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Ingram Seeks Driver's Seat in 44th Ward

This article shared 2734 times since Wed Jan 22, 2003
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We continue our series on aldermanic candidates this week with openly gay attorney Rick Ingram, who is running for the 44th Ward post recently vacated by longtime Ald. Bernie Hansen and now occupied by interim Ald. Tom Tunney, who is also openly gay.

With a gay population estimated at 20% of the ward, the community's vote will have an impact—but gay issues won't be the only topic facing candidates.

Tracy Baim: Let's start with a little about your family and political background.

Rick Ingram: I grew up in Charleston, Ill., about three hours south of Chicago. I went to public schools there and attended Eastern Illinois University as a political science major. My father was a rural postal carrier, he passed away in 1963. My mother worked in the University as a meeting planner, and she raised me alone. ... I spent a lot of time on my grandparents' farm. I have one sister.

TB: What about your involvement in college? Did you major in political science for a reason?

RI: I was a student Senator. I always liked politics. My mother was always very involved in politics—although she was a Republican. I went with political science as part of a pre-law plan. I was Chairman of the Apportionment board, which divided up student fees.

TB: So no gay groups?

RI: No. Law school was University of Tennessee, Knoxville. I was focused on school.

In Charleston, I was a member of the Coles County Board and the Coles County Regional Planning Commission.

TB: Why did you move to Chicago after law school?

RI: It was a specific job offer. I originally was more of a litigator than in real estate, although it was all real estate related litigation. I found the business side of it more gratifying than the theater side of litigation. So I gravitated more toward towards transactions rather than litigation.

TB: So you have been involved in real estate law for most of your 20 years here?

RI: All of it.

TB: Talk about the perception of a real estate lawyer becoming an alderman. There have been complaints in the past about Ald. Bernie Hansen and others practicing real estate while they are elected officials.

RI: I wouldn't be practicing law, I would be a full-time alderman. I don't believe I have represented clients in this ward. Most of my work has been on commercial transactions, larger projects. I think it's good to have technical expertise in some of the vagaries of real estate law. Anybody who knows me and knows my record knows that I have been fighting over-development and fighting developers for years and years. To try to connect my profession to some sort of nefarious political motive is bogus.

TB: So when did you move into the Lakeview area?

RI: My first apartment was at 2800 Lake Shore Drive, in 1981. It was a studio apartment. I lived for a couple years in the 43rd Ward, and I lived a couple years on Wrightwood. ...

TB: So most of the time in Lakeview has been in and around the 44th Ward?

RI: Yes.

TB: What were some of your first things in terms of fighting overdevelopment?

RI: One of the first was the project that was proposed for a cinema, a multiplex, at Broadway and Surf. The neighbors were very much opposed to that. There were others before that, more small neighborhood projects.

TB: Let's talk about gay activism and AIDS issues.

RI: Early on, I volunteered a lot for the Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force, with Al Wardell, when they had offices in the back of Wellington Avenue Church. ... I did volunteer work when the NAMES Quilt came to Navy Pier the first time. I believe I was either a volunteer or donor to IMPACT.

TB: Did you consider yourself a gay activist? Or were you concentrating on being a lawyer?

RI: I was just starting out trying to be a lawyer. As any young lawyer will tell you, your time is not your own. You have to bill so many hours.

TB: Did you have concerns about being out?

RI: Sure. I was not out as a gay man at that firm, Rooks, Pitts and Poust. Then I went to Rosenberg & Associates in around 1984-'85. ...

TB: When did you starting coming out?

RI: When I was at Rosenberg. I had so many friends who were HIV-positive or ill with AIDS, I felt it was important for a lot of reasons to try and move the agenda forward. We used to do the AIDS Walk. I tried to get the company to add sexual orientation to its non-discrimination policy.

TB: So, small scale until the time around the Matthew Shepard attack?

RI: I never really considered myself to be a 'gay activist.' I always considered myself to be a community activist, and I happen to be gay and I'm proud of that. That's great, but I think people in the GLBT community can do themselves and the community a lot of good if we work as hard in the non-gay community as we do in the gay community. That's the way you build bridges with people that you otherwise would not have an opportunity to meet or work with. I think it's especially true in my Lakeview Action Coalition work. I'm proud of the fact that I as a gay man was able to work with folks, really for the first time, from churches and synagogues and bring those folks together in a way that focused everyone on what was common about the issues between those various groups. That's to me how you make a real difference and make real progress. Otherwise we're kind of ghettoized and you fight among each other and you don't reach out to the larger community.

TB: So how did you progress from the activism around Matthew Shepard to the LAC work? When you took over LAC, a press release touted that you were a gay man?

RI: Yes, I guess it was relevant because it was the first time a gay man headed LAC. It was important because it's an organization that's comprised of a lot of churches, synagogues and social-service agencies that are not 'gay' organizations. It was important for people to realize that it didn't matter to those groups, as long as you get things done. I think it does send a message that when an organization relies heavily on the religious community for support, not only has a GLBT person as their leader, but celebrates that. I guess it is an accomplishment and it wouldn't have happened 10 years ago, probably.

TB: When you first became involved in LAC, you were representing ...

RI: Holy Covenant Methodist Church, a reconciling congregation. I was a board member of LAC, then my first real street activism for LAC was coordinating the community's response to Fred Phelps picketing Broadway United Methodist Church—that whole Circle of Care and community response was really a powerful experience for me personally because it showed me how the community—not just the gay community but the entire community—would come together in support of an institution in the community. To say we're not going to tolerate hate in this community. People in that circle came from all over the place, and they may not have agreed with [Broadway Church's] Rev. Greg Dell's gay marriage position. But they did agree that we were not going to tolerate hate in this community. That was the great message.

TB: You were on the LAC board then?

RI: I was on the board and I was in charge of the community's response. [A little over a year later Ingram became LAC president.]

TB: Let's talk about your term as LAC president, a volunteer position which was just under two years.

RI: The police bike patrol is the most salient. We were trying to figure out what we could do as an organization to leverage the relationships that had been built around the Circle of Care issue at Broadway Church. So that we didn't have to be in a reactive mode. So many times bad things happen, people react, there's a march, people go home and wait for the next bad thing. We wanted to figure out what we could do pro-actively to make it less likely that we would have to react again. How can we challenge hate in this community? After months of research, we reviewed all of the hate-crimes reports from the police, put them through a program to see statistics. It showed a relatively consistent pattern of where these crimes were happening. We figured we needed a police response to this—and we came up with the late-night bike patrol.

That was a response that required changing the citywide policy—you could not have police on bicycles after dusk. So we held a press conference attended by people from all over—business, churches and synagogues, elected officials, and called on the police department to address this issue. We did not get the response we wanted. Then we had an anti-hate-crime rally at St. Peter's Church on Belmont. We had over 500 people. We had everyone from Cook County State's Attorney Dick Devine to Police Supt. Terry Hillard, and that was where we got the Superintendent to commit to the first year of the pilot project, to put the officers on bikes until later in the evening, I think until 12:30 a.m. Which was still not late enough, but it was a start. We monitored the progress of that for the next year. We made sure we had meetings with officers and the community people. At the end of the first year we had a 50% reduction in the number of hate crimes in the target area and we had a 30% reduction in burglaries, which they attribute to the bike officers. They are able to swoop up and down the alleys and stop a lot of burglaries.

At the end of the first year we went back to the Superintendent and said look, crimes are down and we want this expanded. He was extremely willing to expand the project. The hours went to 1:30, and expanded into the 19th District—we doubled the number of officers. And the project was made a permanent part of the policing strategy. ... Now, I've seen officers clear up on Southport, so I think they have extended it even more.

TB: What other projects did you accomplish at LAC?

RI: The second project I am very proud of is the saving of the Rienzi Plaza Section 8 building at 600 W. Diversey at Clark. That is a building with 150 Section 8 units, where residents pay one-third of their income towards rent. It's low-income housing, many of them seniors, Russian Jewish immigrants as part of Operation Exodus, who lived there many years. A downtown developer said he was not going to extend the contract when the 20-year expiration came up. So they were very upset about that. LAC and the Jane Addams Senior Caucus were able to help organize those tenants and they really were able to move from victim status to advocates for themselves. Really unbelievable the courage of those folks, many of whom did not speak English very well. A lot were Russian speaking. But they were able to step up and say 'we will fight for our homes,' and they did.

A couple of the leaders went with us to the Mayor's office, to the Department of Housing, the result was that we got a five-year extension, which is as long as is permitted. We were able to work with Chicago Rehab Network to get a change in the real estate tax law to get a reduction in the assessed value for owners that re-up their Section 8 contracts. ... So we were able to strike a balance. ... It can be extended again, and we will go through that process again.

There are about 1,300 other Section 8 housing units in and around Lakeview that are going to be facing the same challenge during the next alderman's term. I think I have the experience that no one else has in the race in dealing with that issue to try to preserve that as a big part of the economic diversity of the ward.

TB: Other LAC projects?

RI: We put together the Lakeview School Alliance Against Hate, a Safe Schools/ Teacher Training Program. We partnered with a group called Facing History and Ourselves, a national teacher training organization. Our goal was to encourage teachers in Lakeview schools to take the training—enabling teachers to teach in a new way, to encourage their students to participate in society, and not stand by. They use everything from Matthew Shepard to the Klan to the Holocaust to teach kids what happens when you just stand by and don't do anything. So you have to choose to participate.

TB: How many teachers went through this so far?

RI: I think we've had about seven teachers go through that and they are still in the process. It's open to all levels of teachers but focuses on sixth grade up, those are the kids that can best respond to the curriculum.

LAC is about the big projects and issues, it's about building community where it doesn't exist, and it's about leadership training. Being able to take someone like a tenant at Rienzi Plaza who doesn't view themselves as a leader that yes they are, and encouraging and training them and helping them be a leader.

TB: What other neighborhood groups have you been involved with?

RI: I have been an officer and director of the Lakeview Citizens Council (LVCC). I've been a director of Shiel Park Neighbors, which is by my house. I've been co-chair of the LVCC Zoning Committee, and the secretary of LVCC.

TB: When Hansen was still in office, why did you decide at that point to run for office? Was it about being an alderman, or making sure Hansen was not an alderman?

RI: It was about being an alderman and making sure this community remained the great place it is. When I moved to Chicago, I was looking for some place to call home. Lakeview was such an important and unique place, I felt that we were in danger of losing that uniqueness, that diversity that makes Lakeview special. Ald. Hansen had a longstanding policy of letting developers do whatever the hell they wanted to do, wherever the hell they wanted to do it. That resulted in real threats to the diversity of the ward, the quality of life. There were no new parks in Lakeview anywhere during Ald. Hansen's tenure.

Through years of dealing with those issues, and through my LAC experience, I realized you can make a difference in the quality of lives of people.

TB: So as alderman, not state rep or senate ...

RI: Alderman is the closest to the people. You can really get something done.

TB: Explain more about the big issues and problems you had with how Hansen did it, and how you would do it different. Also how you would be different than Tom Tunney.

RI: Tom said he wouldn't do things different. ... He is backed by some of the same people. Let's take a look at the bigger picture. The issue that comes up all the time meeting people is the overdevelopment issue. It's not an issue just since Hansen got out of the race. My question for Tom, and Dean Maragos and other candidates in this is race is, where were you when these issues came up? When Hansen said there is nothing special on Halsted? When the lot across from the Vic Theatre zoning was changed—to put a huge building there? They were not involved. Either they didn't care or were not willing or able to take on Bernie.

When the hate-crimes pattern was discovered in Lakeview, where were they?

Past performance is a good predictor of future performance. Tom is Bernie's hand-picked candidate. The same people that supported Hansen are supporting Tom.

TB: I understand he does have a lot of the same political people supporting him. But you also suggest developers and others as well? Do you have specific developer names?

RI: We have not seen the campaign donation reports. I would guess that some of the $178,000 Bernie has in his war chest will be used for Tom. Same with the 44th Ward organizational money. At Belmont and Sheffield, there are investors in that development to the best of my knowledge who are also supportive of Tom. I just don't think Tom is going to be able to have the independent voice that's needed for the ward.

TB: How is your own fundraising going, how is your's different? Is there a cap?

RI: I am not capping it. But I have said as an alderman, I will not take campaign contributions from people who are asking for zoning changes. ... I tend to take a broader view of what political participation means and it's not necessarily going to the same old tired political faces that write the big checks all the time.

TB: So you won't take money from people seeking zoning changes. So that means you would still take developer money?

RI: I am not anti-development. I am for smart development and growth that reflects what the communities need and want. That doesn't make me anti-development.

TB: The issue of independence from the Mayor ...

RI: I think it's really ridiculous that City Hall couldn't wait five weeks to see who the people of Lakeview wanted for their alderman. It's a shame that the Mayor doesn't trust the people of the 44th Ward to let them choose their own alderman without trying to shove somebody down our throats.

TB: Talk about the independence issue. The Mayor often gets 50-0 or 49-1 votes. There are very few independent voices in the City Council. How can an independent voice be effective?

RI: I don't necessarily think I would be in City Council to vote against the Mayor. I think the Mayor has done a lot of good things. I do disagree with the Mayor on some things and I would not hesitate to make my point and my positions known. I think it's unhealthy to have the 49-1 and 50-0 votes. It does a disservice to the city and to the Mayor to not have an open process and an open discussion. It's really absurd.

TB: Let's talk about your agenda for the ward. First GLBT issues.

RI: GLBT issues—there needs to be proper training in the city on the new human-relations ordinance on transgendered identity. To make sure folks in the city are aware of it. I also think that we need to look at the possibility of including the GLBT community in the minority business set-asides. Typically, larger contracts, 25% are set aside for minority business set-asides.

TB: So adding white gay men? Women and minorities are already covered. Or a business could go under either category?

RI: The percentage is higher. For women-owned it is only 5%, for minority it's 25%—so there is more chance.

TB: What about the domestic-partners registry?

RI: Yes, but it's just token.

TB: What about following what San Francisco did with requiring contractors doing business with the city to have domestic-partners coverage?

RI: Yes. We also need to think about what we can do affordable housing-wise to protect the community and the GLBT community. There are issues about the need for GLBT youth shelters. ... That also relates to GLBT issues in schools. We need to make sure that our schools are hate free. Why is the term 'fag' still an acceptable expression in our schools? It has to be stopped.

The zoning on Halsted—that should have been downzoned months ago.

TB: When the issue came up several years ago, there was a perception that the downzoning movement would hurt gay businesses. Now it is flip-flopped and people realize it created a residential development boom and did not help businesses.

RI: I haven't heard anyone, including business owners, say anything negative against downzoning now. They feel very threatened by the residential development.

TB: Do you feel that Halsted can be saved as a gay area?

RI: Yes, it has to. Downzoning is one of the ways. One of the other ways, they do this in other cities, is to allocate tourist promotion dollars to North Halsted, to promote it as a gay destination. Fort Lauderdale spends hundreds of thousands of dollars.

TB: Even the Halsted business group has a split personality on that. What about work on hate crimes and domestic violence shelters?

RI: The whole shelter situation is terrible. Walk on Belmont and see so many homeless folks. Funding for transitional housing is cut. It's not a homeless problem—75% of homeless people have addiction or mental health problems. Having a place to live is only one piece. A good example is the Belray apartments, it was really turned around, adding services to help them survive.

For hate crimes, we can try and expand the police bike patrols to later. And with the schools, it's long term, but with young people if you teach them now, later they would be less likely to commit hate crimes.

Also, under LAC, as part of the hate-crimes issue, we said there are police issues related to GLBTs and hate crimes. We are concerned about the way police react. We went to observe the diversity training at the Police Academy. There was a report to the superintendent about how to improve, and researching on what other cities are doing on a range of diversity issues. ... Also not just at the Academy, but at the district level. You need to work with not only the cadet, but the commanders of the districts.

TB: What about AIDS funding and the health department?

RI: That's one of the areas that needs to be protected at all costs. I know most of the money comes from Washington, and the emphasis of the Bush Administration is on abstinence—that's just a waste of money. I would advocate for more resources. I would go to Howard Brown, Horizons and the AIDS Foundation and I would ask what they need, and fight for that.

TB: Let's discuss what impact the alderman can have on education and the schools.

RI: I have proposed a partnership for learning that will pair Lakeview schools with Lakeview social-service agencies. The real problem we have is a disconnect between the schools and the community. We have a lot of magnet schools, kids who are bused in. As alderman, I would call a summit of all the principals of the schools and ask, what is it that we can get done together that you can't do separately? I would propose to make connections between schools and community groups. For example, if you teach a unit on HIV/AIDS, have someone from Bonaventure House or AIDS Foundation or a community-based person come in to work with the students and the parents on those issues. If teaching on the Holocaust, take them to Anshe Emmet Synagogue. All these things that don't cost a dime, that connect the schools back to the community, that have a long-term effect on the students whether they live in the community or not. They see the diversity and they see what it means.

This may mean using the bully pulpit of the alderman's office to get these folks together.

TB: What control does the alderman have over resources?

RI: Almost no control. I am on the Local School Council for Hawthorne Elementary just up the street. If it wasn't for the PTA raising $100,000 a year, we would be in such bad shape, with textbooks so old and limited computer resources. It's really appalling the conditions of these schools.

TB: On housing ...

RI: I support the balanced development proposal that Ald. Tony Preckwinkle has floated. Some of the percentages may need to be adjusted. But with any new developments, especially in Lakeview, there needs to be an affordability component to it. We have just simply priced people out of Lakeview, and there is no reason to. We're in the catbird seat here, because developers want to come here, so maybe we can exact a little concessions on affordability.

TB: What about Wrigley Field?

RI: There are only three things to be concerned about with Wrigley Field. Neighborhood protections, neighborhood protections, and neighborhood protections. There should be no additional night games or additional bleacher seats unless and until the Cubs and the city can prove that they can implement and manage the neighborhood protections that the people who live there want.

I could care less about the rooftops—that's between the cubs and the rooftops.

TB: What protections?

RI: More police, more garbage pickup, more street cleaning. There was a whole remote parking plan that was supposed to be in place years ago that they've never promoted, they've never done anything with. It's a mess. If they can fix that, we might talk about an additional night game or more seats. But it would have to be approved by the neighbors.

TB: People have discussed former Ald. Dick Simpson's Ward Assembly idea where the people had a vote. Would you do this again?

RI: I talked to Simpson about that and to people who were involved in that process. It pretty much collapsed on itself because of the weight of the administration of it. But I have always been a proponent of having the neighborhood groups get in on the process from the very beginning, and not be jerked around for years and years like they have been with Bernie. I would follow the recommendation of the neighborhood groups. I have proposed a ward-wide planning and zoning board that would get together with leaders of the community, and try to get resources from downtown that would enable us to put a plan together. At my announcement speech, I said we need a plan. This haphazard, scatter-gun approach to the ward has caused a lot of our problems in terms of development and traffic.

Unless there was some overriding moral or ethical consideration, I would follow the recommendations of the planning board and the neighborhood groups where the issue is most salient.

TB: What about the shoreline project? What can the alderman do?

RI: I have read the Hyde Park study and the engineering report, and it's really an eye-opener. It is cheaper to re-use the limestone (which is part of what the neighbors want), and it is aesthetically pleasing. It says accessibility is not a problem. ... The project going on now needs to be stopped if that is what it takes to get it fixed. I've been to several of these meetings where the city says they will listen and at the next meeting they have done nothing. ... When I was still at LVCC I proposed a motion that was passed that called on the project to be stopped until the Hyde Park study was done. The alderman should form an alliance with the elected officials in Hyde Park so we work together. ....

TB: What issues do you see are important for seniors?

RI: Seniors need to be treated with respect. I have worked very closely with the Jane Addams Senior Caucus on the Rienzi Plaza and other projects. They want respect, to be treated as a valuable part of the community, to stay in their homes as long as they can. They have a number of issues, including the quality of in-home care. It's much cheaper to keep a senior in their home and pay someone, a visiting nurse, a decent wage, to come care for them. But the wages most in-home workers make are some of the lowest in state—it doesn't provide a good service. The city can also beef up the meals-on-wheels program. I would suggest the Department of Aging send their workers to any building [not just Chicago Housing Authority buildings] ... to help all seniors in the building get help and figure out programs they might be eligible for. ... The ideal situation would be to have the same social worker or case worker or group go back to the buildings regularly so they can build a relationship with the seniors who are there.

TB: What are your plans on parking and transportation?

RI: We need to make sure all of the El stop renovations happen in accordance with plans that are approved and blessed by the neighborhood. I was at the Brown Line meeting last night—it is so gratifying to see so many people interested in what these stations are going to look like, how they work. I will commend the CTA—they have really tried to give information to people. So, get those projects done in a way that maximizes people's ability to use transportation, and get them done quick.

On buses—I was just meeting-and-greeting people on Sheridan and Lake Shore Drive. It occurs to me that there needs to be a reallocation of resources on the CTA. You will see bus after bus 151, then go to Belmont for the Express bus and 200 people are waiting for one bus. Why can't you shave off a couple of those 151s?

On parking, first do no harm. Control development so as not to have more cars. There are ways to reconfigure some of the streets for front-end parking. I think we need to think outside the box.

Probably we will never have fewer cars in Lakeview, so we need to encourage people not to use them. To use the CTA and bikes. There are alternates. I am not sure building parking garages is the solution.

Next week: More aldermanic coverage.

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Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.