Sun Times - Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) acknowledged Monday he “made a mistake” by allowing some of his regular customers to dine inside his Ann Sather Restaurants in defiance of state and city orders banning indoor dining.
In late October, Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered Illinois restaurants to close their dining rooms for a second time since the pandemic to stop a second surge of coronavirus cases that was worse than the first.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot initially voiced her concern about the devastating impact on Chicago restaurants, then came away from an hourlong meeting with the governor resigned to the rollback.
On Monday, Tunney openly acknowledged having defied the governor’s order.
“We have, on occasion, sat regular diners in the back of the restaurant. I acknowledge that. It’s not OK. I made a mistake, and I’m owning up to it. I should have not sat regular customers in my restaurant whatsoever,” said Tunney, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s handpicked chairman of the City Council’s Zoning Committee.
“I have a lot of repeat customers over the years. On a sporadic basis, I have let regular customers — very few and far between — in my store. I made an error.”
Tunney was asked why he chose to defy the state and city orders. Was it because his restaurant was fighting for survival during a pandemic that has forced many Chicago restaurants to close?
“Everyone’s struggling,” he said. “I’m not gonna equate my situation with anyone else’s.”
Under repeated questioning about how many customers he had served indoors, Tunney hung up on a Chicago Sun-Times reporter.
In a statement released minutes later, the aldermen said, “On a sporadic basis, we have allowed a very limited number of our regular diners to eat inside the restaurant while observing social distancing and mask-wearing rules. This was error in judgment and won’t happen again.”
When I first moved to Chicago I had absolutely zero clue what the fuck an alderman was. Had never heard of one before.
Then one day in one of my 100 level poly sci classes a couple kids were discussing them with the professor and I thought they were talking about some old medieval feudal lords or something. (Fun fact - Turns out Aldermen actually were traditionally high-ranking officials in Anglo-Saxon England, often presiding in a shire. The term alderman comes from the Old English title of ealdorman, which means "elder man" or "older man)
So began a two-decade introduction into the ass-backward political dealings with them and the city I would encounter.
For people born and growing up here, it's totally normal that there are "public servants" that operate like neighborhood capos and wield more power than the city's mayor. They're not used to anything else.
Carl did an amazing job highlighting just what being a Chicago alderman affords you in the City Of Chicago back when the Ed Burke shit hit the fan. (Remember that?)
You're basically a made man is what it comes down to.
To get anything done as a business owner, developer, homeowner, etc. you HAVE to go through the alderman in your ward. A position within a system that was theoretically set up with good intentions a long time ago became one of the most abused positions of power in the United States. In fact, one of the major reasons Lori Lightfoot won election (aside from 20 other candidates dividing up votes) was that she ran on a platform to end the corruption in Chicago and specifically do away with "Aldermanic-privilege".
But I digress.
Alderman Tunney has been a divisive figure in Chicago politics since becoming an alderman in 2003. He's brash, outspoken, and unafraid of anybody.
Back before politics he worked in hospitality, and is in a sense, self-made. There's a lot to respect about the guy make no mistake-
Returning from college, Tunney moved into the Lakeview neighborhood. Hearing that Ann Sather was retiring and closing her restaurant in Lakeview in 1981, Tunney met with Sather, offering a proposal to purchase her business. Tunney gained full ownership of the Ann Sather Restaurant and expanded it into a successful local chain.
Tunney joined several prestigious entrepreneurial circles and became chairman of the Illinois Restaurant Association. He founded and led the Lakeview Center Business Association and White Crane Wellness Center. As a result of his success, Tunney was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1995.
He used his restaurants as town halls for neighborhood meetups making a name for himself amongst several grass roots organizations and landing himself a chair on the small business subcommittee of the Chicago Economic Development Committee. He parlayed that into a position on the infamous Mayor Daley Chicago Parking Task Force (the committee that steered the Mayor's golden parachute outsourcing of all city parking meters to a private company)
Here's where it gets interesting-
In 2002, just months before the 2003 municipal elections, 44th Ward Alderman Bernie Hansen announced that he would retire. Hansen resigned just months before the election so as to allow the mayor to appoint the replacement alderman. Mayor Richard M. Daley, with Hansen's consent, nominated Tunney to replace Hansen in December 2002. Tunney's nomination was confirmed by a 41–0 vote of the city council on January 16, 2003, and, with wide support in the Democratic Party, Tunney was elected to a four-year term as alderman on February 25, 2003. He has been re-elected four times, in 2007, 2011, 2015, and 2019.
During his campaign Tunney claimed that he would address the potential conflict of interest which would arise through his business arrangements by selling his interest in four restaurants. After being elected and sworn in, Tunney decided not to sell.
Quite the rise.
There's a reason the Tribune's John Kass calls him "Alderman Littlefinger"
Most recently he stood up to a million dollar-backed opponent that the Ricketts' family supported in the 2019 election-winning handily. (Sidebar- an alderman friend of mine told me Tunney & staff's battle cry during the campaign was "If you shoot at the king, you better kill him", meaning there's going to be hell to pay for the defeated opposition. Very GoT-esque. Kinda respect it).
It also brought us this fantastic soundbyte from Tunney-
So that is the backstory, which brings us to today's news.
While seeing to it that Governor Pritzker's restrictions on small businesses and restaurants are being enforced across his ward and throughout the rest of the city, we all came to find out today that Alderman Tunney has been playing by his own set of rules with his own establishment.
Making this crystal clear for the haters, I have zero issues whatsoever with a business owner doing what they can in order to allow their employees and their business a fighting chance. Everybody is doing whatever they can right now to try and find a way to keep their employees employed, their vendors employed, and their rent paid so that they can see the other side of this thing. Tunney and Ann Sather are no different.
What I do have a problem with is Chicago politicians, for the billionth time now, not practicing what they preach, and thinking that they are above the law. Hypocrisy isn't even the right term to use anymore because it's been so beaten to death.
Add to the fact that you have Alderman Tunney rejecting applications from restaurants in his ward seeking to expand their outdoor patio (because that's all we're allowed to do now) and get a few extra tables to sit people at (again, to try to survive). Meanwhile, you have him seating people indoors in his own place.
p.s. - The best part of this story was that it was broken by one of my favorite things to come from this whole Covid nightmare, the "Second City Cop" blog.
A good friend of mine who's a city cop put me onto this blog this summer. It was kind of an underground forum for the city's police to get on anonymously and vent about all the bullshit they had to deal with regarding city hall and the mayor. It was also a place for them to air out just how blatantly hypocritical these assholes truly were. Really good stuff that, as bad as I was dying to post publicly, I was afraid to because I didn't want anybody to get in trouble.
Well now it seems it's wide out in the open.