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Ald. Tom Tunney joins City Council exodus

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), the powerful chairman of the City Council’s Zoning Committee and a key member of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s leadership team, is retiring from the workplace he called “not a good place to work these days.”

“I have always strived to do my best for the residents and businesses in the Lake View community and have been honored by the remarkable opportunity to serve the resident of the 44th Ward for almost twenty years,” Tunney, owner of Ann Sather’s Restaurants, said in a statement released Tuesday, the first day to circulate nominating petitions for alderperson, mayor and other citywide offices.

“I am grateful for the trust they put in me to help lead Lakeview forward in ways that benefited residents, businesses and visitors alike. I will continue to work tirelessly for the ward through my last day on the City Council. As I look ahead, I see so many great ways in which I can continue to give back to the city I love.”

Tunney could not be reached for comment.

His statement cited a long list of accomplishments, including the Center on Halsted, the AIDS Garden and the massive renovation of Wrigley Field and development of the land around it — with no subsidy from Chicago taxpayers.

Implied, but not stated, was that Tunney did battle with the Cubs over all things Wrigley over the last two decades—prompting the billionaire Ricketts family that owns the team to run and bankroll a challenger against him whom Tunney handily defeated.

Tunney’s impending exit after 20 years on the job is no surprise — even though it continues an exodus that promises to change the face of the City Council.

The 20-year veteran alderperson told the Sun-Times earlier this month that he would join the parade — either to challenge Lightfoot or to retire from the Council entirely.

“Property taxes. Less police. It’s not a healthy platform to run on. … I am seriously considering running, and I’m also seriously considering not running,” Tunney said.

“There’s a lot of alderpersons who feel they haven’t been paid much attention to in regards to their needs of their individual wards. There’s a lot of acrimony in the council. …People need to work together. We all need to compromise. … It’s got to happen in the mayor’s office. It’s also got to happen in the aldermanic offices. And I just think that a lot of people feel that it’s not a good place to work these days.”

Tunney’s impending exit speeds the transition to a Chicago City Council that will look dramatically different in the next term.

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) resigned, effective Aug. 12, giving Lightfoot the rare chance to make a third Council appointment.

The mayor already has replaced convicted Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) with Nicole Lee, the Council’s first Chinese American, and Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th) with his sister, Monique.

Scott resigned his City Council seat to take a job with Cinespace Film Studio in his West Side ward.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) is not seeking re-election. Neither is Uptown Ald. James Cappleman (46th), Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) and indicated Ald. Carrie Austin (34th).

Alderperson Howard Brookins (21st) is awaiting an Ethics Board ruling on conflicts posed by his law practice before deciding whether to seek reelection after losing a judicial race.

Alderpersons Sophia King (4th), Roderick Sawyer (6th) and Ray Lopez (15th) are giving up their seats to run for mayor. Ald. George Cardenas (12th), Lightfoot’s deputy floor leader, is leaving after winning a seat on the Cook County Board of Review.

Tunney was appointed in 2002 by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley to fill the vacancy created by the pre-election resignation of Ald. Bernard Hansen.

It was a groundbreaking moment in Chicago politics. At the time, Tunney was Chicago’s first openly gay adult.

Now, Tunney chairs a five-member Gay Caucus. He’s an elder statesman at a political crossroads.

“I never thought I would be an alderman this long. I’m a person who wants to come in, make a difference and move on. A lot of the work that I’ve done has taken more than one term or two terms — ie, the AIDS Garden, the Center on Halsted, some of our legislative priorities. But I’m comfortable — not only in the restaurant business, but in my aldermanic career. I could leave on a high note,” he told the Sun-Times this month.

“I don’t want to overstay so. You’ve seen some of our colleagues over the years who probably have been there too long. … We’ve got to bring new leadership in.”

Tunney is the third member of Lightfoot’s leadership team to signal a break with the mayor that could undermine her re-election bid. The others are Workforce Development Committee Chair Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) and Aviation Committee Chair Matt O’Shea (19th).

He has warned that North lakefront voters who propelled Lightfoot to a first-place finish in the first round of voting in 2019 have soured on the mayor and are “searching for an alternative.”

“It’s safety no. 1. She got good marks for the COVID. But some of the school policies and her friction with [the Chicago Teachers Union] and having kids in school really hurt her in the North lakefront wards,” Tunney said this month.

“A number of our young parents really want to be in public schools. We spent a lot of time on improving neighborhood public high schools — Lake View and Amundsen — to give more choices for our parents. But we’ve seen the enrollment declines. … We’ve got to get them back into our public schools. We’ve got to get them in our high schools. Not just the selective enrollment [schools] but our neighborhood high schools. … Those are the people that any mayor has got to keep in the city.”

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