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Block Club: 43rd Ward Race is Heating Up

Updated: Feb 16

4 Ex-Aldermen, Cyberbullying Accusations, And A $750K Campaign Chest: How The 43rd Ward Race Is Heating Up

Jake Wittich

LINCOLN PARK — Two predecessors of Ald. Timmy Knudsen (43rd) are rallying behind one of his challengers in a contentious battle to represent Lincoln Park that’s involved attacks on campaign funding, dueling endorsements and 13-year-old defamation accusations.

Former Alds. Michele Smith and Marty Oberman, who represented the ward from 2011-2022 and 1975-1987, issued a statement this week accusing Knudsen of bucking the ward’s tradition of independence from the mayor and transparent leadership.

Knudsen was appointed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot to the seat in September after Smith resigned.

Knudsen is “strongly aligned with the development community,” Smith and Oberman said, pointing to Knudsen’s previous role as chair of the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals and money his campaign received from the Illinois Realtors political action committee.

The former alderpeople said residents should vote for challenger Wendi Taylor Nations, a public affairs consultant and former chief marketing officer for World Business Chicago.

Knudsen refuted the claims and clapped back at Taylor Nations, launching a website accusing her of being a cyberbully. Two other former aldermen, Chuck Bernardini and Bill Singer, have endorsed Knudsen.

The Illinois Realtors’ political action committee donated $5,000 to Knudsen’s campaign in December and filed an additional $4,144 independent expenditure on his behalf, according to Illinois State Board of Elections reports. The PAC has also supported at least two mailers that went out across the ward, records show.

The stated purpose of the committee is to “protect private property rights,” according to the Illinois Sunshine database, which culls data from the state board. The PAC has made more than 30 contributions to various aldermanic campaigns since December, records show.

Smith and Oberman also accused Knudsen of not being transparent about crime in the ward and his decision-making process, particularly around a proposed cannabis dispensary recently approved by City Council.

The process, which involved a November community meeting where neighbors gave mixed feedback on the dispensary and a Zoning Committee meeting Knudsen did not attend, “shows us that he does not believe that an alderman must represent constituents first,” Smith and Oberman said in the statement.

“During a very shortened neighborhood process not allowing for input from all affected neighbors, Alderman Knudsen announced that the facility had already been approved by Alderman Smith, which was not, and could not be the truth since she was out of office,” Smith and Oberman said.

The retired alderpeople said Taylor Nations “has the life experience, guts, and community concern to serve” in office.

“Wendi is a committed and involved community member with decades of experience working to protect and improve our neighborhood and city. She consistently advocates for public safety, good government policy, and open communications,” they said.

Knudsen told Block Club his predecessors’ statement was “full of false claims that, quite frankly, I’m undeterred by.”

Knudsen denied being strongly aligned with the development community and said his campaign does not communicate with Illinois Realtors.

Knudsen said his office has made efforts to communicate with constituents about crime and public safety through his weekly newsletter and community meetings. His first move in office was to use aldermanic menu dollars to install more security cameras across the ward, and his office hosted a community meeting with commanders from the 18th and 19th police districts.

Knudsen also said his office has been transparent about the Lincoln Park dispensary by sharing updates in his newsletter and holding the first community meeting about the project since the application was chosen two years ago.

Knudsen’s office will hold virtual and in-person community meetings about the dispensary when the project comes up again, he said.

“They’re floating a lot of misinformation,” Knudsen said. “That’s really just been Wendi’s campaign. It’s been hits against me that don’t really have truth.”

Knudsen’s campaign responded by creating a website accusing Taylor Nations of being a cyberbully. It points to a 2010 lawsuit in which Taylor Nations was accused of defaming the plaintiff and social media posts in which she calls Knudsen “Tax Hike Timmy” and compares him to Jason Voorhees from “Friday the 13th.”

“I have never voted to increase property taxes,” Knudsen said. “It’s quite the contrary. I’ve been really resistant on any tax hike toward 43rd Ward families and businesses.”

Taylor Nations told Block Club the “frivolous” lawsuit was filed by her goddaughter’s father. The case was dismissed, and the dismissal was upheld on appeal, Taylor Nations said.

“He never made the case, and so there was no discovery in the situation,” Taylor Nations said.

The “Tax Hike Timmy” accusations stem from a December Finance Committee meeting in which Knudsen voted against an ordinance proposed by Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) that would have repealed a city policy of tying automatic annual property tax hikes to rate of inflation.

A spokesperson for Knudsen’s campaign said the vote was not to raise property taxes but to maintain an already existing policy that helped increase credit ratings.

Taylor Nations said she was “honored” to get Smith’s and Oberman’s endorsements.

“They have been an independent voice for over 25 years combined and proven that you can be effective for the ward and not be a rubber stamp for the mayor,” Taylor Nations said. “That’s really important to me.”

Taylor Nations said the former alderpeople “see that Timmy is not the best choice for the ward given his job performance issues, and they know the importance of showing up and making decisions, which Timmy has not done.”

A Massive Self-Funded Campaign

Knudsen’s campaign also raised concerns about candidate Rebecca Janowitz, who has put $750,000 of her own money into her campaign, public filing shows. That’s more money than four of the nine mayoral campaigns have raised.

Janowitz’s campaign has also had TV ads air citywide, according to a Crain’s story

“It’s an outrageous level of spending,” Knudsen said. “I’m the youngest alderman in City Council, and I see how hard it is to break in, and this race has shown that in different ways.”

Janowitz told Block Club she thinks being self-funded is a benefit to 43rd Ward residents because it grants her independence from outside interests.

The few listed donations to Janowitz’s campaign comprise about $5,000 from Service Employees International Union, Bank Financial and some individual contributions.

“It means you don’t owe anybody anything, except yourself and the voters,” Janowitz said. “I’m only going to win if the voters vote for me, and then I will owe my election to them, not to anybody who funded the campaign for me.”

Janowitz earned her money by making “good investments” in alternative energy, she said.

Janowitz’s late husband developed a concentrated solar collector, which is a solar energy collector that uses less silicon, which requires a dirty process to extract, she said. The couple also teamed up with someone from Ray Technologies making a tracker, which is a device that moves solar panels to follow the sun.

“It turns out lots of people with lots of panels want to use a tracker, and I’m perfectly prepared to explain how I’ve made money,” Janowitz said. “We’re surrounded in Chicago by people who’ve made a lot of money, that it’s hard to argue was in the public interest. Some investments are dubious, whereas mine comes from solar energy.”

Also in the 43rd Ward aldermanic race are Brian Comer, president of the Sheffield Neighborhood Association; Steve Botsford, a real estate developer and former staffer for Rep. Tony Cardenas; and Steven McClellan, who founded an after-school program organization.

The election is Feb. 28. If no candidate receives at least 50 percent of the vote, the top two will proceed to a runoff April 4. Early voting has already begun.

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