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Tunney stakes claim to Finance Committee chairmanship

Ald. Tom Tunney owns Ann Sather restaurant. He said his experience as a small-business owner would be an asset should he become chairman of the council's Finance Committee. | Sun-Times file photo

Calling himself the business community’s voice in an anti-business climate, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) on Tuesday staked his claim to the Finance Committee chairmanship that has long been the primary power base of Ald. Edward Burke (14th).

Now that Burke faces attempted extortion charges and his replacement, Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), was defeated, aldermen are searching for a compromise choice whom Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot can also trust.

Tunney’s name has been mentioned because he’s a 17-year veteran of the City Council who was an early supporter of Lightfoot.

He was also Chicago’s first openly-gay alderman as well as the owner of Ann Sather Restaurants & Catering. He has long been the voice of small business in the City Council.

On Tuesday, Tunney made the case for why he believes he would be the best possible choice.

“The voice of the business community is very, very important in this Council. You see a number of newly-elected . . . aldermen that are less than supportive of a strong business environment. My record is really clear about businesses . . . That can be the right tonic and balance in the Council,” he said.

“I’ve been in the business world for a long time. I know my numbers. I have respect from a lot of my colleagues. We don’t always agree. But we’ve always had a good relationship. I respect the role of an alderman . . . I think I could help the Council and help that relationship with Lori, make sure it’s productive for everybody.”

Tunney said Lightfoot “hasn’t shown her cards” about whom she prefers as Finance chairman.

But he said: “She knows I’ve known her for a long time and I want her to do well and to be successful. And if I can be that bridge to the Council in whatever way I can do to help her, I’m gonna do it . . . There’s a vacuum, obviously. If I can be that bridge and fill it, given the 50 of us, I should be up there and seriously considered.”

Tunney laughed when asked whether he believes he will win the most powerful chairmanship when the new City Council reorganizes itself.

“I need 26 votes like anybody else,” he said.

Asked whether he’s close, Tunney said, “It’s not something I worry about every night. But I’d like to be considered. And I’m doing some calls.”

Tunney’s primary competitors for Finance Committee chairman are Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) and Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), both early supporters of Lightfoot.

Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th), whose ward delivered the biggest vote in the city for Lightfoot, has told the Sun-Times he is content to remain as chairman of the City Council’s Aviation Committee, where he would preside over the $8.7 billion O’Hare Airport expansion project.

“Between me and Tunney, I don’t think we could go wrong. We work very well together,” Beale said Tuesday.

Asked about Waguespack’s chances, Beale said: “To be in a leadership post, you need to have built relationships with people. Over the years, Scott has just not worked well with others. He has not built those relationships.”

Waguespack could not be reached for comment.

Lightfoot already faces pushback from some of the council’s most senior aldermen but isn’t backing away from the signature promise of her mayoral campaign.

She plans to issue an executive order on May 20 — inauguration day — ending the unwritten rule known as aldermanic prerogative that has allowed aldermen to exercise virtually iron-fisted control over zoning and permitting in their wards.

The mayor-elect has also talked about limiting the part-time jobs aldermen can hold if those outside jobs conflict with their official duties.

On Tuesday, Tunney made it clear that he is not willing to sell his interest in Ann Sather’s to win Lightfoot’s support as Finance chairman. Nor does he believe that’s required or that Lightfoot would insist on it.

“What she’d like to do is to make sure every alderman is doing a full-time job, even though it’s supposedly part-time [job]. And if they’ve got conflicts, they’re more than transparent about why they can’t vote, why they need to recuse themselves,” Tunney said.

“We’ll figure out how to be more transparent . . . I’ve [already] done a lot by giving up my business model, liquor license. I knew what I did to take this job. And I don’t think the residents of my ward want me to give up Ann Sather’s . . . It’s a community institution.”

Burke stepped down as Finance chairman after being charged on Jan. 3 with attempted extortion.

The 50-year veteran alderman was accused of shaking down a Burger King franchise owner for legal business and for a $10,000 campaign contribution for Toni Preckwinkle’s re-election campaign as county board president.

Despite the legal cloud hanging over him, Burke was re-elected on Feb. 26. Federal investigators face a May 3 deadline to indict Burke.