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Until his recent fall for swapping zoning changes for Viagra, 25th Ward alderman Danny Solis was, in my opinion, the luckiest alderman in Chicago for his ability to dodge his way out of any predicament. But with Danny out of the picture—probably in witness protection for wearing a wire on Alderman Ed Burke—I’m ready to announce a new Alderman Lucky:
Tom Tunney of the 44th Ward.
Man, Tunney’s been graced with the best enemy any reelection-seeking alderman could ask for—the Ricketts family, owner of the Cubs.
The Rickettses say they don’t like Tunney ’cause he’s been “needlessly disrespectful” in negotiations with the family over Wrigley Field development. But the more they complain about him, the more attractive he seems to people who don’t like the Rickettses—a long line that stretches from Clark and Addison to their native state of Nebraska. Let’s see . . .
Sox fans don’t like the Rickettses ’cause—duh, they own the Cubs.
Architectural purists don’t like them because they’ve turned Wrigleyville into the north-side version of Schaumburg.
Democrats don’t like them ’cause one Ricketts (Pete) is the Trump-loving governor of Nebraska and another (Todd) is the Koch-brothers-loving chair of the Republican National Committee.
OK, Laura Ricketts is a Democrat. But she hardly makes up for Papa Joe, the head of the clan. Nobody to the left of Donald Trump likes him after his abominable string of bigoted comments, including the latest batch directed at Muslims.
If the enemy of your enemy is your friend, then Tom Tunney’s got lots of Ricketts hating friends. Maybe Tunney should report opposition from the Ricketts family on his economic-disclosure statements as an in-kind contribution.
It’s a shame too, because there’s a case to be made for ousting Tunney. As service providers go, he’s a dutiful respondent to residents’ complaints. But as a legislator? He’s been an unapologetic rubber-stamper since Mayor Daley appointed him to fill the vacancy caused when his predecessor, Bernie Hansen, stepped down in 2002. Tunney’s supported the parking meter sale and every TIF handout that the recipient didn’t need but got anyway.
One of the few times he broke from the mayor was to vote against Rahm’s proposal to raise the minimum wage. Great, he goes along when it comes to handing out millions to the rich. But when it comes to a measly raise for the working poor he’s Thomas Paine.
Tunney was the only north-side alderman to vote for the Presence TIF deal. In that one, the city gave $5.5 million of your property taxes to Presence, a health care conglomerate that vehemently opposes abortion rights.
Talk about bad twofers. Not only did the city give millions to a wealthy company, but it gave it to an outfit that wants to take women back to the Middle Ages—at least on reproductive rights.
“There’s absolutely no excuse for a public official to deny a woman access to reproductive health care,” says Terry Cosgrove, CEO of Personal PAC, the reproductive rights group. “Tunney’s vote on Presence was shameful.” Cosgrove was an early supporter of Austin Baidas, a former aide to Governor Pat Quinn and President Obama, who’s running against Tunney as a left-of-center progressive pledging to “end TIFs and corporate giveaways.”
“Tunney’s voted 97 percent of the time with the mayor—from the parking meter deal to Presence,” says Baidas. “Tom has voted Ed Burke values—not Lakeview’s values.”
Elizabeth Shydlowski, the third candidate in the race, vows to be an independent (“I won’t serve a mayor or special interest, but I will serve my constituents”). She also calls for a “one-two year moratorium on TIF spending while the City Council runs a full audit of the program.” She says she’s running because soaring taxes have made Lakeview unaffordable for middle-class families like her own.
The rise in property taxes will continue should Mayor Rahm win council approval for the $2.4 billion in TIF handouts he’s seeking for the Lincoln Yards and the 78 developments.
Baidas and Shydlowski say they’d vote against those deals. Tunney didn’t respond for comment, but in a recent letter to constituents he said he’d vote against Lincoln Yards. “I feel it is an unnecessary burden on tax-payers to subsidize this multi-billion dollar private project in any way.” Wow—I couldn’t have said it better myself. Tunney’s newfound vigilance either indicates a radical change of heart or the realization that he’s in a heated reelection campaign.
Shydlowski says she’s an independent—not a Republican—even though she used to work in the Rauner administration. “I’ve voted for Democrats and Republicans,” she says.
On the matter of the Ricketts family, both of them are walking a fine line. Baidas says, yes, he knows Laura Ricketts. But, no, he’s not taking any donations from the family.
Shydlowski says it’s easy for Baidas to be so selective when he comes from a family wealthy enough that he can self-fund his campaign.
She’s accepted $10,000 from Tom Ricketts, $5,000 from Sylvie Legere (Todd Ricketts’s wife), and $2,500 from a couple of Ricketts family employees. But she vows to stand up for the community in any future Wrigley Field developments.
As for the Ricketts family, well, call me cynical, but I think the whole to-do over the Wrigley renovation was like one of those carefully choreographed melodramas (not unlike Rahm’s squabble with Rauner). In this one, Rahm played the good cop, Tunney played the bad cop, and the Rickettses got pretty much everything they wanted.
Not surprisingly, they see it differently, according to Dennis Culloton, the family’s spokesperson.
“Tunney has been unnecessarily disrespectful,” says Culloton. Especially his “up the butt” assertion. In that one he declared: “I’m gonna be up the butt everyday to make sure that the commitments the Ricketts make” get kept.
Culloton also disagrees with my theory that the Rickettses have actually benefited Tunney’s reelection chances. “If they had not raised any concerns about Tunney, he wouldn’t have any competition,” says Culloton.
Well, Mr. Culloton, as if to prove my point, a few days after our conversation, the Sun-Times joined the Tribune in endorsing Tunney for, you guessed it, standing up to the Ricketts family—standing up to Rahm and Daley being something else. Sigh.
Hey, Alderman Tunney—on Valentine’s Day, you might want to send some chocolates to the Rickettses. Lord knows, they’ve earned it. v