Tina Hone

Tina Hone

Martina Hone, chief engagement officer for the City of Chicago since 2020, has stepped down from her role to run for 5th Ward alderwoman. An attorney who has spent decades working on Capitol Hill and in City Hall, Hone joins a crowded field of candidates to replace outgoing Ald. Leslie Hairston.

She was born in Hyde Park to a white father and a Black mother who met on the former 57th Street bridge between the beach and the Museum of Science and Industry. Her father once noted that she can walk into a room without people making racialized judgments about her and that her experience is different from most other Black people’s. 

"I don't want to diminish and disrespect the very real challenges that people who are much more visibly African American face, including the people in my family like my sister and my mom. They face the real discrimination of being followed around the store. My nephew was stopped for 'driving while Black,'" Hone said. "It's a very real experience that is not part of my experience, but vicariously and very painfully, seeing what's happened to my family and to other people I love."

She recalled how mean the landlord of their building at 54th Street and Dorchester Avenue was to her single mother after her parents' divorce before their move to Chatham and then Roseland.

Hone said seeing the disparities between her father's white experience on the North Side and her mother's Black experience on the South Side, "That whipsaw, that very visible seeing it, experiencing and feeling it is what made me such a fierce social justice warrior." 

She eventually moved back to Hyde Park for college at the University of Chicago before moving west for law school at the University of California, Berkeley. After a few years working at law firms, she taught middle school in the Bay Area through Teach for America, which in the early 1990s was a new organization.

She moved to Washington, D.C. after that, hoping to work in education policy but wound up taking jobs in the House Judiciary Committee (with a focus on immigration policy), the Commerce Department (specifically the 2000 census) and the American Legacy Foundation, an anti-tobacco use organization. In total, Hone spent more than 20 years working at the Capitol.

Hone moved back to Hyde Park six years ago after her first husband died; she worked at YWCA Metropolitan Chicago for three years, ending as chief equity officer. In September 2020, she began work as Mayor Lori Lightfoot's chief engagement officer; she did not work on her 2019 mayoral campaign.

In mid-September she left Lightfoot’s administration to launch her aldermanic bid. As a four-year member of the Fairfax County School Board in Northern Virginia, she is the only declared candidate thus far who has experience holding an elected office.

She said her experience in Congress matters as much as her experience in local government. "All of the roles matter, because what you come to understand is it's easy to grandstand, make empty promises and say what you're going to do, but the actual task of getting things done is far more complicated and far more nuanced," she said.

Hone was the only Black person on a school board for an affluent district in which Black and brown students made up a third of enrollment. She created an organization, Coalition of The Silence, composed of parents of color and parents of students with disabilities to advocate for their children's needs. Hone said they got third grade reading levels measured as a marker of student progress as well as kindergarten readiness considered and discriminatory discipline policies changed. She also got more people of color elected to the school board. 

"Understanding how to work in coalition and understanding how to listen to all views" comes in handy, Hone said, in the "incredibly complex" 5th Ward. She noted that it contains five community areas: Hyde Park, Kenwood, Woodlawn, South Shore and Greater Grand Crossing. "To be able to represent every part of this ward, one really has to be open enough to hearing a diversity of views," she said. 

To do that, Hone said she would create a community council made up of representatives of all community areas and not solely comprised, she said, of "the usual suspects." Not that she has anything against them ("They become the usual suspects because they do something"), but because there are important, smart and thoughtful people who are nevertheless apolitical and therefore are not getting their views expressed in public discourse.

"I actually would spend the time, as I did as chief engagement officer, trying to find the people who may not traditionally be at tables and give them space at the table," she said. 

Echoing other declared candidates, Hone said public safety is a top concern of 5th Ward voters she's spoken to, adding that it’s not a problem she believes can be solved with increased policing.

Better policing, like shorter response times, is needed — she noted staffing shortages in the Chicago Police Department and suggested different assignments or restructuring — but she said that law enforcement will not be the thing that makes Chicago safe. She noted generational trauma's role in crime and the "enduring results of economic disenfranchisement in the Black community.” She noted the importance of entrepreneurship programs and others to help developers and contractors to counteract this, but she also wants a "meaningful" job program. 

"There are vacancies in the city of Chicago that could be prioritized for not the Black community, but communities that have been experiencing the most chronic levels of unemployment and the lowest levels of income," she said. "Not surprisingly, those end up being predominantly Black communities."

"One of the hardest parts of governing is that you are generally dealing with competing legitimate interests," she said, recalling the town hall meetings she ran on the city's planned casino to be built in River West that has upset nearby residents. Hone said community input is an important part of the decision-making process but not dispositive.

While Hone is an alumna of Lightfoot's administration, she emphasized that she is running as Tina Hone. "Among the reasons it was incredibly important for me to step down is because I wanted to be sure that the people of the 5th Ward understood that I am not here as anyone's puppet," she said.

She nevertheless said she has a good relationship with Lightfoot, who is running for reelection, and said of the mayor: “I wish people understood her better… Like all people, she loses her temper. But in my experience, it was as constructive a work environment as I’ve ever worked in.” 

This contrasts with the working relationship many alderpersons say they have with Lightfoot. Ald. Sophia King (4th) has been motivated to challenge Lightfoot for her job based in part by how bad she said relations are with City Council and how low in esteem alderpersons are held as partners in governing the city.

Regardless of who wins the mayoral election, Hone noted the huge number of vacancies coming to City Council, calling the incoming number of freshmen alderpersons "a fresh start."

"I think it's a great opportunity to have a restart button where City Council members can have a more active role in not just representing their wards but being partners in the governing of the city," Hone said. 

In terms of local development, Hone said she is a supporter of the Obama Presidential Center, but hopes the engagement process going forward "is broader than just the communities just directly around the Obama Center," noting the effect the closure of Cornell Drive will have on Far South Side communities like Roseland. 

Hone believes the OPC will lead to the revitalization and redevelopment of South Shore, and she wants to ensure that any benefits that come are equitably shared. "It's important that we put development dollars into neighborhoods that have been completely disinvested in," she said. "71st Street should be as vibrant as 53rd Street."

Many South Shore residents and community organizations, such as Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP) – a member of the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) Coalition – however, have repeatedly raised concerns that the “redevelopment” of the neighborhood could lead to widespread displacement as housing costs rise. Calls for the development of more affordable housing in the neighborhood – such as what was guaranteed in the 2020 Woodlawn Housing Preservation Ordinance – and stronger protections for renters have largely been ignored by the City.

When asked about maintaining affordability in Hyde Park, Hone said homeowners should be able to take advantage of increasing property values without the risk of losing their homes. She said that large rental companies like Mac Properties and Pangea Properties operate like monopolies, decrying the declining number of mom-and-pop resident landlords and calling it "a much more important piece of the affordable housing puzzle” than most people recognize.

"When you're in the neighborhood and it's your building, you're going to take care of that building in a different way than being an absentee investor who just bought up a lot of six-flats," she said. "We need to figure out how to make mega-developers accountable for the things that they're doing and are able to do in terms of increasing rents subtly."

Incentivizing landlords to buy and operate locally and at a small scale through financing is something the council should investigate, she said.

Hone said her experience in government would give her a leg up in handling constituent services, particularly in the Byzantine city bureaucracy. Not only does she know who to call, but she said she has existing relationships with people in local departments and agencies. She said she would like to open a service office in a central location in the ward.

And she said she would be a steady advocate for Promontory Point, which holds personal significance to her as a native Hyde Parker. "I really, really believe there is a way to preserve the point with the limestone and beauty that it is. And it'll be a priority to me," she said.

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