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44th Ward Race Takes Shape as Two Challengers to Face Ald. Tunney

By Mina Bloom | January 5, 2015 5:47am
 Candidates running for 44th Ward alderman: Ald. Tom Tunney (l.), Mark Thomas, Scott Davis.
Candidates running for 44th Ward alderman: Ald. Tom Tunney (l.), Mark Thomas, Scott Davis.
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CHICAGO — It's been 12 years since Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) was first elected to City Council. And it's been 12 years since he last faced any opposition in a campaign.

Despite objections filed against them, two candidates will square off against Tunney come February: Mark Thomas, a longtime entrepreneur and owner of The Alley, Taboo Tabou and other shops near Belmont and Clark, and project manager Scott Davis.

Both a lack of campaign funds and name recognition will make it "difficult" for either candidate to unseat Tunney, said Dick Simpson, a former 44th ward alderman and UIC political science professor.

As of Friday, Tunney had raised more than $330,000 in comparison to Davis, who had raised around $10,000, and Thomas, who had raised around $75,000, according to State Board of Election records.

Still, Tunney's challengers might prove to be a thorn in his side if they "raise issues that Tunney would have to respond to," Simpson said.

Arguably the most controversial development issue in Lakeview over the past few years has been the Wrigley Field renovation project.

Tunney has been vocal in his opposition of the plan. He demanded last-minute changes before the plan went to City Council in 2013, and balked at revisions in May 2014.

Another hot-button issue in Lakeview is crime. The neighborhood led the city in robberies in 2013 and continues to see burglaries, though statistics show a slight decrease in overall crime in the ward. Residents have also complained about the disruption and crime caused by the Pride Parade; a survey produced by Tunney's office showed most residents who responded wanted the parade moved elsewhere.

Tunney did not respond to requests for comment.

Despite the criticism Tunney's endured over his term, he is still "mostly supported by the ward," said Simpson, who added that "there is no organized group against him." His donors include real estate and development interests, local businesses and a union, records show.

Last year Tunney said "public safety has been my top priority." But despite his anti-crime stance and the city's assertions that crime is down, the perception, at least, that Lakeview is more dangerous remains. And it's a topic Tunney's opponents have pounced upon.

Thomas said he was a Tunney supporter 12 years ago, and that he's gone to many of his fundraisers. But his opinion has drastically changed.

"We have watched Lakeview go completely to hell over the past 12 years," he said. "We've never had this kind of crime, as many empty storefronts and construction."

"The No. 1 thing I hear about [from residents] is public safety," Davis said, adding that Robin Cook, the general manager of State Restaurant, ran on the public safety issue before he left the race after he was challenged by Tunney.

Thomas pointed to Tunney approving the closure of major streets in Lakeview during the holiday season, which hurt small business sales, as well his vote against raising the city's minimum wage.

Thomas suspended his campaign due to health problems in August but jumped back in the race in October. Now, he's working "seven days a week" to get the word out about his candidacy by knocking on doors, sending emails and talking to residents who are boarding buses in the morning, he said.

"The public is fed up with incumbents that aren't delivering," he said.

If elected, Thomas said he intends to deter crime, interview residents about potential developments, and use results from an online resident survey to make decisions at City Hall, among other things.

But Thomas faces some obstacles. Namely, how few "knockable" doors there are in Lakeview because many people live in high-rise apartment buildings or homes with locked gates, and raising enough money to compete with Tunney, he said.

The same is true for Davis, who having raised around $10,000, is not a current "threat" to Tunney, Simpson said.

A self-described fiscal conservative, Davis serves at the Republican Ward Committeeman for the 44th Ward and is a member of a campaign designed to abolish red light cameras. 

"Unseating an incumbent could be very difficult," Davis admitted. "It's a three-person race so the immediate objective is to get my message out and hopefully force [Tunney] into a run-off in April."

Davis is opposed to raising property taxes and supports the Wrigley Field renovation, saying "I think it will be awesome."

Davis works at an Internet start-up company doing project management. This sets himself apart from his competitors, who are both local businessmen focusing on real estate deals rather than "sound public policy," he said.

He, too, plans on going door-to-door letting residents know of his candidacy.

Fundraising is undeniably his biggest challenge in the race, he said.

"I'm not looking to match what Tunney has raised," Davis said.

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