Chicago’s newest City Council member: Just call him ‘Timmy’

The name was part of an emotional and potentially high-risk coming out for Timmy Knudsen after he graduated law school and joined a buttoned-down Chicago firm he was not at all certain would welcome an openly-gay attorney.

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Timmy Knudsen addresses his Chicago City Council colleagues after being sworn in on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022.

Timmy Knudsen addresses his Chicago City Council colleagues after being sworn in on Wednesday.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Why does a 32-year-old man insist on being called “Timmy”?

Because the name was part of an emotional and potentially high-risk “coming out” process for newly-appointed Ald. Timmy Knudsen (43rd).

It happened when he graduated law school and joined the buttoned-down Chicago law firm of Katten Muchin Rosenman that, he was not at all certain, would welcome an openly gay attorney.

“I’ve been Timmy my whole life. ... [But], going into this law firm, people were going, ‘Tim.’ It’s a bit of an identity story. I thought, ‘Do I need to be Tim to be a lawyer and grow in this space? Do I come out loudly at this law firm? Who am I in the city of Chicago?’” Knudsen told the Sun-Times on Thursday.

“You’ve really got to decide, as a first-year associate, ‘Do I want to make waves?’ This goes into me believing that representation does matter. To be a leader in any sense, you’ve got to be willing to take those personal risks. And at the time, it felt like a risk. My decision to live very consistently in my personal and professional life came from saying, ‘I’m Timmy, and I’m gay at this law firm.’”

As it turned out, Knudsen’s fears about not being totally accepted were unfounded.

His new colleagues “embraced” his professional coming out. In fact, it gave him the opportunity to lead.

“That really activated me to introducing preferred pronouns which, at any law firm, is a bit of new territory. It just engages people. It made people more comfortable with getting to know me as a person. It let me put my heart on my sleeve. And it really deepened relationships,” Knudsen said.

“It allowed me to have these, like organic, authentic conversations with partners about their families, their friends that, maybe I wouldn’t have been able to if I was just a first-year associate on their deals.”

Knudsen was appointed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday to replace newly-retired Ald. Michele Smith (43rd).

Two days later, he was confirmed, sworn in and started voting. He’s now the seventh member of the LGBTQ Caucus and the youngest member of a council in transition that is losing its institutional memory.

Fifteen of the Council’s 50 members elected in 2019 already have left or announced they will be departing because they’re not running for re-election.

Veteran Ald. Nick Sposato (38th) recently told the Sun-Times he’s concerned the departure of more experienced, collaborative and mainstream colleagues could pave the way for the election of a new City Council that turns sharply to the left.

Sposato said he is particularly concerned about the election of what he calls “lefty loons” — which he defines as liberal alderpersons who favor more government giveaways and want to de-fund the police.

Where Sposato sees danger, Knudsen sees opportunity.

Attorney Timmy Knudsen is sworn in as 43rd Ward representative on the Chicago City Council at the council’s Sept. 21, 2022 meeting.

Ald. Timmy Knudsen (43rd) taking his oath of office on Wednesday.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“A shift of 15 to 20 council members — it can be really exciting if the right people get in for each ward. I get that coming in a little bit early, I might be a little bit of a symbol of that. That’s a big responsibility, and one that I hope to do a lot with,” Knudsen said.

“It’s not just my age. The fresh leadership thing is really important to me. My style in getting things done as a venture capital attorney, general counsel, is maybe a little bit different. And Council is made better by having a ton of different skill sets.”

Retiring Zoning Committee Chair Tom Tunney (44th) has warned that north lakefront voters who backed Lightfoot in 2019 have soured on the mayor and are “searching for an alternative.”

Tunney cited violent crime and “friction” with the Chicago Teachers Union that has caused enrollment at Chicago Public Schools to decline steadily.

Knudsen, a product of Wheaton public schools who has relatives who work in public schools, said he “can’t wait to have kids one day and send them” to CPS.

“I’m gonna be an absolute champion” for CPS, he said. “A lot of people want to work together and collaborate. To have those specialists at the table from a ward perspective is really gonna inform me well on how I can better champion them from City Council.”

To fight violent crime, Knudsen said he plans to use what’s left of his menu money — an annual $1.5 million allotment of discretionary funds for projects of the local alderperson’s choosing — on “stationary cameras.”

And after representing LGBTQ asylum applicants in Chicago, southern California and Tijuana, Mexico, he plans to launch a “food and goods drive” for the undocumented migrants “inhumanely” bused to Chicago and other sanctuary cities by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

“The number keeps growing,” Knudsen said. “To welcome them and for this to be kind of an intermediate ward office will really just fit who I am as a person and how we are as a 43rd Ward.”

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