LINCOLN PARK — Ald. Timmy Knudsen is fighting to keep his 43rd Ward seat from challenger Brian Comer, the three-term president of the Sheffield Neighborhood Association, in the upcoming runoff election.
Knudsen and Comer emerged from a crowded field of candidates running to be the next elected alderperson after former Ald. Michele Smith retired mid-term in August. Knudsen, who was appointed by outgoing Mayor Lori Lightfoot to fill the vacancy, got 27 percent of the vote in Feb. 28’s election, while Comer got 24 percent.
Since no one candidate had more than 50 percent of the vote, the race is going to a runoff April 4.
Knudsen and Comer said they plan to build deeper connections within the ward, including with the four former candidates, while focusing on issues of public safety, economic development and constituent services. Questions also remain about an incident in which a Knudsen campaign official was accused of removing Comer’s signs.
The four candidates who did not make it to the runoff are Wendi Taylor Nations, who was endorsed by Smith; Steve Botsford, a real estate developer who was endorsed by the police union; Rebecca Janowitz, an attorney and alternative energy investor who put more than $750,000 of her own money into her campaign; and Steven McClellan, who founded a nonprofit after-school program.
“It just feels really good to get that No. 1 spot,” Knudsen said days after the Feb. 28 election. “I’ve been working hard for five months, and it shows it’s working.”
Comer, who trailed Knudsen by 367 votes — or nearly 3 percent of the total amount of votes — called it a “virtual tie.”
“This is just a confirmation that the ward heard our message and liked it,” Comer said. “And our message is the neighborhood guy who’s been here his entire life wants to serve and make people’s lives easier.”
Map: Jake Wittich | Source: Chicago Board of Election Commissioners
‘The 43rd Ward Is A Diverse Group’
About 42 percent of voters turned out in the 43rd Ward, which encompasses most of Lincoln Park, Old Town and the Gold Coast.
Of the ward’s 23 voting precincts, Knudsen led in the areas encompassing Old Town, the Mid-North District and Park West, while Comer won in precincts that included the Sheffield Neighbors, Wrightwood Neighbors and DePaul University.
“It shows the 43rd Ward is a diverse group and not as homogenous as people think,” Comer said. “Things that matter to the folks on the Gold Coast are maybe not so important to people in Park West, Wrightwood Neighbors or Old Town — but they’re all valuable.”
Janowitz, who came in third place with 20 percent of the vote, was dominant in the four precincts along the lakefront. Knudsen trailed behind her in three of those four precincts, with Comer coming in second in the area encompassing Lincoln Park Zoo and everything north.
Janowitz told Block Club on Monday she plans to support Knudsen in the runoff and thinks she could use her experience to help him in office.
“He’s a nice young man, and I got to know him a little bit during the course of the election,” Janowitz said. “I think he’s committed to the ward and will try and do a good job.”
Knudsen praised Janowitz for bringing a “unique perspective” to the race in a statement released Tuesday.
“We built a good relationship and respected each other on the campaign trail, so her support means the world to me,” Knudsen said. “We share a commitment to reducing crime, investing in public safety and fighting for fundamental rights, and I’m fortunate to have Rebecca’s expertise to lean on going forward.”
Knudsen, who also announced an endorsement from state Sen. Sara Feigenholtz on Monday, said his path to victory includes building “consensus in many different ways” while continuing to be “the best alderman I can for the 43rd Ward.”
“I’m going to be trying to get in front of as many people as possible,” Knudsen said. “We hit 13,000 doors as a team — a lot of which were me personally — and we’re going to keep that up.”
Comer said he plans on reaching out to voters who supported his opponents in the Feb. 28 election to appeal to common issues between their campaigns.
“Our competitors that aren’t advancing offered a great addition to the conversation, and I look forward to talking to the voters who opted for one of those candidates to show that we’re concerned about the same issues,” Comer said. “Because if this ward doesn’t work for everybody, then it doesn’t work for anybody.”
Taylor Nations, who came in fourth with 13 percent of the vote, declined to comment. So did Botsford and McClellan, who came in fifth and sixth.
Campaign Sign Theft Accusations
Comer’s campaign has raised concerns over an incident that happened in the days before the Feb. 28 election involving a Knudsen campaign worker.
Comer was driving down Armitage Avenue about 8:30 p.m. Feb. 26 when he saw someone carrying his green campaign signs under their arm. As Comer passed, he recognized the person as Alex Hanns from Knudsen’s campaign team, he said.
After taking photos where Hanns is recognizable, Comer stopped, got out of his car and went up to Hanns, he said.
“I stopped him and asked what he’s doing with my signs and he goes, ‘Oh, I’m just cleaning up,'” Comer said. “He throws them down on the ground and is like ‘Here, you can have them,’ and he just keeps walking.”
Hanns had four signs under his arm, but Comer said more were missing from the area.
After filing a police report, Comer drove around Lincoln Park with his treasurer, who placed about 75 signs that morning, Comer said. Of that, 55 signs were missing.
“And there were appointed alderman signs in the same exact spots where ours used to exist,” Comer said.
Hanns, who emailed Comer on Saturday to apologize, said he removed no more than a dozen of Comer’s signs because they were placed on public grounds like Lincoln Park High School and planters along Armitage Avenue. State law prohibits candidates from posting signs on public property.
Hanns also checked with every staffer and volunteer for Knudsen’s campaign and confirmed no one else removed signs, he said.
Comer denied placing signs on public property and said they were removed from private property where he had gotten permission to post them.
Police confirmed a report was filed alleging property was removed from “private and public locations.” No additional details were available.
Comer said the sign incident was the latest in a “pattern of immaturity” by Knudsen’s campaign, which has included launching a website accusing Taylor Nations of being a cyberbully after exchanging barbs with her campaign. The website was taken down after Taylor Nations did not advance to the runoff.
“From our standpoint regarding the signs, we just wanted to make people aware that it was happening and to stop it if they saw it,” Comer said. “But as far as I’m concerned, we’ve not stopped our mission of talking about issues that matter to voters, actually delivering actionable plans.”
Crime, Finances And Other Key Issues
Both candidates have said public safety is the No. 1 issue affecting the ward, followed by economic development and constituent services.
Knudsen, whose first move in office was to use the ward’s menu dollars to install more security cameras across the ward, said he’ll continue funding more cameras while co-sponsoring bills against illegal guns.
Knudsen also plans to work with the new 18th and 19th district police councils to bring more officers back to the area, he said.
“I think these police district councilors are going to be an incredible asset to the ward office in brainstorming and promoting safety from the community level,” Knudsen said.
RELATED: Here’s Who Won In The Police District Council Races
Comer, who serves as an 18th District police beat facilitator, has told Block Club crime and public safety are “point number one, two and three” to his campaign’s platform.
Comer proposed reorganizing the police budget so it spends less money on paying top brass and misconduct lawsuits and more money putting officers on the street. Comer also suggested offering incentives to boost officer retention.
Knudsen has highlighted “fiscal responsibility” as his No. 2 focus in the ward, emphasizing that he supported the city’s latest budget, which “invests in our priorities like public safety and makes an advance pension payment — all without a property tax increase.”
Comer’s economic development plan includes supporting existing businesses while attracting ones to the ward’s commercial corridors.
To improve constituent services, Knudsen has started implementing technology that he hopes will help his office respond to 311 calls more efficiently.
Comer pointed to his “mini-alderman” experience as president of the Sheffield Neighborhood Association, through which he’s established a track record of responding to neighbors’ needs, he said.
“My job as alderman is to make sure that residents know when something goes wrong in their everyday life, that my office is there to serve them,” Comer said. “It shouldn’t be something they have to keep following up with.”
Other issues important to Knudsen include fundamental rights, he said. In his previous legal role, Knudsen founded the pro-bono practice at his law firm of representing LGBTQ asylum seekers in Chicago and Tijuana, Mexico.
Knudsen also knocked on doors in 2017 to rally support for House Bill 40, which protects access to abortion in Illinois, Knudsen said.
“It’s not a small thing that I’m the first gay alderman in the ward, and I know how that happened,” Knudsen said. “It happened because of my experience and the past door-knocking on issues like that to protect a woman’s right to chose.”
Knudsen’s and Comer’s runoff election is April 4.
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