LAKEVIEW — The owner of a punk lifestyle shop and a lingerie and sex shop in Lakeview will be running for alderman of the 44th Ward in 2015.
Mark Thomas, the entrepreneur behind The Alley, Taboo Tabou and other counterculture businesses at the corner of Clark and Belmont, said it's time for a change in Lakeview — and he'll bring it in the form of a website where residents and businesses can voice their opinion on ward decisions, he said.
"I want them to be part of my decision-making process," he said. "I’m calling it hyperlocal democracy. I think that’s what makes me really different from everyone else in the office."
Thomas indicated months ago politics might be in his future, and he'll formally announce the bid at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the empty storefront at 3222 N. Clark St., two doors south of The Alley.
Thomas has supported current Ald. Tom Tunney in the past, but the two had disagreements last fall starting with sewer main construction. Thomas and Tunney then butted heads after Assistant Cook County State's Attorney Sarah Naughton was accused of biting one of Thomas's employees.
Tunney had no comment. He won the last election after resident David Winner dropped out of the race.
But Thomas thinks running for alderman is beyond "Tom and I," he said.
Thomas, who's owned stores in the neighborhood since the 1980s, thinks the ward website forum he built will bring the community together — and neighbors will be represented by more than just the neighborhood groups that currently exist.
"They've only been able to reach the people who are willing to come to meetings," he said. "This is a way for them to engage a much larger percentage of their residents."
The website "We the People 44," which is already live, features a forum for people to post neighborhood concerns and news that will be moderated for length and discrimination, much like EveryBlock did.
Regular town hall meetings will be broadcast live, and people who can't make it to the meeting will be able to ask questions through the site or Twitter, Thomas said.
Issues will be voted on by registered voters in the ward, businesses in the ward and residents who are not registered to vote, with registered voters having the most privileges and weight since "they're the tail that wags the dog," he said.
Thomas would make a decision with different votes in mind.
"We know that I'm not going to make everybody happy," he said. "I would hope that if someone didn't win their vote they would see that 'that guy Mark Thomas heard what we had to say and integrated some of what we said. At least somebody's listening.'"
Thomas's ambitions run beyond being alderman in the 44th Ward. He plans to make the website available to anybody who asks, with hopes it will change the way people engage with politics.
Even if he doesn't win, the site taking off would make him "a big winner," he said.
"I think that I represent a different way of elected or potentially elected people communicating with their residents," he said. "I think this is the future of politics in America."
The goal for transparency extend to his donation philosophy, too, he said. If he becomes alderman, Thomas promises to not take donations from developers or liquor license holders 90 days before or after they ask for city approval on changes.
And when they're not looking for changes, he will limit the amount of money he takes from them so that developers cannot buy access over registered voters and residents, he said.
"I'm not going to let big money be an issue in making the ward right," he said, acknowledging that it may make it more difficult for him to raise money.
The businessman has lived in Avondale with his wife for years but just signed a lease to live in Lakeview. He doesn't see his residency as an issue — he's spent most of his waking hours in the 44th Ward for years, he said.
He helped start and run the Central Lakeview Merchants, helped run its corresponding special service area and has helped combat crime in the neighborhood over the years, he said. People know him here, he said.
Oh, and owning stores that sell dildos, cigars and tattoos? That's pretty normal for Lakeview nowadays, Thomas said.
"I certainly am in an edgy business," he said. "But this is an edgy community."