Tunney on Ann Sather’s future, election, leaving City Council and why he didn’t run for mayor

Tunney, chairman of the Council’s Zoning Committee, came close to joining the race after his longtime friend and political ally, U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., took a pass.

SHARE Tunney on Ann Sather’s future, election, leaving City Council and why he didn’t run for mayor
Chicago Ald. Tom Tunney, shown inside the Belmont Street Ann Sather location in 2020.

Outgoing Ald. Tom Tunney, inside the Ann Sather location on Belmont Street in 2020. Keeping the restaurant going is what pushed Tunney to leave the City Council.

Associated Press

Retiring Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said Thursday he decided not to run for mayor of Chicago because he didn’t have a succession plan for the Ann Sather Restaurants he owns and loves and feared the “Chicago institution” would go under.

Tunney, chairman of the City Council’s Zoning Committee, came close to joining the race after his longtime friend and political ally, U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., took a pass.

After a public break with Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Tunney circulated nominating petitions and solicited support from colleagues and business leaders. Some allies were so convinced Tunney would run, they circulated a would-be Nov. 9 date for the big announcement.

But when the moment of truth finally came, Tunney decided not to take the plunge, throwing his support behind Paul Vallas. Allies pointed to Tunney’s history of caution and indecision.

As it turned out, it was more about his 40-year love affair with Ann Sather’s.

“I have felt very strongly about my role as, not only an alderman but about keeping an institution alive in the city of Chicago. And honestly, while I had a good succession plan for my aldermanic successor, I don’t really have a good plan about the next generation of Ann Sather Restaurants,” said Tunney, 67.

“If I ... left the company, I felt it probably wouldn’t survive. … Small business margins are really small. ... I still work seven days a week. When I’m not working in the alderman’s office, I’m working at my restaurant. You’d think after 40 years that I should be able to take weekends off. It’s not there yet. And I haven’t developed the infrastructure to step away. That was the long and short of it.”

Tunney was appointed in 2002, picked by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley to fill the vacancy created by the pre-election resignation of then-Ald. Bernard Hansen.

It was a groundbreaking moment in Chicago politics. At the time, Tunney was Chicago’s first openly gay alderperson.

With no children of his own, Tunney’s only option was to ask extended family to take over Ann Sather. The answer was “no.”

“My family — my nieces and nephews — they’re not interested in the restaurant lifestyle. … They all worked for me during their high school years—enough to say this is not a career that they wanted to pursue,” he said.

“I made my choices. I went to school for it. I’m basically a service nut. That helped me in my aldermanic duties. It’s certainly helped me in the restaurant world….[But] you really have to want to be in the restaurant business. You have to know that it’s nights, weekends and holidays.”

On Feb. 28, Lightfoot was eliminated from the mayor’s race after finishing third with 16.8% of the vote behind Vallas at 32.9% and Brandon Johnson with 21.6%.

Lightfoot’s defeat was not a surprise to Tunney. He had already predicted lakefront voters who propelled her into office in 2019 had lost faith in the mayor.

But, Tunney said Thursday he was surprised by just how poorly she did in lakefront wards. Lightfoot averaged just 12.9 percent of the vote in six downtown and north lakefront wards, including his own.

“Four years ago, five years ago — the lakefront was where she got her start. And I counseled her that the lakefront is important for her career and downtown is important. And I think her over-emphasis, while laudable, on South and West neglected downtown and neglected the North Side,” Tunney said.

“She was too focused on South and West and basically told downtown and the North Side, ‘Fend for yourselves.’ Whether it was police. Whether it was economic development plans. It was only really at the tail end of her career that she had an idea about remaking LaSalle Street. … You can prioritize South and West and under-developed neighborhoods. But you can’t dismiss the economic engine for the city that actually pays for many of these programs.”

Tunney scoffed at Lightfoot’s longstanding claim that she was treated more harshly because she is a gay, Black woman. He pointed to her infamous inaugural address.

“She got off to a bad start by ... accusing the aldermen ... that, basically, this is a corrupt body behind me,” he said.

“You can’t start an administration with that kind of conflict. And it didn’t get much better.”

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