1975: Grant Ford, publisher of Gay Life, declares for alderman of the 44th Ward and then, after voter registration efforts are well under way, mysteriously drops out of the race and supports te regular Democratic candidate. 1986: A gay rights ordinance is defeated in City Council, a "wake-up call for the community." 1987: Dr. Ron Sable challenges incumbent 44th Ward alderman Bernmard Hansen and nearly wins with 46.3 percent of the vote. 1988: In December the City Council passes a redrafted "human rights" ordinance. 1991: Sable again challenges Hansen, who has become a strong advocate of gay causes. This time the gay community supports Hansen and he wins easily. 1994: Tom Chiola wins a Democratic primary for Circuit Cout judge and becomes the city's first openly gay elected official.
Tom Chiola seemed to know everyone at the mayor's annual gay pride reception on June 1. Over a brimming food table Chiola saw a buddy of his and gave him a big hug. He and his friend talked about the Gay Games, in which Chiola was preparing to participate. "But right now," Chiola said, "I'm playing volleyball."
"Oh, is that what they call it?" his friend said.
"Yeah," Chiola said, grinning. "Political volleyball."
In March, Chiola won the Democratic primary for a seat on the Eighth Judicial Subcircuit in Cook County, and he learned to play politics well. At the reception, he was approached by Alderman Bernard Hansen, whose 44th Ward has the largest gay and lesbian population in the city. Hansen asked Chiola about the upcoming gay pride parade.
"You walkin' Sunday, you drivin', what are you doin'?" Hansen asked.
"I've got a car," Chiola said, making a steering motion.
"Oh, that's good for you," said Hansen. Then the alderman asked Chiola when he would be taking the bench. Unfortunately, Chiola said, he would have to wait until after the general election in November, because even though he would be running unopposed, he hadn't been endorsed by the Chicago Bar Association.
The Illinois Supreme Court, which controls vacancies on the state's lower courts, votes every election year on which unopposed judicial candidates should be appointed early to the bench. Eighteen were appointed this year in Cook County, all of whom had been found "qualified" by the Chicago Bar Association. The 16 others, including Chiola, who were not appointed were found "not qualified."
Hansen leaned toward Chiola and cupped a hand over his mouth. "They need to give you a fuckin' break," he whispered, and broke out laughing.
"Listen," Chiola said, "I'm going to go around and see some of these other fellas."
"Absolutely," Hansen said. "Ya look good, Tommy."
The fellas included Robert Kuzas, a 46th Ward Democratic committeeman who had been key in getting the vote out for Chiola in his area. Kuzas also expressed dismay at Chiola's situation with the CBA.
"You know," Chiola said, "I was thinking. I've got a great place in Michigan that I'd like to enjoy in June and July, and this gives me the chance." Not getting sworn in until December would give him a lot more free time over the summer.
"Oh yeah?" Kuzas said. "Where's your place?"
"It's out in the country, near Sawyer," Chiola said. "Very out of the way."
"Sure, sure," Kuzas said. "I've got a place just a little farther west . . ."
Soon enough, the official part of the reception kicked in. After some preliminary presentations, Mayor Daley took the podium. Chiola maneuvered through the crowd, shaking hands and saying hello to everyone, and planted himself in the second row, directly to the mayor's left. As the mayor heaped praise and support on the gay and lesbian community, he gestured over at Chiola.
"And we have elected officials like Tom Kola here," he said, "and he's doing an outstanding job." (It's pronounced "Kee-OH-la.")
After the mayor's speech, Chiola worked his way around the podium to get into a picture with the mayor and leaders of Team Chicago, the city's delegation to the Gay Games. Then he fell into a conversation with the mayor.
"I saw you up there, and I wanted to include you and say, 'Hey! Tom! Tom Chiola!'" said the mayor, doing better by the candidate's name this time. Chiola thanked him, and they started talking about the CBA situation.
"Aw, Tommy," the mayor said, "you should have said something about it to me. I could have done something for you."
Chiola didn't pause. "That's OK," he said. "I've got a summer place in Michigan now, up by Sawyer, and I wanted to spend some time there."
"Oh, so maybe you're better off then," the mayor said. "It's nice up there. I like to hike around there."
In Tom Chiola, the gay and lesbian community found an ideal candidate to give them a much desired electoral breakthrough. But Chiola warned in his victory speech that he was not going to be able to participate much in the political process, that he would have to back away from politics. "Chiola is nonideological," says Jon-Henri Damski, a gay activist and columnist for Windy City Times. "The judgeship role will hem in what he can do as a political figure. Others will have to step forward who can do things more politically than a judge can."
But those others will have to work hard to match Chiola's political skills. "He was a perfect candidate," says Rick Garcia, a longtime gay activist, "and I think he will be a model to gays and lesbians on how to run for office. If you want to be a candidate, do it as Tom Chiola did it and you will be fine. The guy's unflappable."
Chiola, who is 42, had a middle-class childhood in Springfield as a self-described "all-American boy." His mother is a former Miss Senior Illinois, and his older brother, Richard, is a Catholic priest who recently was hired to teach at Yale Divinity School. Another brother, Jim, is in law enforcement in Peoria. When Chiola was campaigning last year in Springfield for a state gay rights bill, his mother, his brother Richard, and one of his sisters testified on behalf of him and the gay and lesbian community. "We were raised feeling a responsibility to do things for other people," Chiola says. "If you lived in a community and took from a community, you gave back. It was our responsibility to give back to other people."
Chiola was named high school senior of the year in Springfield in 1970, and went on to Illinois State University and then law school at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, where he came out as a gay man. He has worked under state Republican administrations for most of his professional life. He spent the first two years of his career at the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, and then five years prosecuting environmental cases for the Illinois attorney general. After a stint in private practice he signed on as chief administrative law judge for the Illinois Department of Professional Regulations, which handles licenses for a number of professions. After more than six years he became general counsel for the agency, overseeing legislation, professional testing, contracts, and peer review boards.
After moving to Chicago, Chiola gradually became involved in gay and lesbian causes. He was on the board of IMPACT, the gay and lesbian political action committee. He helped start the volunteer legal clinic for people with AIDS at Howard Brown Memorial Clinic, while volunteering as a driver for Open Hand Chicago, a meals-on-wheels program for people with AIDS.
Chiola came into contact with AIDS very early. His platonic roommate, Michael Murphy, contracted the virus in the early 80s. Chiola remodeled his house to accommodate Murphy, a runner who started a nonprofit support organization, the Marathon Project, for people with AIDS. "Tom was affected by AIDS in the early wave," says Lori Cannon, cofounder of Open Hand Chicago and a longtime friend of Chiola's, "not just through the headlines and not through Rock Hudson. I think the two men meant a lot to each other. Tom's devotion was important to Michael, and Michael's courage was an inspiration to Tom. So where Tom might not have been in the streets with ACT-UP getting arrested or screaming at City Hall for more funding, he was a caretaker in a house where somebody was dying."
Chiola volunteered for a number of other organizations, including the Legal Clinic for the Disabled and Advocates for the Handicapped, where he served on the board of directors. He was a board member of the Metropolitan Sports Association, a gay and lesbian sports club with more than 1,700 members. And he campaigned hard for the Cook County and Illinois gay rights bills.
"That's what I like about Chiola. He took on jobs and did more than just put his name into them," says Damski. "Chiola worked like a trooper down there in Springfield [on the human rights ordinance]. Anyone coming into the political process should work on what's being done. I had to respect him for that. He didn't win me by charm. He won me because he did all the right things."
Chiola's election is a result of two decades of political education for gays and lesbians, a period when they went from obscure ciphers on the political interest map of Chicago to a key voting block heavily courted by politicians of all stripes. The first political noise made by gays and lesbians in Chicago came in 1975, when Grant Ford, a minister and publisher of Gay Life, the leading gay newspaper at that time, declared his candidacy for alderman in the 44th Ward. The eastern half of the ward, which included Halsted Street and Broadway above Diversey, had become a magnet for gays citywide. "There was not a feeling that this was going to be a winning campaign," says Adrienne Goodman, a nongay who chaired the Ford campaign. Goodman recently lost her seat as Democratic state committeewoman from the Ninth Congressional District. "But it was a serious campaign in that it was the beginning of the effort to register gays. The feeling was that if you had a credible, sellable gay candidate, not a joke, not somebody's put-up or a front for a regular group, that the gay community would galvanize around that candidate."
Although voter registration drives were somewhat successful, Ford shocked his supporters, including Goodman, by dropping out midway through the campaign and throwing his support to the regular Democratic Party candidate. It was a tough first lesson for the gay and lesbian community in the ways of the machine. "In the context of Chicago politics, there was nothing weird about it," Goodman says. "That's the tragedy of it, that it wasn't unique. I'll never know how he [Ford] was convinced not to go on with his candidacy."
Ford's campaign began the modern era in the lives of gays and lesbians in Chicago, but for most of the 1970s and early 1980s, politics really wasn't an issue for the community. "Gay people really didn't feel that there was a place in the city for them politically," says Art Johnston, co-owner of Sidetrack, a gay bar on Halsted Street, and a leader of the Illinois Federation for Human Rights, the group campaigning for a state gay rights ordinance. "For most people's lives, politics was irrelevant. The fabled machine, to what extent it did exist or does exist, was a closed structure. It didn't offer a gay or a lesbian anything."
The gay community became incorporated into the independent lakefront political movement in the late 1970s, and later joined the coalition that elected Harold Washington mayor. As old-time families in Lakeview began to die off or move away, gays supplanted them and began to rehab the lakefront neighborhoods in the 44th Ward. "It became very clear that there was a large concentration of gays and lesbians in the 44th, and that they probably would vote for a gay candidate," Goodman says. "But when the independents were organizing, they were not paying too much attention to women specifically, or gays specifically, or any other group. It was independents against the machine, and anybody who wanted could get on board, but that was the focus of the movement."
But merely being another group under the independent umbrella soon became unsatisfactory to gays and lesbians. After Washington's election in 1983, his administration began to court the community in its own right, continuing a warming attitude that had begun under Jane Byrne's administration. "Washington understood that he needed to create new alliances, a new majority," Johnston says. "He sent people into this community to help them develop political skills, to help them learn to organize."
Around the same time, gays and lesbians began to wake up to the realities of discrimination in Chicago. "If you were a gay person and you'd only lived here along Broadway in Lakeview, you may not have realized for a while that you were not a full-class citizen," says Johnston. As far back as 1973 Alderman Clifford Kelley had introduced a gay antidiscrimination bill in the City Council. But the bill went nowhere until 1986, when Kit Duffy, Washington's liaison to the gay and lesbian community, encouraged activists to push for a vote.
The vote failed as expected, crippled by an antigay statement put out by the archdiocese of Chicago. But hundreds of gay and lesbian activists had worked hard for its passage, and the rejection of the ordinance electrified them politically. "The rafters were packed in City Hall, and to see civil rights for gays and lesbians go down to resounding defeat was a wake-up call for the community," says Johnston. "It was critical. It was a defining moment." At the same time, the first big wave of AIDS cases was striking Chicago. The urgency surrounding AIDS added to the political climate, and out of this mix came the 44th Ward aldermanic candidacy of Dr. Ron Sable in 1987.
Sable, who died of AIDS in January of this year, was a physician at Cook County Hospital, where he cofounded the AIDS clinic. But he was new to electoral politics in Chicago, as was the gay and lesbian community. He challenged Bernard Hansen, then a one-term incumbent and former ward superintendent, in the Democratic primary. Hansen was aligned against Harold Washington in City Hall, but he had cosponsored the failed gay rights ordinance and supported increases in the city's AIDS budget. Because of this, gay and lesbian leaders were reluctant to vote against Hansen; they considered him a friend.
Sable's "greatest resistance came from the gay community itself," says Victor Salvo, who was Sable's field operations manager in 1987. "They were not thinking in terms of electing one of their own. The Human Rights Ordinance hadn't passed. We were basically pariahs in the total political landscape when Ron chose to run."
At the time about a third of the 44th Ward's registered voters were gay or lesbian, and this community was much less troubled by Sable's race than its leadership was. Sable's offices soon filled with volunteers. Checks also began pouring in, and everyone realized that the race would be close. "He raised more money and spent more money than anyone had up to that point running for alderman," says Rick Garcia. Sable's campaign pulled in more than $150,000, which, Garcia says, "in that day was unheard of."
The community's enthusiasm nearly pushed Sable to victory. A Windy City Times editorial endorsing Sable read, "All in all, Sable will give the gay and lesbian community the representation it deserves in Chicago government. This political representation would be a first in Chicago's history, similar in importance to the election of San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk, and comparable to political breakthroughs for women, blacks, Hispanics, and others. And, Sable's election will give thousands of gay and non-gay citizens a true source of accountability and progress."
Hansen defeated Sable, but Sable received 46.3 percent of the vote. The gay and lesbian community celebrated his loss as a victory, and Windy City Times called him "a political pioneer forging the way for future generations of gays and lesbians." IMPACT, the gay and lesbian political action committee, was founded by former Sable campaign workers. Others helped organize Chicagoans for a trip to the 1987 gay rights march in Washington. Meanwhile, political and service organizations to fight AIDS were multiplying rapidly. "Within a matter of two years, everything had changed as far as the community's perception of itself," Salvo says.
Affected by that change was the city's gay-rights ordinance. A new group, the Gay and Lesbian Town Meeting, redrafted the bill to outlaw discrimination based on other categories of "human rights" as well, such as disability and marital status. The group's leaders--Jon-Henry Damski, Rick Garcia, Art Johnston, and Laurie Dittman, then director of the Independent Voters of Illinois-Independent Precinct Organization--were dubbed "the Gang of Four." They went to individual aldermen and appealed for their support, winning over such longtime opponents as the 14th Ward's Edward Burke. Throughout the fall of 1988 the City Council debated the bill. Mayor Eugene Sawyer took up their cause, and they received support from Richard Daley, the Cook County state's attorney. On December 21, 1988, the bill passed. Rick Garcia recalled, in a 1993 Chicago Tribune article, the atmosphere in City Hall after the bill passed. "There was none of the usual scurrying around," he said. "As soon as it was over, I had a feeling of blessed relief."
By 1991 the political situation of gays and lesbians in Chicago had changed completely. Mayor Daley, under pressure from activists, participated in a Lakeview antiviolence march and backed a bill to substantially increase AIDS funding in the city. Cook County clerk David Orr appointed as his deputy Brandon Neese, his openly gay right-hand man from the 49th Ward. Neese's impeccable status in the gay community and among mainstream politicians raised hopes that an antidiscrimination bill would soon be in place across the county.
Things had also changed in the 44th Ward. Bernard Hansen, whose support of gays and lesbians had previously been seen as tepid, became their most ardent defender in City Hall after nearly losing his seat to Sable. He traveled to Washington to march with a gay and lesbian delegation from Chicago, supported domestic partnership legislation, and pushed for a hate-crimes bill and increased AIDS funding. But even though Hansen's standing among gays and lesbians had improved enormously, Ron Sable decided to make another run at him in 1991.
Sable had angered prominent activists in recent years by pushing what they felt was a broadly progressive agenda over a progay one. He also was criticized for not championing the same issues that Hansen had come out so strongly on. "He was a progressive before anything else," says Rick Garcia. "Also, he would say, 'I am not a gay candidate. I am a candidate who happens to be gay.' It was a nuance, but to some of us it was an offensive nuance." Sable's support among gays dropped off considerably. Windy City Times, this time around, endorsed Hansen over an openly gay candidate.
"We believe it is imperative that qualified gays and lesbians everywhere run for and win elective office," the editorial read. "But it is not enough to be a worthwhile 'gay' candidate. One must first be a worthwhile candidate, period." The paper asserted that Sable's "progressive" agenda would make it very difficult for him to push legislation through the City Council. "Hansen actually, yes--ironically--impresses us as the better candidate on gay/lesbian issues," the editorial read. "The trouble with Sable is that the City Council would be presented with his politicized version of the same legislative package and he would not have the communicative wherewithal to deliver it successfully."
Hansen won the primary handily.
By gaining significant mainstream allies in high political places, the gay and lesbian community had decreased the urgency of electing one of its own. A winning candidate would have to be able to walk the line between gay and lesbian and mainstream politics. "Can somebody openly gay successfully run for elective office today?" asks Adrienne Goodman. "Not unless they have a whole laundry list of other extremely important qualities to be taken seriously, not the least of which, but certainly down near the bottom, would be the fact that they're openly gay."
At an IMPACT political committee meeting in November 1992, Tom Chiola told some people that he was considering running for judge. Michael Bauer, a lawyer who became Chiola's fund-raising chairman, was excited by the idea. "I told Tom that if he ran, I would bust my ass to do everything possible to help him win," Bauer says. "I didn't expect him to take me up on it."
Soon after, Chiola started making the rounds, showing up at political fund-raisers, parades, festivals, and other events. There was a lot for him to attend to, because the Eighth Judicial Subcircuit is a huge, unwieldy district that encompasses five wards and includes pieces of seven others. It runs from Chinatown on the south to Edgewater on the north, and includes large chunks of the northwest side. It's as ethnically and politically diverse as an election district can get, and Chiola covered every group he possibly could, asking for advice from hundreds of people.
"You name the faction of the community, and he was there," Rick Garcia says. "He was liberal, independent, progressive, conservative, regular Democrat, independent Democrat. He knew who everybody was. You would ask him, 'Have you talked to so-and-so yet?' and nine times out of ten he would say yes. But there was always that one chance where he would say, 'Oh, no, but I should,' and he would do it, he would follow through. He was solid."
Chiola didn't rule anyone out in his political travels. "We made a serious effort to the Asian American community," he says. "They are so similar to the gay and lesbian community in that they have never won an office in the city of Chicago. They're still looking for their political breakthrough. I could go to a group like that and say, "Look, we have a commonality of interests here. Our communities should be working together to build the coalitions that we need to get our people elected, just as every other emerging political group has done over the years."
Chiola's main focus was still the gay community, and he first went about firming up his gay base. The first decision he made was to work a pink triangle, an international symbol for gay rights, into his campaign posters and literature. This was both a key political statement and a way of distinguishing himself from the typically obscure pack in a judicial race. "Because of the triangle, no matter what he did, no matter what kind of literature he had out there, there was no question who he was," Goodman says.
Chiola also built up his gay and lesbian political credentials, which meant, among other things, working on the county and state human rights ordinances. In 1993, the night before a vote on the state bill in the Illinois House, Governor Jim Edgar showed up at a fund-raiser for the Illinois Federation for Human Rights. It was the first gay event he'd ever attended, and he was persuaded to attend by his staff, who'd been prodded by Chiola.
Chiola and Bauer also cooked up a definitive fund-raising strategy for the campaign, setting a goal of $35,000 by the end of 1993 and $70,000 by the end of the campaign. "Thirty-five thousand dollars was a hell of a lot of money for a judicial candidate, and if we had that in the bank, people would take Tom's candidacy very seriously," Bauer says. The campaign received a $1,000 seed grant from IMPACT, and quickly got on the recommended list for the Victory Fund, a nationwide political action committee that channels money to gay and lesbian candidates. Chiola and Bauer ran a direct mail campaign, and hosted more than two dozen private parties in homes, bars, and restaurants. By the end of 1993 the campaign had raised more than $45,000, including several individual donations of more than $500, a $5,000 loan from Chiola's parents, and an additional $3,000 from IMPACT. The culminating fund-raising event came in February 1994, when the campaign threw an enormous cabaret party at the Apollo Theater Center. Although the evening sold out, only about 200 people braved a blizzard to attend. Among the acts the benefit featured was Chiola singing a duet from Mame with John Herrera.
Bauer says the political fund-raising efforts of the gay and lesbian community have changed the attitudes of mainstream politicians toward gay politics."One of the things Tom's candidacy showed them was that our efforts were not rhetorical, that we were willing to raise the dollars necessary to elect our own. We're telling our friends and supporters outside the community that we're also willing to do what is necessary to help you. I don't think that makes us very different from the Jews, African Americans, Hispanics, or Polish, or any minority or ethnic community. We're stepping up to the plate and saying that we have certain needs and interests to be met and we want to be treated like other groups in the society."
Chiola realized the support of traditional movers and shakers was crucial to his getting elected, and he sought out everyone. "In the year and a half before he was elected, there was not a political function at which I did not see Tom Chiola," says Garcia. "Whether it was a NOW function, an IVI-IPO function, an Urban League function, you name it, the guy was there." His movements won him some key endorsements, including those of IVI-IPO, Chicago and Illinois NOW, Cook County Democratic Women, and Personal PAC. He also was recommended by the Women's Bar Association of Illinois.
But not by the Chicago Bar Association. The CBA called three of his opponents "qualified," but about Chiola simply said, "The committee finds that Mr. Chiola lacks sufficient legal experience to serve as a circuit court judge." Chiola appealed the rating and received another hearing by the CBA, which again did not recommend him. Chiola didn't cry homophobia. He supposes his career with the Department of Professional Regulations simply doesn't seem substantial enough to the CBA.
"He comes from the wrong kind of lawyering," Jon-Henri Damski says. "I don't think they were so worried about the sissy thing. It was the fact that he came from the sissy part of the law."
In an even more serious blow to the campaign, Chiola was not slated by the Democratic Party. The slating process is pure old-style Chicago politics. In the Eighth Subcircuit, Democratic committeemen and committeewomen from the various wards get together and choose which candidates to support. But their votes are weighted according to how many Democratic voters turned out in each ward during the last election. Larger, more heavily Democratic wards like the 42nd, 43rd, and 44th carry the most weight.
There were three slots up for grabs in the Eighth Judicial Subcircuit. One was locked up for Morton Zwick, a friend of George Dunne, the 42nd Ward committeeman. Another was given to John Brady, who belonged to 43rd Ward committeewoman Peg Roth. The third choice, more or less, was Bernard Hansen's to make. Chiola had met with Hansen several times during the campaign, and Hansen had promised his support. But Diann Marsalek also wanted to be a judge. Marsalek, a year and a half out of law school, was a family friend of the Hansens and the godchild of Cook County Board commissioner Ted Lechowicz, an influential local politician who'd helped Hansen become alderman.
Hansen desperately wanted to keep everyone happy. He couldn't afford to offend his gay constituency, but he also couldn't offend his longtime political base. He decided that his neighborhood ties were too strong to break, and chose Marsalek. "That was a real hornet's nest that he [Hansen] stepped into," says Victor Salvo. "I can appreciate the difficult political position he was placed in . But I still feel that it was a no-brainer, that he made the wrong decision."
Scrambling for support, the Chiola campaign put pressure on the regular Democrats. Hansen was bombarded with calls from angry activists, and the campaign began some political maneuvering of its own. Chiola was first to declare which of the three slots he was going to run for, forcing the other candidates to choose whether or not to run against him. He chose slot A, Brady B, and Zwick C. Under pressure now from Hansen and regular Democrats not to run against Chiola, even though it would mean challenging a slated Democrat instead, Marsalek picked slot B.
"It got to the point that, through our manipulation of the political system, I was in a race without a slated candidate," Chiola says. "That allowed every one of the committeemen to come on board, because there wasn't anyone that they'd be forced by party loyalty to support."
In the five major wards of the Eighth Subcircuit, Chiola received the support of every Democratic committeeman and committeewoman except George Dunne, who endorsed one of Chiola's opponents, Ann Houser, a former Republican. Chiola's other major challenger was A.C. Cunningham, an African American sitting judge. In addition to support from the major wards, Chiola also received endorsements from political leaders from wards partly contained in his district. These included congressman Bobby Rush and aldermen Terry Gabinski, Pat O'Connor, Eugene Schulter, and Joe Moore.
With Marsalek and Chiola in different races, Hansen was free to tell his precinct captains to turn out the vote for Chiola. "I told Tom that he would have my support," Hansen says. "I told him that he would get it when he needed it. My strategy may have not coincided with some of the people's who were helping him, but I knew it would work. We had numerous meetings, and I kept assuring him that things would be fine. I had to make sure that there were other political organizations and other entities, groups that I know how to work with, that supported him. And that was part of the strategy."
Although Hansen did throw his support behind Chiola, he was forced to do a certain amount of backpedaling. He supported another openly gay candidate, Lisa B. Cohen, in a race against Adrienne Goodman for state Democratic committeewoman. Goodman, a progay incumbent, had been a supporter of gays and lesbians since the Grant Ford campaign. More important, she was a dedicated independent and a political thorn in Hansen's side. Cohen was a regular Democrat, only out since 1989, and had not been active in gay politics. "When we found out that Bernie was not going to support Tom for slating, he said, "I can't, but I'll work it out, I'll make it up to you,"' says Rick Garcia. "He was supporting Lisa Cohen, as if that was going to do anything." Cohen and Goodman ended up splitting the gay and lesbian vote, and Mary Ellen Considine, a political newcomer, won the seat.
Ultimately, Chiola won his election with a large plurality. He pulled in 11,213 votes, or 32.4 percent. Houser, his closest challenger, picked up 25.6 percent of the vote. Chiola carried the 32nd, 40th, 43rd, 44th, 46th, 47th, and 48th wards: Houser won only George Dunne's ward, the 42nd. A.C. Cunningham won in the 2nd, 25th, and 27th. Chiola carried the 44th Ward handily, receiving 2,978 votes to Houser's 1,449 and Cunningham's 1,101. "The numbers are there," Garcia says. "Bernie had to turn out the vote for Tom. If Tom didn't do as well as he did here, that would have not only been bad for the gay and lesbian community in town, but also for Bernie Hansen, because people would have blamed him."
Now that Chiola has been nominated, he is pretty much out of the political picture for the gay and lesbian community. "The judgeship races are not good races to build a community movement around," says Art Johnston, "because you are not actually putting a leader into a position where he or she can effect great changes. When you elect a judge, you basically move them out of influence. In essence, you're kicking them upstairs and out of activism."
Now other gays and lesbians are looking at running for office. The Victory Fund, the nationwide gay and lesbian PAC, recently held its first "candidates training school" in Chicago for potential gay and lesbian office seekers. Chiola attended, as did about 20 other people looking to break into the electoral scene, and learned the basics of local politics--fund-raising and voter registration strategies, public speaking, and asking for support.
Most major state and county officials now have at least one openly gay or lesbian person on their staff, and these high-ranking appointees may have the connections necessary to run a campaign. Some potential candidates include assistant Cook County state's attorney Michael McHale; Ellen Meyers, the gay and lesbian liaison for Cook County state's attorney Jack O'Malley; and deputy Cook County clerk Brandon Neese. Potential private sector candidates include Amy Maggio, director of Stop AIDS/Chicago, and Tom Tunney, owner of Ann Sather's restaurant, whose name is often bandied about as a potential challenger to Bernard Hansen.
"The next series of candidates are going to have to have something to offer to the wider community," Chiola says. "They've got to be able to be responsive to a whole series of problems that transcend sexuality, and if they can't do that they're not going to be successful. I don't know of any candidate to date that has won only on gay and lesbian votes anywhere in this country. We've got to build the coalitions that our campaign was trying to create. If the next group of candidates continues to make inroads on what we were trying to do, then they've got a better chance of being successful."
Sebastian Patti, an openly gay lawyer with the United States Environmental Protection Agency in Chicago, is planning to run for an Eighth Judicial Subcircuit seat in 1996. As a federal employee, Patti is prohibited from officially going about the business of running for office, but he is letting his intentions be widely known. "I think telling people I'm going to run is probably the most important thing I can engage in as a candidate," he says, "and I think there's only one way you can do that. It's to have a meeting with a friend, with an associate, with a friend of a friend, with an associate of an associate, over a cup of coffee, over a brewski, over lunch, breakfast, or dinner, whatever. I don't think there's any other way to generate the kind of support and create the kind of interest that is necessary to win otherwise."
Patti says he's already held more than 50 such meetings and is following Tom Chiola's lead. "Tom put together a road map on how to get from point A to point B," he says. Patti plans to run on a "green platform," combining gay and lesbian votes with endorsements from environmental groups, as well as regular Democratic support. "I'm not writing anyone off," he says, "because if you don't ask someone for their support and help, you're sure not going to get it. I'm including on my list anyone who will return a phone call."
Brandon Neese, who says he would like to run for public office eventually, says Chiola's election was vital for gays and lesbians in Chicago but that further steps need to be taken. "The next step is to elect people to legislative office, the City Council, the county commission, the state legislature, so that we have people making policies working with other politicians as their peers."
Carrie Barnett, co-owner of People Like Us, a gay and lesbian bookstore in Lakeview, is touted as another potential candidate. Barnett says she's amused at the confluence between Chicago politics and the gay and lesbian community. More than 80 straight politicians showed up at a recent IMPACT fund-raiser, and more and more are marching in the gay pride parade every year. "These guys aren't dumb," Barnett says. "They know what they're doing. Elections are coming up, and they want their names associated with the gay and lesbian community. Bernie Hansen came up to me during the gay pride parade where I was standing on the sideline. He shook my hand and gave me a kiss on the cheek. I thought, "What am I, a baby?"'
Barnett, who also attended the Victory Fund's candidates training school, says she's begun attending political events, as well as spending more time with people who are politically involved. "I've got my eye more strictly on my district," she says. "I haven't decided what I'm going to run for. But I'll say this much: I'm not going to run unless I'm sure I'm going to win."
Chiola is enjoying his celebrity in the months before he becomes a judge. He walked in Chicago's gay pride parade in June, and was asked to speak at the parade in Lansing, Michigan. In New York this summer, Chiola marched in the 25th anniversary celebration of the Stonewall riots and attended a fund-raiser for the Victory Fund, where he received a standing ovation along with gay and lesbian elected officials from around the country. He was also one of more than 15,000 athletes who participated in Gay Games IV in New York. He swam and ran the triathlon. (In the 1990 Gay Games, held in Vancouver, Canada, Chiola brought home a silver medal in bowling.)
A dedicated athlete, Chiola sometimes got crabby during the campaign, friends say, because he missed his regular workouts. "At some of the speaking engagements I would go to, he would be there in a suit, and I would think, "Gee, if they could just see Tom in a bathing suit,"' says Lori Cannon. "If he'd put on a Speedo, put on a tank top, he'd have their vote."
Besides serving on the board of directors at different times, Chiola has run the Metropolitian Sports Association's 16-inch softball league and Proud to Run, its annual 10-kilometer race. His involvement in the gay sports club also helped his campaign. "It was kind of like having your brother-in-law run," says Lora Kirk, a former MSA president. Softball and volleyball buddies of Chiola's who had never considered electoral politics before stood on street corners during election season passing out his literature. "Guys who I bowled with were at the bowling alley telling people they better get out and vote for me," Chiola says.
Chiola doesn't know where he'll end up as judge. He could be deciding criminal cases next year, or he could end up in traffic court. Of course, Chiola says, being openly gay won't influence how he administers the law, but he says that in custody cases he might have a better understanding of gay and lesbian parents or people with AIDS. He's gone on record as saying these are areas where some of the Cook County judiciary needs work. "Every judge filters what he or she hears through their life experiences," he says. "You can't expect anything else to happen--we're all human. So what would you do if your life experiences didn't include, or you didn't think they included, being around gay and lesbian folks, and suddenly one appears to you? If all you knew was that they were considered to have no morals, with no sense of responsibility and family and community, then you'd have a very different picture of them than I would."
Chiola says he's glad the campaign is over, for his contact with old-fashioned Chicago politics was a bit disheartening. Driving home from the mayor's gay pride reception, he reflected on the campaign. "The unappealing part of running is knowing that folks involved in traditional politics still had disproportionate influence on who was going to be elected," he said. "You knew you had to go and meet with these people and become attractive to them because of the mutual interest you had. Our number-one goal was to get elected, to finally make the electoral breakthrough. That's not to say we would have done anything to get elected, but you certainly have to meet with everybody and talk to everybody, whether you agree with those individual agendas or not.
"But you want to know what the worst thing about the campaign was?" he said. "I mean, look at me, I'm athletic, I've got a good sense of humor, I'm going to be a judge, for God's sake! And this entire campaign, with all the people I met, and all the functions I went to, I didn't get a single date."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Robert Drea.