As a restaurateur, Tom Tunney is the perfect alderman for the 44th Ward. Running Lake View, the city’s densest, busiest neighborhood, is not much different from overseeing a kitchen on Saturday night.
I once visited Tunney’s ward office, to interview him for a book I was writing.
As he walked back to his sanctuary, paper coffee cup in the fore, he was intercepted by frantic aides.
“I got a call from the elementary school, they say they need a pick-up zone in the morning and the afternoon,” one said.
“We need to work on a date for the Jimmy Buffet concert in Wrigley Field,” another pestered.
“Okay,” Tunney barked. “We’ll do that this afternoon. I’m going to be in a MEETING HERE!”
One of an alderman’s most important functions is housekeeping, and nobody has more housekeeping to do than Tunney, who has to balance the interests of a major league baseball stadium, a string of nightclubs and bars, a harbor, a gay ghetto, and wealthy, politically assertive homeowners who can always move to the suburbs if they don’t like they way things are going in Lake View.
But the Sun-Times is now accusing Tunney of playing favorites in a conflict between the Cubs and the neighborhood they define. Tunney is opposing the team’s plan to put up billboards that will block the view of rooftop clubs across the street. The newspaper sees a connection between Tunney’s decision and the clubs’ generosity to his campaign funds.
The checks to the Citizens for Tunney fund included $2,500 from George Loukas — who owns the Cubby Bear Lounge as well as rooftop clubs — and $1,000 apiece from Ivy League Baseball Club and Right Field Rooftop LLC, owners of the Skybox on Sheffield club.
That makes at least $171,356.50 in all that Tunney has received from owners of the clubs, which offer fans a rooftop vantage to see Cubs games.
That’s nearly 10 percent of all the campaign money the North Side alderman has raised since he ran successfully for his first Chicago City Council term in 2003, according to a Chicago Sun-Times analysis of campaign-finance records.
Rooftop club owners have given another $15,675 to Tunney’s Democratic organization in the 44th Ward, which includes Wrigley.
The Cubs receive a royalty from the clubs, but the team’s owner, the Ricketts family, may figure billboards are a surer thing, especially since some clubs have experienced financial difficulties since the recession began. It’s an issue no other baseball team faces, since no other major-league stadium is so well-integrated into an urban neighborhood. That’s just another reason Tunney has the most challenging job on the City Council.
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