A restaurateur whose Swedish restaurants are known for dishing out decadent cinnamon rolls is expected to be the first openly gay alderman to serve on the Chicago city council. Mayor Richard M. Daley nominated businessman Tom Tunney on Thursday to succeed Alderman Bernard Hansen, who retired last month, citing health reasons, after more than 19 years on the council. Tunney's nomination still must be confirmed by the city council, but the council almost never opposes the mayor. Tunney would represent an area on Chicago's north side that is as well known for its gay nightclubs as it is for Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. A spokesman for the mayor said the council likely would vote on Tunney's nomination at its next meeting, January 16.
Daley hailed Tunney, owner of Ann Sather restaurants, as a community leader. "Tom understands the needs of small businesses as well as their value to the Chicago economy," the mayor said in a press release. The mayor also told reporters, "It is a completely different type of society we've got today. It's much more open and understanding." If Tunney is confirmed, he will be guaranteed the alderman's job for only a short time because Hansen's 44th ward seat is up for grabs in the February 25 city elections. Tunney is one of six candidates in the election hoping to win a four-year term to represent the 44th ward on the 50-member city council.
"My personality is, I'm openly gay, I'm comfortable with who I am, I'm comfortable with representing a very diverse community, and I'm a hard worker," said the 47-year-old Tunney. Around the country, there are 238 known openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual elected officials out of more than 500,000 positions at the local, state, and federal levels, according to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based group that supports gay candidates for office.
Tunney, who has been active in neighborhood and city groups, had the backing of the just-retired Hansen and the ward's Democratic organization. "Tom is our choice because we feel he can do the best job to represent the entire community, everybody--the residents, the merchants, the institutions," said Hansen, 58, in an earlier interview. Booming residential development and plans to expand Wrigley Field are among the issues in the ward, which city officials say has about 31,300 registered voters. The Chicago-based statewide gay rights organization Equality Illinois already has thrown its support behind one of Tunney's opponents, real estate attorney Rick Ingram, in the February election. Ingram also is gay. Nonetheless, the group's political director, Rick Garcia, commended Daley for choosing Tunney to fill the vacant seat. "I think it's a good thing that we have an openly gay alderman," he said.