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Fred Eychaner speaks at a Landmarks Illinois event./photo by Shia Kapos 0

Fred Eychaner addresses the ‘awkwardly bad’ of politics

March 16th, 2017

Media businessman Fred Eychaner, who seldom speaks publicly but whose voice is powerful in progressive politics, took to the microphone last night.

His message, “Keep fighting. Never give up.”

The words were directed to Chicago preservationists, but given Eychaner’s support for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, he might have been giving a nod to left-leaning friends, too.

The Chicago businessman took the stage as an honoree at Landmarks Illinois’ annual legendary landmarks fundraiser. The nonprofit funds and supports historic and landmark buildings around the state. Eychaner is credited with helping keep the Auditorium Theater in Chicago and Unity Temple in Oak Park standing and he’s been part of numerous projects to restore Chicago buildings. A few months ago he even opened a new one–an art gallery to tell the story of AIDS in America.

Artist Richard Hunt and developer Dan McCaffery also were honored at the event that raised about $825,000 for Landmarks Illinois. Among the 750 attendees were Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, financier Richard Driehaus, Duchossois Group CEO Craig Duchossois, auctioneer Leslie Hindman, restaurateur Steve Lombardo, billionaire real-estate mogul Jennifer Pritzker and attorney Wayne Whalen.

Eychaner’s personal story is not well-known. He was born and raised in DeKalb Illinois. He dropped out of school, bought a printing press and started printing the Reader. He went on to build Newsweb Corp., once an empire. It now runs a radio station and has an interest in a TV station in Colorado.

“He’s done unbelievably well and taken proceeds of all that and turned it into social action and turned it in to cultural social advances,” political strategist David Axelrod said in the video introducing Eychaner. Theater veteran Jan Kallish described him as “fearless and fierce.” And the crowd gave whoots and a standing ovation when former Gov. Pat Quinn credited Eychaner with helping pass marriage equality in Illinois.

Eychaner’s speech didn’t touch on politics directly but he did poke at the power of City Hall.

He compared “The Fifth Floor,” where the mayoral offices sit, to the “mythical, mystical, magical” Mount Kailish where mystic Shiva makes decisions that can’t always be explained.

Look at the “giant toilet bowl (that) was plopped on Soldier Field,” he said, referencing the stadium renovation. “I don’t think anyone here in 2017 can maintain with a straight face that was a great exercise in urban planning,” he said. But he called the razing Meigs Field a decision of wisdom. “Shiva has many faces,” Eychaner said of the two projects enacted under former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

When the laughs died down, Eychaner got serious, saying the point is to “never give up” and “try to reach compromise and move forward together however awkwardly bad” political decisions may be.

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