Interview: Tina Hone, Fifth Ward Aldermanic Candidate
Hone, a University alum and the City of Chicago’s most recent chief engagement officer, is focusing her campaign on collaboration within the ward, with the University, and with the police.
Born in Hyde Park, Martina “Tina” Hone graduated from the University of Chicago in 1984. After working in high-profile public service roles in Washington, D.C., and in Chicago, Hone now seeks to return to her roots by joining a crowded group of candidates all aiming to become fifth ward alderman.
Hone was born to a white father and a Black mother, the latter of whom raised her after her parents divorced. Hone moved to Chatham and then Roseland in her youth, but she returned to Hyde Park in 1980 to study political science at the University of Chicago. After earning her bachelor’s in 1984, she graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law in 1989.
She spent a few years in the early 1990s working at the emerging San Francisco branch of Teach for America. In 1996, she moved to Washington, D.C., and served as a counsel for the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, the associate under secretary for economic affairs for the Department of Commerce, and the vice president of public affairs at the American Legacy Foundation. She was also elected to serve on the Fairfax County School Board in Virginia for nearly four years.
“The significance of my experience is that I know how the government works,” Hone said in an interview with The Maroon. “I know how to navigate bureaucracy, and I know how to get things done.”
Hone came back to Hyde Park following the death of her husband in 2016. After taking a brief hiatus from work to mourn, Hone recommitted herself to public service by becoming the chief equity officer at YWCA Metropolitan Chicago in 2019 and later the chief engagement officer of the City of Chicago under Mayor Lori Lightfoot in 2020.
In September 2022, Hone left her position with the city government to run for Fifth Ward alderman. In a large field of 11 candidates running to replace retiring alderman Leslie Hairston, Hone is, as a result of her school board position in Fairfax County, the only candidate to have previously served in an elected office. She believes that her experience both in Washington, D.C., and in city government would enable her to hit the ground running as an alderman.
“We’ve had the same alderman for 24 years,” Hone said. “This ward is going to feel the difference of having somebody who either knows what they’re doing or doesn’t know what they’re doing coming into this role. And I know I’m somebody who will be able to be effective on day one.”
From her career in public service, Hone emphasized her ability to communicate and work out compromises.
“In order to get things done, you have to figure out how to work with your partners, your friends, your allies, and maybe people you disagree with. But you need to be able to find common ground,” Hone said. “That seems like a lofty skill, but that is actually the most basic and fundamental skill that someone needs to successfully govern.”
Hone hopes to unite Fifth Ward constituents by focusing on general issues like public safety, which she sees as “an existential threat” to the ward and the University in particular. However, she highlighted that she would also focus on the issues that plague each neighborhood.
“The Fifth Ward is diverse,” Hone said. “The Fifth Ward is an opportunity, but the Fifth Ward is also a challenge. The Fifth Ward is grace and the Fifth Ward is grit. We have beautiful parks and we also have streets that are strewn with garbage. We have people who are living in $2 million homes, and we have people who are struggling to pay rent on an affordable apartment. We have to be able to really work with the full diversity of this ward—racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic.”
Once in office, Hone pledges to investigate the underlying reasons behind the Fifth Ward’s high crime rate and to work with the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) and the Chicago Police Department (CPD) to determine what could be done to prevent crime. Hone told The Maroon that she was in favor of strengthening UCPD but not expanding its current patrol area, which currently lies between 37th Street to the north, 64th Street to the south, Cottage Grove Avenue to the west, and Lake Shore Drive to the east.
“I’m not anti-police,” she said. “I want to be sure that we have enough police and that the police are well assigned, that they’re not sitting behind desks. I want to be sure UCPD and CPD are coordinating more tightly. I think that’s already in progress, but there could always be more.”
As Fifth Ward alderman, Hone would also oversee the University campus. Hone credits her undergraduate education there with her ability to think critically about solutions to the problems affecting the Fifth Ward.
‘[The University] gave me discipline of thinking, and that has given me confidence,” she said. “There’s not a room that I go in and there’s not a problem that’s going to confront me that I’m not going to be able to figure out. I know how to think through a problem. And that is all University of Chicago.”
Hone recalled that during her time as an undergraduate, the University was often criticized for what she felt was well-intentioned community involvement.
“The University is sometimes situated between a rock and a hard place,” Hone explained. “When I was in college, if the University made so much as a sideways glance [south] of the Midway, it was accused of trying to take over Woodlawn, and this included things like trying to be helpful with schools and programs and really well-intentioned and well-meaning policies. So whatever move the University made, it was criticized. I think it’s still sort of in that position.”
Hone believes the University plays a crucial role in Hyde Park but concedes that it could do more to support South Side residents. For example, she explained her desire for the University to boost opportunities for mental health care, education, and housing in the communities that surround it.
“I think people have to realize there is no Hyde Park without the University of Chicago,” Hone said. “It is the beating heart of Hyde Park. It is the largest employer in Hyde Park, I think the South Side, and one of the largest in the city. Is it a perfect place? No place is perfect.”
If elected alderman, Hone seeks to incorporate the University in her work—particularly the ideas of its students and staff. She expressed optimism at the idea of working alongside President Paul Alivisatos and the newly instated vice president of civic engagement, Christian Mitchell. She also named the Booth Business School, the Pritzker Medical School, the Urban Education Institute, the Crown School of Social Work, and the Harris School of Public Policy as potential partners to help solve community problems.
Those are some of the many people in the Fifth Ward that Hone believes she—and she alone—can represent.
“My experiences growing up has allowed me to understand the challenges of this ward and the opportunities of this ward,” Hone said. “You can’t overestimate how important it is for people to feel understood. And I think that is my secret sauce—I am the person that can represent all the Fifth Ward.”