom had better name recognition than I had and that he could beat Bernie. But Tom said, 'No, I'm not running.' He said he was too busy running his business. This was in September, about six weeks before Bernie stepped down."

Then in late October, Tunney changed his mind. Hansen, a diabetic, quietly let reporters know that he wouldn't be running for reelection because of his health. On November 14 he went one step further, telling Sun-Times reporter Fran Spielman that he was going to step down immediately as alderman so that Daley could appoint Tunney as his successor.

If Daley had hoped to be praised for naming the council's first openly gay alderman, he was disappointed. This wasn't progress, many activists said, it was deceit. Daley wasn't trying to empower gays so much as use them as weapons against independents.

The activists turned on Tunney. "He's being looked upon as an Uncle Tom," Rick Garcia, a prominent gay political activist, told Spielman. "He's being appointed by regular Democrats when there's already a gay candidate in the race. That makes two gay candidates. That paves the way for maybe their real candidate. What the gay community needs is a strong, outspoken advocate with a proven track record. Tom Tunney has been gracious and generous, but he has never been on the front lines. He will do what he's told."

In retrospect, many activists say they shouldn't have been fooled by Tunney's talk of independence. They say he was never a true believer--he was a go-along guy, waiting for his chance to be anointed by Daley. "Now that I think back, it's clear--Tom only told us what we wanted to hear," says one Lakeview activist. "When we were begging him to wage the good fight he was always too busy with his business to run. But when Daley ushers him in as Bernie's replacement his busy schedule suddenly frees up? Give me a break!"

After Spielman's scoop, rumors of double-dealing and intrigue raced through the community. "I really, truly believe that Daley's doing this to fuck the independents by dividing the gay vote," said one political activist shortly after the Sun-Times story ran. "You watch--some straight candidate's going to suddenly come out of the closet now that Tom's stealing Rick's votes."

Suspicions didn't ease in December when Dean Maragos, a lawyer who's straight, announced that he too was running for Hansen's old seat. The son of a former state senator from the southeast side, Maragos boasts of his close ties to the Daley administration but says he's not afraid to break occasionally with the mayor. "I wasn't going to run against Bernie, but I think I have a lot to offer," he says. "I feel I offer the best of two worlds. I'm not afraid to speak my mind, and I know how to get things done."

Everyone seems to have a theory about what went on in the backrooms of City Hall. "I don't think Tom's candidacy's all a part of some conspiracy engineered by Daley," says Lee Neubecker, who originally wanted Tunney to run but now backs Ingram. "I think Daley wants an alderman whose support he can absolutely depend on, but I don't think Daley had a willful intent to screw over the gay community."

Neubecker suspects that Daley doesn't care whether Maragos or Tunney wins, since he's likely to get unswerving obedience from either. He thinks Daley is using Tunney to make sure that Ingram, who would surely be a dissenting voice in the council, can't win. "You know what else I think might have happened?" says Neubecker. "I think Bernie might have engineered all this. I think Bernie saw Ingram's campaign as a viable threat. He didn't want to run again, so Hansen thought to himself, 'I'll show you, Rick. I'll get someone in the race to screw you.' I think Bernie showed his political skills by picking Tom to run. He was telling Rick, 'You mess with me, I'll mess with you.'"

Neubecker says the wheeling and dealing doesn't bode well for the ward if Tunney wins the election. "I'm not an ideologue about these things--I vote for whoever I think is the best candidate," he says. "But I wonder about how things are going to be run around here with Tom as alderman. Is it going to be a closed group making all the decisions?"

Tunney says the theories are nonsense and the concerns unfounded. As he tells the story, he always wanted to be alderman. He just didn't want to run against a foe as formidable as Hansen. "They all wanted me to run, but now that I am I'm a bad guy? Please," he says. "I resent what they're saying. I can be independent if I want to. I have a history of being independent. I support Mayor Daley, but I won't be afraid to take a stand. Anyone who knows me knows I'm all about public service--and what's an alderman but a public servant?"

Tunney has been trying to distance himself from Hansen and to emphasize his close ties to Daley. "It's true I wasn't going to run against Bernie," he says. "I didn't know if I could beat him--and I wasn't going to spend $300,000 or whatever trying. I had supported Bernie in the past, but I was never a regular 44th Ward kind of guy. We had our differences. For a long time I've felt that Bernie wasn't reflective of the demographics of the ward. I don't think he was reflective of the newness, of the vibrancy, of the new-energy, creative, educated people that were coming in."

According to Tunney, he met with Hansen soon after the alderman announced he wasn't running for reelection; he's not sure about the date. "When Bernie decided not to run for health reasons I went into his office and said, 'I'm considering running,'" he says. "He didn't embrace me. He said, 'Let met think about it.'"

A few days later Hansen gave him a follow-up call. "He said, 'I'd like to talk to you about being a good candidate,'" says Tunney. "He said, 'Let's see what the 44th Ward Democratic organization has to say about this.'"

After that call Tunney attended a breakfast meeting with most of the organization's precinct workers. "Hansen called me again, and he told me, 'You're the man,'" he says. "I'm not apologizing for those endorsements. Don't you think the other candidates would want the mayor's endorsement? I resent some of the things they're saying about me. I will always stand up for my community."

Tunney points out that as the president of the Illinois Restaurant Association he once sued the city, and as a result the city dropped a tax on take-out food. That makes him, he says, "the only candidate who ever sued the mayor."

One thing's for certain--the Daley connection gave Tunney's campaign a big boost. On December 19 Daley appointed Tunney to fill Hansen's vacated seat at a City Hall press conference covered by all the major media. The appointment was billed as a historic moment in the struggle for gay rights. "Daley picks gay alderman," read the headline in the Sun-Times. Even Garcia was impressed. "It's a historic moment," he told the Sun-Times. "To give us a seat at the table is noteworthy."

Garcia says he stands by his earlier comments to Spielman, though he wishes he hadn't said Uncle Tom. "You wouldn't believe how many calls I got from people criticizing me for that phrase--'how can you be critical of a nice guy who feeds people?'" he says. "But I have to look at the larger issues--not just who's nice--and we had made a commitment to a gay candidate, Ingram, long before Tunney decided to run."

Within a few weeks most of Daley's north-side allies had closed ranks behind Tunney. He picked up endorsements from Congressman Rahm Emanuel, state senator John Cullerton, and state representatives Larry McKeon and Sara Feigenholtz.

Many of Tunney's opponents says he's changed. They say the appointment has gone to his head and they're seeing a side of him they've never seen before. Gone is the cheery, helpful neighbor who would do anything for a friend. In his place is a hard-hearted ward boss who will do anything to win.

The race is hardly as ugly as some past northwest- or southwest-side ones--no windows have been broken, no volunteers beaten up. But by lakefront standards it's nasty. Ingram's backers say Tunney's campaign tried to pressure their landlord to evict them from their headquarters. Maragos says that Tunney's been disseminating rumors--"vicious negative attacks"--that he's a lawyer for condominium developers. Maragos wrote an open letter to Tunney saying, "I believe you have somehow allowed yourself to be used by the very same special interests that have put greed ahead of our community's quality of life."

At the moment Tunney seems to have the upper hand. His signs are in windows of businesses everywhere in the ward, generally an indication that the merchants don't want to offend the reigning organization. And he's raised so much money he was able to hire Michael Kasper, an election-law expert who rarely takes on clients unless they're recommended by Daley or Illinois house speaker Michael Madigan.

Over the years Kasper has made a specialty of using the Byzantine technicalities of election law to knock neophytes off the ballot. In January he knocked off one Tunney opponent, Ivar Vilcins, a former city planner. And he tried to bump Kennedy. "Tom wants me out of the race because I'm a woman--the only woman on the ballot," she says. "Fifty-two percent of the people in this ward are women. Tom and his people just want me out of there 'cause they know I can get a lot of the women's vote."

For almost a month Kasper kept Kennedy tied up in hearings at the election board, going over voting records to see if she had enough signatures to stay on the ballot. "I gathered about 600 signatures to my petitions," she says. "Then Kasper comes along and starts challenging them. This one's printed, it's not signed. This one's this, this one's that. They've got a million stupid reasons for knocking perfectly good signatures off the ballot, and Kasper--he's a real sharpie--he knows them all. I probably should have hired a lawyer. I didn't realize I was going to be up against the sharks. It's arbitrary as hell--all the onus is on me to prove that they're legitimate. They knocked me down to 225, and I needed 240 to stay on the ballot."

So Kennedy went out and gathered 50 affidavits from residents swearing that they were indeed the ones who'd signed her nominating petitions. "I figured that was it--I won. How can you argue against 50 notarized affidavits?" she says. "But no. Kasper comes into court, and he says that they have to toss out my affidavits because I didn't introduce them correctly. Oh, you don't really want to know all the details--it's crazy. Basically, I was supposed to have dropped them off at one place, and I dropped them off somewhere else. Have you ever heard anything like that? And you know what the kicker is? They bought it. The hearing officer sustained his objection. I was so pissed. I was so angry. I told that hearing officer that these voters had not only signed my petitions once, but they signed affidavits--and I don't think it's the board of elections' place to deny them the right to exercise their franchise. I said it was a disgrace, nothing more than trickery. I was really upset."

On the day the hearing officer ruled against her Kennedy, February 5, and three of the other candidates showed up at the Bailiwick Arts Center for a debate. It was a fairly lively event, with all of the challengers aiming zingers at Tunney. Maragos read his open letter accusing Tunney of negative campaigning. Kennedy described Tunney's legal fight against her campaign. And Ingram criticized him for having refused to take a stand on everything from development to the limestone revetments.

For the most part, Tunney took the hits calmly, shaking his head or smiling in disbelief. "I am the mayor's handpicked person," he announced at one point, "and I'm proud of it."

To which Ingram replied, "I don't believe you have to be a political pushover to get services for your ward."

After the debate the candidates all walked away claiming victory, except Kennedy. "I was zoning out of it there at the end," she said. "Tom had me tied up at the election board with Kasper. I was drained."

But the next morning her spirits picked up. The election board had overruled the hearing officer and allowed her affidavits to be part of the record. On February 10 she was back in front of the board for what she called "grilling." "Kasper tried to throw enough affidavits to get me off the ballot, but I prevailed--I won! I'm on the ballot!" she says. "Tuesday will be the first time in weeks that I won't wake up with these lawyers in my face. I feel like a boxer who's barely survived a fight with a champion. I'm standing, but barely."

Yet now that the ballot battle's over, Kennedy realizes the cost of her victory. "All they wanted was to chew up my time and drain my resources, keeping me in hearings instead of campaigning. And you know who I blame? I blame Tom. They wouldn't be doing this if he didn't want it. I called him up after that hearing officer struck the affidavits and I told him, 'Look, I never took this personally, but I am now. I'm going to hold you personally responsible for what your lawyers are doing to the voting rights of the people of Lakeview.' I said, 'Are you aware of what your lawyers are doing?' And he said, 'Well no, not really. I don't know what's going on.' I said, 'Well you better educate yourself.'" She laughs. "He wants to be like Sergeant Schultz--I see nothing, I hear nothing. You can't get away with being a know-nothing candidate in the 44th Ward. Folks are too smart for that."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Jon Randolph.

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