The exhausting Chicago election cycle continues. Once the midterm and gubernatorial races were resolved, the Windy City was already midstream in campaigning for the 2023 municipal elections Feb. 28 (with runoffs April 4).
Chicago could very well see a significant pivot in its municipal politics in 2023. A contentious term, not to mention some campaign missteps, ensured that incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot, our first openly lesbian mayor, will not have an easy reelection. At the same time, numerous city council members are stepping down with, in some cases, multiple candidates vying to fill their slots.
Windy City Times is pleased to see so many members of Chicago’s LGBTQ+ community among those in the candidate pool.
Even the incumbents among them are not a homogenous bunch. Some, such as Alds. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward) and Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd Ward), are committed to progressive causes. Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th Ward) publicly professes a tough-on-crime stance and has publicly feuded with Lightfoot, even taking to Fox News to make his cases. Meanwhile, incumbent Ald. Timmy Knudsen (43rd Ward), newly appointed this past fall, tasked with representing the diverse needs of one of the most affluent wards in Chicago, will surely carve out a unique path, provided he is elected to a full term.
This upcoming term will also see the departure of two very prominent openly gay council members, Alds. Tom Tunney (44th Ward) and James Cappleman (46th Ward). Tunney was the first openly gay man to be elected to the City Council back in 2003; Cappleman followed in 2011.
We’re pleased to see candidates emerge from a diverse array of backgrounds. As can be expected, some come from political backgrounds or are attorneys, but other LGBTQ+ candidates have been community organizers, school teachers and university students. The financial and logistical requirements should be a low bar for entry to running for office —as long as a candidate is honest, sincere and realistic in their convictions (we’ll leave out speculation as to who among the candidates actually fits those criteria).
Windy City Times writers have been assembling profiles of the LGBTQ+ candidates that we are aware of, which will start running in the days ahead. We don’t endorse candidates but we do want to keep a record of which individuals in the community are trying to effect change. As such, we try to interview each LGBTQ+ candidate that comes up on our radar.
This publication largely supports agendas that ultimately lift up all members of the LGBTQ+ community, so we are excited to see candidates mention their support for causes that have yet to break into the political mainstream, such as the prevention of violence against transgender women of color; provision of resources for LGBTQ+ young people who are unstably housed or experiencing homelessness; and prevention and treatment of new HIV transmissions among young gay Black men of color, among numerous issues. As high-profile politicians and mainstream media exploit bathroom bills and drag shows ad infinitum, committed politicians and media must keep the focus on these and numerous issues that continue to trouble our community.
We also know that some politicians only mention these issues in interviews because they think it is what we in the LGBTQ+ press want to hear. Our personal excitement about a candidate is restrained by the knowledge that we have oftentimes not seen them in the public arena dealing with colleagues and constituents. State and local politicians in Illinois have a long record of fobbing off social responsibilities to nonprofits, so the direct influence a municipal official exerts on public policy is sometimes difficult to measure—politicians sometimes claim responsibility for work community advocates and organizations laid the groundwork for.
Chicago’s mayor usually casts a heavy shadow over the council as well, so that’s another point worth considering: How closely allied is an alderman with the mayor, or how close would they be if they are elected? Are they close with the mayor and blindly rubber-stamping the mayor’s policies? Or are they unnecessarily combative? Any alderman has to walk a fine line to get the most action for their constituents.
One incumbent candidate in the city council race we interviewed noted that sexism, even now, is still rampant on the council floor. It’s safe to assume that the council members they spoke of probably could use education on homophobia or transphobia and LGBTQ+ colleagues are the best people to do it—even if it’s just by virtue of their presence.
Even openly LGBTQ+ candidates who are seemingly indifferent to the community’s causes do serve some purpose politically. Some exceptions apply (a certain New York legislator comes to mind here), but candidates who have the courage to be forthcoming about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity are worthy of some praise. Their political presence reminds their colleagues, mainstream media and the wider public that our community is everywhere, occupying all walks of life.
The municipal elections in Chicago are usually marked by exceptionally low turnouts. Certainly, the issues and details involved in municipal elections are usually more mundane. But these individuals are also deciding the mundane questions that will almost certainly have a close impact on your life: When will that road be repaired? Does that person have the right to refuse me service? Will parking meter costs rise?
Whether you are casting your ballot for an LGBTQ+ candidate or not, we encourage you to carefully consider who you are choosing to fill these important roles in our city. Picking the right candidate and getting out to vote can be daunting tasks, but they are crucial parts of any citizen’s role in maintaining a healthy city.
Matt Simonette is the executive editor of Windy City Times.