Bernard J. Hansen, former Chicago alderman, dies at 76

“Bernie taught me that policy only matters when it works at the street level,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley.

SHARE Bernard J. Hansen, former Chicago alderman, dies at 76
Ald. Bernard J. Hansen. | Amanda Alcock/Sun-Times

Ald. Bernard J. Hansen.

Amanda Alcock/Sun-Times

Bernard J. Hansen, 76, a former Chicago alderman from the 44th Ward, died Sunday of complications from diabetes in Chandler, Arizona, where he’d retired. 

“He knew every pothole and every alley and every street” in Lakeview, said his son David. 

“He oversaw transformational changes in our neighborhood and helped build the thriving community we share today,” said his successor, Ald. Tom Tunney.

A Lakeview native, Mr. Hansen — who went to Hawthorne grade school and Lane Tech High School — served as alderman from 1983 until 2003, through the administrations of four mayors: Jane M. Byrne, Harold Washington, Eugene Sawyer and Richard M. Daley.

Ald. Bernard J. Hansen.

Ald. Bernard J. Hansen.

Jon Sall/Sun-Times

When Washington was mayor, Mr. Hansen regularly voted with the opposition bloc of aldermen known as the “Vrdolyak 29.” 

Over the years he evolved from a Machine pol to one with an eye on changing demographics, as the LGBTQ community in his ward grew and he faced a strong challenge from Dr. Ron Sable, an aldermanic candidate who happened to be gay. 

Mr. Hansen was alderman during the battle over installing lights for night games at Wrigley Field. He backed retrofitting factories as lofts, as well as recycling requirements for businesses and residents. He pushed for crackdowns on Wrigley Field ticket scalpers and the rowdiness he said was linked to Medusa’s, once an all-ages Lakeview juice bar and famed nightlife spot.

Mr. Hansen also championed a human rights ordinance.

Before he was alderman, he was longtime ward superintendent. “They used to call him the ‘alley alderman,’ ” said Tunney. “He cared about the blocks, the alleys, the economic development and safety. He was an old-school politician who later in life became much more progressive as the community changed.” 

Constituents knew they could find him in his office as early as 5:30 a.m.

“Up long before sunrise every day, he would drive through the ward to personally check on things that were of concern to residents. All that before he headed into the office at 6 a.m.,” tweeted state Sen. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago).

“Bernie was a tireless advocate for the constituents he represented,” said Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., once Hansen’s chief of staff.

“Bernie taught me that policy only matters when it works at the street level,” Quigley said. “I know that he spent every day trying to improve the lives of his neighbors. And I know that without Bernie’s help and advice, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot expressed condolences. “A champion for the 44th Ward & our city’s LGBTQ+ community, Bernie spent nearly 2 decades serving the City Council working tirelessly to serve his constituents while taking a strong stance for human rights,” she said on Twitter. “His work undoubtedly made our city a better place.”

“He did so much for so many people,” said his son. “Even if you were outside of the ward, he would take care of you. He was a true public servant.”

His mother Fern was a nurse and his father Bernard was a factory worker, according to his family. 

He met Annette, his wife of 56 years, at Waveland Bowl when they were teens. “I bowled for St. Ben’s and he bowled for Lane,” she said Monday.

Young Bernie was a dynamic high school baseball and football player who once got a lesson from pro football Hall of Famer George Blanda, his son said. After a head injury on the field, doctors feared he would be permanently impaired, his wife said, but he recovered.

Mr. Hansen is also survived by his son Paul and two grandchildren. Arrangements were pending.

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