LAKEVIEW — Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) endorsed candidates for this week's local school council elections, including a controversial former Chicago Board of Education candidate — an act that unsettled residents who saw it as "old-time Chicago politics."
Tunney sent an email from his campaign fund, Citizens for Tunney, on Thursday endorsing several people, including former Chicago Board of Education member Rodrigo Sierra, for community representative at Blaine Elementary.
Sierra's candidacy has raised eyebrows considering Blaine's current school council has been outspoken against the mayor's policies with school budgets — including LSC member Kate Schott Bolduc, who is running against Sierra for community representative in Monday's election.
News of Tunney's endorsement unsettled some Blaine community members; some said it was inappropriate for the alderman to politicize races for volunteer positions.
"It smells fishy," said parent Jeff Luchs. "It seems there's something out there. You know, it's kind of old-time Chicago politics that you kind of get a taste of at the little Blaine LSC level, so it's a worry."
"The whole thing seems kind of peculiar to me," said parent Chris Peckham.
Tunney said by phone Saturday that he's known Sierra "on a personal basis for many, many years" and that it's important for aldermen to get involved in school elections.
"It's America," he said. "We all need to be involved in schools. Schools are important to our community. Having the right people is part of democracy."
He said that in the past, he's endorsed candidates if he knew them personally, just as he did this time.
"To be honest with you, we're all judged by the quality of our schools," Tunney said. "We need to get involved with the schools."
But Tunney has generally been "absent" from Blaine, said parent Steve McKenzie, who lives in Ald. Ameya Pawar's (47th) ward. Tunney's desire to get involved seemed "sudden" and surprised McKenzie and parents he spoke with, he said.
"Seems more about politics than some deep interest in the welfare of Blaine's students," McKenzie said.
And school council members are different from typical elected positions because they're volunteers — not paid politicians, said Bolduc, who's served on the council since fall 2011.
Bolduc, who spearheaded a coalition of school councils against cuts last year, is running for community representative again, campaigning with resident Jeremy Mullin.
The council is supposed to be about supporting the school, and endorsements from elected officials send the message to future candidates that being politically connected is a necessity to serve, Bolduc said.
"We don't need to be former CPS board members," she said. "We don't need to be friends with the mayor. Any resident in the city can and should have an incentive to serve our students."
Tunney also endorsed Heather Way Kitzes, the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce executive director, for community representative at Inter-American Magnet School and Stacey Paradis and Arnold Davis for Lake View High School's school council.
Paradis serves on Hamilton Elementary's school council, and Davis serves on Nettelhorst's school council, Tunney said in the endorsement.
Lake View High School, 4015 N. Ashland Ave., is in Pawar's ward, though many of its feeder schools are in Tunney's boundaries. Part of Blaine's attendance area is also in Pawar's ward.
Pawar said the comment was not directed at Tunney but due to other factors, such as organizations asking him to endorse candidates. The alderman refused, saying that it's inappropriate for paid elected officials to endorse or recruit specific people in school council elections.
He regularly encourages people in general to run, but will never endorse a person, he said.
Political endorsements open up LSC candidates to the scrutiny that comes with "nasty local politics" — something volunteers working to build a school community shouldn't be subject to, Pawar said.
"Any alderman weighing in creates a cloud of 'What’s happening here?'" he said. "There’s enough cynicism already."
Though he declined to comment on any particular race, he said "it's curious" to see how some council races are playing out at schools that were slower to approve last year's controversial budgets.