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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Elections 2023: Timmy Knudsen discusses run for office and last-minute appointment
by Matt Simonette
2023-02-28

This article shared 2294 times since Tue Feb 28, 2023
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This is part of a series of interviews Windy City Times is running on LGBTQ+ candidates in the 2023 municipal elections taking place Feb. 28

Attorney Timmy Knudsen was appointed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot this past fall to replace former Ald. Michelle Harris, who was leaving her post representing the city's 43rd Ward on the City Council. A longtime backer of Lightfoot, Knudsen, a corporate lawyer, was previously head of the City's Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA).

Windy City Times caught up with Knudsen and spoke about his overall concerns for the ward, his fast initiation in the job, and running a campaign while he's been learning the ropes.

(Editor's note: Smith has endorsed opponent Wendi Taylor Nations in the Feb. 28 race. After this interview, Nations criticized an ad placed on Knudsen's behalf by the Illinois Realtors Fund and alleged that, given his post on the ZBA, was closely tied to developer's interests. In response to those comments, Knudsen's campaign maintained that they had not coordinated with IRF for the ad, and iterated that 43rd Ward constituents were focused more on public safety and rising property taxes as the election loomed.)

WCT: What have the last several months been like as you have entered office in the proverbial thick of things?

Timmy Knudsen: I'm grateful for them, in the sense that I didn't have the luxury of a slow orientation. I found out I was appointed, and 36 hours later, I was handed the key. I went to the ward office and I met everyone. You have this ward office, ready and waiting for you. I do like that. I got thrown into the deep end, as far as a learning style. That's kind of how I learned how to lawyer as well—it doesn't come with total comfort.

It really helps me get close with the team. I have a new chief of staff, who was elevated. He was on staff, but he was leading our public safety [work] previously. We work well together—he's part of the LGBTQ community as well. That office is now functioning so highly. I know that I'm a bit different from my predecessor, so I'm glad the transition went the way it did.

WCT: What has it been like to start this job while running for office at the same time—which leads into the obvious question of why you think you are the best choice for this post?

TK: When we applied to the appointment—there were 17 of us—I said to everyone that I was running either way. I was the first person out with petitions. Those went amazingly.

The best thing I can do is do a good job as alderman, even on the campaign side—the results I bring, the show of [my] personality, and how I do the job. The campaign is a unique experience for a first-time candidate—you campaign and separately govern. There are a lot of new things attached to it.

I feel energized by it, but there are moments where I ask, "Oh my gosh, how are things done now?" These are things that come with leadership. These are things that are not meant to be easy jobs.

WCT: How do you perceive the ward? What do you see as some strengths of the 43rd Ward as well as some of the challenges you want to tackle?

TK: We've got such leadership in our ward. I always know from our newsletter that we are truly a ward of resources, and that is something not to take for granted. I'm trying to communicate in a way that shows the things I'm grateful for.

For 43rd Ward voters, the big topics are public safety and fiscal stability. I wholeheartedly agree, and that's what we're running on. I think these two issues touch every single person in the city of Chicago, in a thoughtful way.

I liked that in the ward we have all these people that want to be involved, that view the issues with nuance, because public safety is not black and white, because that is not a healthy approach. We got on public safety pretty quickly. We invested extra infrastructure money into the cameras; that was leaning on experts [to determine] it was a good way to deter crime in the ward.

The main reason that I've only ever lived in the 43rd Ward is that our parks are incredible. Since I don't have an actual outdoor space at my home, I use the heck out of the actual park in Lincoln Park. A lot of other people do to, and that's a gift that is truly for everyone and the city. I want it opened up so that everyone knows that Lincoln Park is accessible for everybody. You've a got a ton of museums right there—cultural institutions—that we're very grateful for.

WCT: You mentioned fiscal stability earlier—how would you define that for the ward?

TK: I started my role as alderman in budget season. It was kind of, at the time, like you were in the 'war season.' Budget season has you downtown every day. That was my crash-course orientation. What I really took from that was we had this big budget, a successful budget, but a lot of that was due to an influx of federal funds. So now we're looking into next year's, and the years to come. It's a huge win that we made the $240 million advance payment on pensions. That increased our credit rating and saved us hundreds of millions of dollars long term. We've got to be increasing that credit rating.

But now, in future years, when we won't necessarily have this massive influx of federal dollars, we've got to look at inefficiencies, in every department. It just can't be "bigger is better." That doesn't work for any business—big business or small business—and definitely not government. Looking at that and putting on my legal hat—I'm a corporate lawyer by background—it's truly about looking for those inefficiencies. … Are there routes for us to maintaining the route that we're on to more rating upgrades?

WCT: Have you met with Ald. Smith at all since you came in?

TK: During the appointment process she came in and met my family. It was great. But what I would say is this: I activated the staff. I have not lost the staff, and I wanted to build trust with them. They were put in a position of surprise. They're human beings with jobs that they work really hard at. So this in-between period where there's no alderman, I felt very strongly about just coming in and showing my cards—showing who I am, talk to them one-on-one, [and reassure them] I'm not someone to surprise them.

WCT: How has COVID impacted the ward?

TK: The two communities it has affected most are our students and our seniors.

We've got a big Lincoln Park high school that nine wards feed into. I love that. They've got a new principal too, and the spirit is so high in the student body, but there was such a disruption. So student leaders standing up and leading initiatives and awesome events deserve kudos. That takes such courage and motivation when you are coming out of something [such as the pandemic].

We have five CHA homes in the ward. The 44th Ward, for example, just has one. We have much more subsidized housing and senior-assisted housing. Talking to those seniors, isolation is already really hard, and then you talk about isolation in Chicago among these seniors. There are periods of the year where you just can't go outside. So I've been trying to plan events with community-groups, and champion the churches and non-profits that do that kind of work.

WCT: What are your thoughts on development in a ward? How do you balance the need for affordability with the need for healthy growth?

TK: What I've learned is that truly there is no one-size-fits all recipe. We have portions of the ward that I really want to get more units into. I want to get more affordable units and I want to get more density. We have vacant storefront strips that are also a public safety concern. We all know that in these dark areas in commercial districts, they can attract some safety concerns.

I live in Old Town Triangle, and that's in somewhat of a preservation district. No one is asking for development there, right? We've got a developed lakefront right next to it, and people feel strongly about the preservation. I think there's a good balance to be had in the ward.

When I talk about it, I try to talk about housing, because Lincoln Park has this unfortunate history, that a lot of the city shares, about being resistant to affordable housing. A lot of times, there's a misunderstanding about what affordable units even are—they're based on a percentage of the median income of the area. … We're a ward that hasn't had enough affordable units put in, but it needs it so the people who work here can afford to live here. It's something I feel passionate about; when developments come in, the 20% affordable units should go onsite and not be sent out to other parts of the city.

WCT: What have people been telling you about the affordability issues?

TK: People have been really surprised by the rise in property taxes. We've got to be creative in filling in budget gaps that don't just hit homeowners. … When I think of my overarching goal as an alderman, it's my goal to get people to move here. There's the accessibility bit there—not only can you afford the housing, but can you afford to live here too? That touches on the schools, the CTA and many other things. Getting people to stay and invest here means we can't just go down the slippery slope of more property taxes.

WCT: What are the most pertinent issues for LGBTQ+ residents of the ward?

TK: I was talking a few weeks ago about the City's, and the nation's, response to Mpox. We got our numbers down, but it was just a reminder of the unique issues that we can have in the LGBTQ community.

My experience was not being able to find a shot. I weighed whether or not to go line up at one of the bars that had negotiated to get some shots. Finally I got one right before Market Days at Truman College. I still didn't go to Market Days—I was just nervous. There was this whole feeling in the community: "We just went through a pandemic. Why is this not working?"

Protecting public health is important, as is continuing to push—like we did in Council—further legislation on bodily autonomy and gender-affirming care. We really have to push that. When we talk about our city as a sanctuary city, I view it [as needing to be] a safe space, where we're protected, and health is the first thing that comes to mind for me when I think of that.

WCT: I just have to ask: What was it like to go on House Hunters (Knudsen appeared on that HGTV program just prior to the pandemic)?

TK: It was so fun. It was my first home purchase. It's no secret to anybody that it's kind of a rigged show—I already owned the place.

It was a great break. I was at a big law firm at the time, and I thought it would be different. I did it with a friend who was a Realtor. They had me riding on the Lakefront on a Divvy with him—they totally tried to make it look like we were dating. In real life, he was dating my best friend. My friend was just like, "They have to make a story, go to town with it." It was a fun experience.

See knudsenfor43.org .


This article shared 2294 times since Tue Feb 28, 2023
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