In April, former Alderman Mark Tendam lost a bid to become Evanston’s mayor, falling just short in a campaign against Mayor Steve Hagerty. The results were breathtakingly close – out of 17,899 votes cast, Mayor Hagerty prevailed by just 115 votes – 9,007 to Mr. Tendam’s 8,892.
The final vote, now certified by the Cook County Clerk, followed a grueling election season. An initial mayoral slate of five narrowed to two by another slim margin. In the primary, Mr. Tendam topped former alderman Brian Miller by just 182 votes, 2,082 to 1,898 while Mayor Hagerty coasted to the top spot with 4,495 votes.
The April election ended, at least temporarily, Mark Tendam’s career as an elected official. He served two terms as alderman of the 6th Ward, winning a three way election battle in 2009 and a two person race in 2013.
The RoundTable sat down with Mr. Tendam this week to catch up.
“People keep asking me how I am,” said Mr. Tendam, “as if I should be sad.” He is not sad, or bitter, but content. “I ran for the right reasons, and when you run for the right reasons you don’t have regrets,” he said. “I can’t do the ‘if only I had done this,’ or ‘if only that’ game, because it would make me crazy,” he said, when talking about how close the vote turned out. He ran the best race he could and he is proud of what he and his team accomplished, closing a gap of over twice as many Mayor Hagerty voters to just 115 more in a matter of weeks.
“I’ve got the ultimate support in my husband Neal [Moglin],” he said.
Since the election, Mr. Tendam said he has been traveling a lot. He went to Ireland for a wedding, and he has been trying to take long weekends often. Mr. Moglin, an attorney, has been on work assignments in London and Toronto, both nice places to visit, he said.
Mr. Tendam has been purposely less active of late, saying he is “taking the summer off,” “reconnecting with friends” including high school friends and friends from home near Cincinnati. In the end, his priority for the moment is to be less active.
“I have reinvented myself a couple of times” in life, he said, saying as a child he was “a wallflower,” but “realized that wasn’t the person inside me” and evolved into an active public figure.
Next on the agenda: “I’d like to paint,” he said.
“Like George Bush?” asked the RoundTable. The former president has taken up painting, even publishing a book of his work earlier this year.
Mr. Tendam then flashed his well-known sense of humor. “I plan to paint George Bush as different dog breeds,” he joked. “George Bush as a Doberman. As a Bijon lap dog.”
Returning to being serious, Mr. Tendam also said, “I’d like to teach if I could.” He does not have the credentials to teach in public school, but mentioned private academies or perhaps an adjunct position. Mr. Tendam worked for years in design and typography, and said the “creative process” and “problem solving” aspects of the career interested him. He wants to pass on knowledge if he can.
He will not remain inactive for long, he said, as the spirit of public service still resides within. Rather than return to general elected public life, though, he said he plans to advocate for specific issues that resonate with him. Specifically, he wants to advocate in the housing and homelessness realm, and addiction and substance abuse.
“You don’t have to be mayor to advocate and make a difference,” he said.
It is clear in conversation that Mr. Tendam has a real passion for issues surrounding homelessness. Mr. Tendam acknowledged the library as a place where the homeless often gathered, and praised the library's decision to hire a social worker. The social worker “can interact with folks – that takes it to a whole new level," he said. But the library has limited hours and limited resources.
He also mentioned a voucher program offering a meal to the homeless, and a place to sit inside for a while. Mr. Tendam said he believed Burger King participated in such a program years ago, and similar programs are “being practiced in other communities.”
Mental health and addiction are another passion. "I dabbled, to say the least," said Mr. Tendam, who admitted last year that he went through drug and alcohol addiction treatment in 2013. "A person with substance abuse issues can tear a family apart," he said. "Without a decent income or health insurance, you're going to have a much harder time climbing out." He acknowledged the benefits he experienced when he went through treatment, and said he wanted to help "the most vulnerable" find the same advantages.
Looking back on his years on Council, Mr. Tendam said he missed being busy most of all. "There was good, there was bad. I am an introvert by nature – I don't reach out to people [and] I have a tendency to spend a lot of time alone." When on Council people came to him constantly. Now, as a private citizen, he has to reach out.
He said he was proud of what the Council accomplished. When he took office in 2009, there were five new aldermen and a new mayor, plus Council was about to hire a new City Manager. "We inherited a terrible economy," he said, referencing the 2008-9 recession. "Things were bleak." Building came to a complete halt, projects were stalled, and unemployment was an issue. "We found ways of jumpstarting" Evanston's economy, he said. "Look what's happened in the last eight years." He talked about all the new restaurants, the breweries, and revitalization. "Evanston is a destination city," he said. He sat on "a Council that wanted to accomplish something."
Mr. Tendam made it clear his political ambition, such as any remained, was entirely local. "I don't have a lot of desire to get back into politics other than what's going on in our fair City." He said he was staying out of the State and national elections entirely.
On the whole, Mr. Tendam said he was relaxed and content, and ready for the next challenge. But not until after the summer, "I'm taking the summer to figure it out," he said with a smile.