The following is part of Windy City Times' coverage of openly LGBTQ+ candidates in the 2023 municipal election.
Ald. Timmy Knudsen narrowly came in first in the Feb. 28 general election, and is facing Brian Comer in the April 4 runoff election to hold on to his post representing the 43rd on the Chicago City Council.
Knudsen, formerly a corporate attorney who previously chaired the City's Zoning Board of Appeals, was picked by Mayor Lori Lightfoot to replace former Ald. Michele Smith on the Council when she resigned last summer.
Knudsen has been endorsed by, among others, U.S. Sens. Richard Durbin and Tammy Duckworth; state Sen. Sara Feigenholtz; state Reps. Margaret Croke and Ann Williams; Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias; former Illinois House Majority Leader Greg Harris; former 43rd Ward Alds. Michele Smith, Vi Daley, Chuck Bernardini, Edwin Eisendrath, Marty Oberman and Bill Singer; the and Chicago mayoral candidate Paul Vallas (Knudsen has not made an endorsement in the mayoral race, however).
Windy City Times: How is the campaign going, now that you've been in the run-off phase?
Timmy Knudsen: It's been going well. I was excited to get the number one amount of votes. We've had a lot of really good conversations, and right away the third-place candidate, Rebecca Janowitz, endorsed me, which was great. The next day, our state senator, Sara Feigenholtz, endorsed me. I have such a good base of support on the lakefront, and such a good female base of support, that means a ton to me. We're back to doing what we do best, which is knocking on doors and trying to get in front of as many people as possible.
WCT: What have you been doing to ensure voters can make a solid differentiation between you and Comer? It was a small margin between the two of you, so how can you make it more pronounced?
TK: It's two-pronged. On the campaign side we're getting out on as many issues and plans as we can. I, as a voter, find that helpful. I don't vote based on theoryI want to know precisely what they're going to be doing. If you look at my campaign website versus my opponent's, there is a very striking difference. That's really important.
I'm also just one to go around and listen. My style of leadership has been collaborative. I appreciate who's been before me and having those voices at the table, so now I'm taking a lot of advice from people on how to lead.
On the governmental side, I'm leading in the only way I know: I'm trying to over-communicate with the ward. We had a public safety incident [the weekend of March 11], and we immediately got a statement out to clear up some misinformation that was going around. I'm trying to show everyday the type of alderman that I am, because that will show the type of alderman that I'll be [going forward].
WCT: Your opponent has headed up a neighborhood association [Sheffield Neighborhood Association] there for quite some time and has colloquially been referred to as the "mini-alderman." How do you position your own qualifications in relation to that? You've been involved with the Zoning Board of Appeals, but are relatively fresh in terms of constituent services and so forth.
TK: I believe in consensus in negotiation. I think a lot of the things aldermen do in the ward, related to businesses or development or otherwise, are related to getting input from the whole ward. Our ward has seven active neighborhood associationsthere are seven. Knowing the whole ward, and speaking to the whole ward, is important to me.
That comes down to technique too. With 56,000-and-something people, the communication platforms that we're setting up are going to be integral to speaking to the whole ward. The government technology overhaul we're doing is at the center of it. I also want everyone to know that, when it comes to the lakefront and the Gold Coast, there's no playing favorites here. I represent the whole ward.
WCT: Speak a bit more on the government technology improvement you mentioned. What will that look like?
TK: When I came into the office, I noticed that a lot of constituent services were still being done with pen and paper, and, at best, Excel. We brought in a government technology firm that is doing an overhaul of our system, that will better piggyback off systems like 311. Right now, as an alderman, I can't easily pull the 311 requests that are being done in the ward. We have to manually do it, and it takes a while. This allows us to see all the requests that residents have made, which then allows us to be proactive, to get in touch with city agencies and keep them updated.
The whole goal is getting constituent services done faster and increasing that pace. Another thing is we can do is specify communicationcircle a block on the map and say to them, "Hey your street-sweeps are coming up," instead of a once-a-week newsletter where we speak to the whole ward. I don't want the newsletter to get so bogged down that people are going to stop reading it. This is going to really fine-tune how we communicate. The whole goal is setting up our team to get more requests done faster.
WCT: What's your biggest challenge for the runoff?
TK: The speed. I need to get in front of as many people as possible. We've got some high-rises that I can't just knock on the doors at. I think the people living in high-rises are such good constituents to meet. We've had really productive conversations in there. It's getting in front of as many people as possible.
WCT: You told Block Club, "It's not a small thing that I'm the first gay alderman in the ward, and I know how that happened," which you tied into your experiences and past door-knocking on issues such as reproductive rights. Speak on that a bit.
TK: It goes way back into being a gay kid in a Christian conservative town. I'm from Wheaton, Illinois. There's a quote that people who want to lead are people who at one point needed a leader. I feel that, so in law school, when I moved to the city, I was getting involved in these grassroots campaigns.
I strongly believe that the fight for reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy has been intertwined with the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, at least in the community that I work in. Senator Feigenholtz is no stranger to how I work. When we were knocking on doors, it was for HB 40, but there have been so many other things that we've been doing to advance [reproductive freedom].
I view Chicago as a sanctuary city, but a sanctuary city for those reproductive- and bodily autonomy-rights, as well as LGBTQ+-rights, as well as immigration- and asylum-rights. I view the term sanctuary city very broadly, and it is an idea we need to protect. That fires me up, and that's something I'll always fighting to protect. People inside these communities know that you can't just pass one bill and make everything good. The fight to make make things durable and permanent is continuing.
WCT: One safety issue the entire City Council will have to address at some point is violence against transgender Chicagoans, specifically transgender women of color. What would you do as an alderman in order to eliminate that violence?
TK: Championing trans women of colorand trans people of all kindshas to be a priority for the entire LGBTQ+ community. When it comes to the legislation, I'm always going to lean on the experts for this, such as my friends at Equality Illinois. When we were working on a budget, I was always asking, "Where is the City investing in these spaces?" I was really leaning on Equality Illinois for answers to these questions.
A lot of it is leadership and representation, and talking about these issues. When we talk about these issues, we teach about them. Looking back at gay-rights, the momentum for LGBTQ+-rights started when people started talking about these issues openly. Showing these issues in schools and in media is really important. I'm an advocate, and I really look forward to diving into these issue going forward.
WCT: If you could ask something of the incoming mayor on the first day, what would that be?
TK: I've got a packet of legislation that I want to start pushing. It's going to be, "How do I best push this package and advocate for my ward on an independent basis?" I've got some environmental pieces ready to get going, for example. That's what I want to see in a mayorsomeone that I can work with on behalf of my community.
See knudsenfor43.com .