A Chicago-based consulting company whose official Twitter account shared comments that some call shocking and anti-Black, is in line to get a $98,000 city contract to conduct a Ryan Field economic impact study.
The city council had planned to vote on the contract with Hunden Strategic Partners Monday night, which city staff recommended, but it removed the item from the consent agenda and postponed the vote.
Hunden Partners’ account, which has since been deleted, retweeted anti-fascist conspiracy theories in 2020 amidst Black Lives Matter protests. The official business account also followed “former liberal” Brandon Straka who was sentenced to three years of probation for his participation in the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot.
“I was profoundly shocked and disappointed that a company like Hunden Strategic Partners would allow something like that on their corporate Twitter feed,” said Lesley Williams, president of Community Alliance for Better Government.
“This wasn’t the individual Twitter feed of an employee. This was on the company’s Twitter feed,” she said.
The retweets were discovered by David DeCarlo, one of the founders of the Most Livable City Association.
“There was some content I found on Hunden’s official Twitter account, where they’re retweeting some right wing commentators who are pushing antifa conspiracy theories in reference to the Black Lives Matter unrest happening in 2020,” DeCarlo said. “I just found that first of all bizarre for a company to be doing that and second racially insensitive to put it mildly.”
The RoundTable reached out to Hunden for comment on its Twitter activity and decision to delete its account, and shared Williams and DeCarlos’ comments with him.
“We take comments like this quite seriously on a professional and personal level,” replied Rob Hunden, president of Hunden Strategic Partners, via email. “I find their commentary not only inaccurate, but offensive, as a gay man who grew up in a biracial home. Our commitment to inclusion across race, gender, age, religion, identity and experience is simply part of our daily work on behalf of our public sector clients. We engage the public and stakeholders on behalf of our clients in the most diverse communities in the U.S., ensuring that the outreach is inclusive of all communities and stakeholders. Hunden Strategic Partners, with a history of 17 years in business, is committed to unbiased analysis for the communities it serves.”
Hunden said the Twitter account was deleted because ” it had potentially been compromised.”
When the RoundTable asked Hunden if he was implying the Twitter activity wasn’t done by Hunden Partners, Hunden said that in the past, several staff members who are no longer employed at the firm had access to its social media account, “so we can only guess what happened. We believed the account was closed some time ago, so we’re very upset to learn of the situation today.”
Until Hunden Partners deleted its Twitter account, the business firm followed a slew of Fox News and conservative commentators including Ben Shapiro, Tucker Carlson, Charlie Kirk, Laura Ingraham, Gregg Jarrett and Sebastian Gorka.
Hunden Partners retweeted Candace Owens, a conservative commentator, on May 30, 2020. “These #AntifaTerrorists are targeting black kids & neighborhoods,” Owens tweeted.
The Hunden Partners Twitter account retweeted a video on Aug. 12, 2020 of individuals “looting” in Chicago during the Black Lives Matter protests. Hunden Partners added “Ugh Chicago” to its retweet of the video.
“It shows a profound lack of respect for African Americans and the feelings that African Americans felt during the George Floyd protests,” Williams said. “And frankly, there’s a not-so-subtle tone of anti-Blackness in those tweets.”
Hunden Partners also retweeted Benny Johnson, another conservative commentator on May 31, 2020. The video in the tweet shows two white individuals wearing all black, who Johnson refers to as “ANTIFA,” spray painting “BLM” on businesses. Johnson was fired by Buzzfeed in 2014 for plagiarism.
The RoundTable reached out by email to Paul Zalmezak, Evanston’s economic development manager; Luke Stowe, city manager; and Patrick Deignan, the city’s communications director. Neither Evanston city staff nor city council members responded to RoundTable inquiries Monday, asking if the city reviews businesses’ social media before hiring them.
This is not the first time the firm has been discussed at the city level. The Administration and Public Works Committee on Jan. 23 halted a vote on the contract to explore other firms for the city’s independent Ryan Field study.
Hunden Partners was recommended over two other options, Civic Economics and AECOM. The city’s funding for a consultant is from a contingency account in the city manager’s budget. In a memo to the council, city staff listed six reasons to proceed with Hunden’s proposal, even though it was more costly than the other two.
The city’s top reason for selecting Hunden was that it has “the most experience with stadium and concert/event economic studies,” the memo said.
According to Northwestern’s analysis, which opponents say is overly optimistic, the redevelopment of Ryan Field will generate $1.2 billion in revenue in Cook and Lake counties. The current plan for the 35,000-capacity stadium includes alcohol sales and 10 annual concerts. However, some local leaders and community members are skeptical of the school’s proposal.
Hunden Strategic Partners is a consulting firm that focuses on economic, real estate and tourism development projects. Hunden’s portfolio includes a study on the impact of the proposed Chicago Bears stadium in Arlington Heights, a new NHL stadium in Tempe, Arizona, and a new baseball stadium in Dallas.
“It really surprises me that the city of Evanston would be considering working with this company to do our economic impact study, and it seems to me that the staff who proposed Hunden should have been doing better due diligence on the company because these tweets were not very hard to find,” Williams said.
Williams shared the three tweets with the RoundTable Monday morning via email after DeCarlo alerted her.
Over the weekend, a handful of community organizations issued a press release explaining why they didn’t support Hunden Partners for the contract. It didn’t mention the tweets because DeCarlo didn’t find them until Monday morning.
The press release was sent by Community Alliance for Better Government; Most Livable City Association; Northwestern University Graduate Workers; United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America; and Students Organizing for Labor Rights.
“It’s just a lot of money the city would be throwing at this firm as well,” DeCarlo said. “Now that we’ve got all of these concerns that the community has raised, including this latest one, it would just be extremely disappointing if the council decided to move forward at this point.”
“It shows a profound lack of respect for African Americans and the feelings that African Americans felt during the George Floyd protests,” Williams said.”
“Interesting”, as horrific damage was done to those in the African – American community during the 2020 unrest. From NPR:
WBEZ’s CHIP MITCHELL: On Chicago’s West Side, Decoby Smith wanted to stop at a dollar store on the walk home from his job, but he can’t. The windows are bashed in; the front doors swing freely as water flows out from inside….
DECOBY SMITH: This Family Dollar meant a lot to us… my fear now is the kids going hungry…
MITCHELL: As looting subsides, people are out with brooms. Nonprofits are setting up small business relief funds. And officials say they’re pushing insurers to cut checks and urging big retail chains to quickly reopen…
In wide swaths of Chicago’s South and West sides, these efforts won’t be enough. Some supermarkets, pharmacies and bank branches remain closed with no signs of reopening. Walmart had several stores looted; it’s making no promises about reopening…
MITCHELL: Then there are small businesses. Cal State business professor Laura Gonzalez says the pandemic has brought many to the breaking point…
LAURA GONZALEZ: If they are being looted now, they do not have the cash to rebuild; they will not be able to get loans…
MITCHELL: Last Sunday the city had 15 homicide deaths; gun violence continues… It makes the poorest neighborhoods less attractive to retailers and lenders… A block from the dollar store, Marshall Hatch is pastor of New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church. He’s turning the church into a free food distributor, but he says much more will be needed because there’s no real safety net…”
Gregory Morrow – Chicago 4th Ward resident
You put “looting” in parentheses in regard to the August 12 Chicago video.
Why? Were individuals not in fact arrested for looting and theft during that riot?
Hi, Richard. Thank you for reading the RoundTable and taking the time to comment. I placed “looting” in quotes because I was quoting the Aug. 12, 2020, Twitter caption. A screenshot of the Tweet I’m referring to is in the photo slideshow.