Veteran Wrigleyville Ald. Tom Tunney talked up his clash with Chicago Cubs ownership Monday, trading barbs with two political challengers who seek to control his popular city ward and stoking an election fight that’s spurred an unusual amount of sports talk radio chatter.
One of Tunney’s rivals in the February municipal election has won modest support from the Cubs-owning Ricketts family, while team Chairman Tom Ricketts has blasted the incumbent alderman for interfering with Wrigley Field renovations and a team-sponsored building boom.
But Tunney defended his attempts to influence property development in the Lakeview area surrounding the Cubs’ world-famous ballpark during an appearance Monday before the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board.
“Nobody tells them what to do with their private property,” Tunney said of the Ricketts family. “There, I think the role of government (is) negotiating with the residents, with the other small businesses, to make it more integrated and less Disneyland.
“It’s all about them. I get that. I’m a business guy. I get where they’re coming from. But my role in government is to manage a lot of competing interests. I don’t listen to sports talk radio, but I think at the end of the day, they want an alderman who’s not accountable to the community, but accountable only to them and what they need,” Tunney said.
Tunney, plus challengers Elizabeth Shydlowski and Austin Baidas, also explored ideas to manage Chicago’s huge pension burdens during Monday’s forum.
Tunney called for an inspector general audit of police and fire department finances, which he claimed could generate up to $100 million to help pay a looming city pension bill of $270 million projected for the city’s 2020 budget. Shydlowski and Baidas backed dipping into the city’s tax-increment financing system to generate revenue.
The candidates also discussed term limits and potential changes to practices that allow aldermen to hold lucrative nongovernment jobs, even as they draw a salary to serve in an elected office that offers immense control over a neighborhood’s development.
“The status quo is not working, because we see overall city policies where we want affordable housing being shot down by neighborhood groups and aldermen,” Baidas said.
At the same time, none of those concerns has garnered as much attention as Tunney’s scuffles with Cubs officials over night games, parking, hotel development, garbage pickup and stadium shuttles. The race also has rekindled fresh attention to the club owners’ political inclinations.
Shydlowski — a consultant for the Jack Kemp Foundation and former administrator at government offices including Cook County Chief Judge Tim Evans and former U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk— has raised $25,400 for her campaign fund. That’s a fraction of the cash raised by her rivals but includes a $10,000 contribution received Jan. 1 from Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts.
Sylvie Legere, wife of Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts, who is the Republican National Committee finance chair, chipped in an additional $5,000. Records show Shydlowski also received a $1,500 donation from Crane Kenney, the Cubs’ president of business operations, and $1,000 from Ricketts family spokesman Dennis Culloton.
“I have hundreds of people in the ward who have contributed an average of $25 to $50. Now I have one of the largest business owners in the ward saying, ‘You know what, she’s legit. She’s somebody that we can at least work with,’ ” Shydlowksi said of the support from Cubs officials.
“In the grand scheme of things, as far as political contributions go and what people have done in this city, I’m happy to have the support of a large business in the ward, and I’m not going to be ashamed of the fact that they are my favorite baseball team and my family’s,” she said.
Tunney’s remarks came days after Tom Ricketts took to sports radio to say “working with the alderman has not been very easy.”
“I mean, Tom Tunney has always seen himself as someone who is against the Cubs,” Ricketts said last Thursday on WSCR-AM 670’s “Mully & Haugh Show.”
Baidas, who manages manufactured home communities and worked at the federal Department of Transportation during the Obama administration, is the better funded of Tunney’s opponents. He’s raised more than $360,000 – including $200,000 of his own money. He started the year with $287,000 in cash on hand, records show.
Tunney by far leads the race in fundraising, having raised more than double the amount of his two challengers combined.
The veteran alderman has reeled in $770,000 toward his re-election bid, including a pair of $20,000 contributions from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Richard Melman, founder of restaurant giant Lettuce Entertain You, state campaign finance records show. Tunney reported having $355,000 in cash on hand to start the year.
The city election take places Feb. 26. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote in that race, the election’s top two vote-getters will face off in an April 2 runoff.