Dennis J. “DJ” Doranthe openly gay owner of the LGBTQ+-focused Aequalitas Mediais planning a run for Chicago mayor.
Doran, a Lake View resident, has acknowledged he is an outsiderbut he also believes that designation is an asset as well. In an exclusive with Windy City Times, Doran, 62, discussed his background, ideas and personal revelations far ahead of the 2023 election.
Windy City Times: For our readers, provide a little background about yourself.
DJ Doran: Sure. I’m originally from New York. I joined the Air Force when I was 18 and traveled all over the world. I got out of the Air Force and I eventually made it to Chicago and have lived here the last eight or nine years, give or take.
I’ve always been an entrepreneur. I’ve had construction companies and all sorts of different businesses. In 2009, when the economy was collapsing, my husband and I bought a sailboat; we lived on that for three years in San Francisco. During that time, I got bored and bought a publishing company. When I bought it, it was a straight magazine; it failed spectacularly, but I learned about publishingand I told my husband, “That’s what I want to do. I have a passion for publishing.”
So I bought my very first newspaper in Indianapolis. From there, I built my company, and, now, Aequalitas Media is the second-largest LGBT media company in the country, behind Pride Media.
I’ve always enjoyed watching politics but I didn’t want to get involved in something so dirty. But recently, I’ve been thinking that I’ve been under the radar for so many years, and I want to make a positive impact. I said, “Stop complaining and get involved.” I thought about running for alderman or the school board, but a friend of mine said, “Listen, DJyou’re not a school board or alderman guy. If you do this, you have to run for the top job. And no matter how bad you think you are, you’re going be better than what we currently have.” I thought about it for about a month and then decided I’m going to [run for mayor].
My focus is not on being a longtime politician or a lifelong bureaucrat. I want to reach the people and say, “I’m just like you. I’m a businessman and I struggled to make it; some months are better than others. I’m just trying to live my best life.”
What I’ve realized is that the more I’ve learned about Chicago politics, the more that I realize that even seven terms wouldn’t be enough to solve all the problems. What I’ve learned is that leaders inspire others to do their best. When you see the police department turn its back when the mayor walks into a room, or when the fire department is not willing to work with her and all these organizations not willing to work together, how do you run a city?
I have strength of leadership. I may not have all the other qualifications, but I have that. I supported Mayor Lightfoot 100 percent when she was elected, but I’m disappointed in her leadership and in what she’s done for the city, and I’m absolutely disappointed in the way she conducts herself with all the organizations in the city. It’s not good leadership to be a bully or to be vulgar and divisive. Sometimes, you have to make unpopular decisionsbut you must conduct yourself in a professional manner.
WCT: Besides the way you say the current mayor conducts business, what are other issues you have with her actions?
DJD: There are a few. One is that I don’t think she’s been very proactive in terms of getting things done; she’s been a reactionary mayor.
The second thing is that I’m not a big fan of how she handled things during the pandemic. When people were fearful and the [looting] happened, I don’t think she stepped up enough to let people know she had control of the situation. Now I don’t have a lot of insight regarding how she runs day-to-day operations, but I see what everyone else sees on the news. When you have 50 aldermen voicing their displeasure with you… You should be aligned with your city council.
The other thing is that, ultimately, a leader is a figurehead to the peoplesomeone people can relate to and trust. I think the mayor has failed miserably to get people to believe they can trust her to lead and that she plays well with others. When you have adversaries that close to you, they’re going to do everything possible to hinder you.
WCT: You’ve said you’re still learning about Chicago politics. Even though you and your husband have been in Chicago for a few years, are you concerned that you’ll be viewed as too much of an outsider, given that a lot of your connections are outside the city?
DJD: First of all, I don’t think people care about me being an outsider. I’ve been here nine years, so I’m not completely an outsideralthough I’m an outsider when it comes to Chicago politics.
I’m a businessman and a pilot, actually. I don’t just hop into a plane; I create a flight plan. So one of the things I’ve learned from chatting with people in the Democratic Party and PR companies is that nobody will take my campaign seriously or credibly until I raise money. Money is power, and where that money comes from doesn’t matter, in my view. Otherwise, this is just a hobby.
WCT: Just curious: Who’s your political role model?
DJD: Oh, there are so many. I’ve really looked at parties as my only source of inspiration. For instance, I thought Ronald Reagan was a great communicator; I didn’t like his policies but he got people to believe that he cared. I thought Bill was and still is one of the most talented politicians I’ve ever seen; quite frankly, if he had handled the Monica Lewinsky scandal differently, he’d probably be considered one of the greatest presidents of the modern era. I think FDR made people feel everything was great while in the middle of World War II. I thought Barack Obamawho I met at a conference recentlywas great. I didn’t always agree with his policies, either, and I thought he relied too much on executive ordersbut he struck me as being personable, intelligent and articulate, and I could see how inspirational he can be.
I feel that it’s that quality that’s missing. I’m a registered Democrat but I want to lead the whole city. Why can’t we have bipartisan cooperation? I’m going to come in wanting to build a consensus; it’s about crossing the aisle.
WCT: But do you have to really worry about crossing the aisle in Chicago?
DJD: You don’t have to worry about it in Chicago, but everyone has different agendas. You need to find common ground there.
WCT: What do you think is the biggest problem for the LGBTQ+ community in Chicago?
DJD: Well… I have to say I’m not sure what the biggest problem is for the LGBTQ community. That’s going to be part of my journeyfinding out things like that.
We were at a restaurant recently in Boystown [now designated as Northalsted] recently. I was telling one of the servers I was running for mayor and he said, “Ohplease do! We need better leadership.” Apparently, after hours in Boystown, it becomes very dangerous. I didn’t know that; I live in the Lake View East area and I’m not out that late anymore. He said we need a stronger police presence and people who are invested in the community. And I thought, “WowLake View is a reasonably affluent area. Why is it having these issues?”
I think the LGBTQ community is particularly sensitive about crime. When I go to conferences, the number-one concern from the LGBTQ community is safety. So I’d say the number-one thing is being safe.
WCT: Every aspect of a political candidate’s life is scrutinized. Keeping that in mind, you recently posted, “Truth of the Day: Today sucked. It started out amazing, but I was quickly reminded that people who preach about being full of integrity and trustworthiness rarely are. They speak glowingly to your face, but their hearts are filled with backstabbing gossip and betrayal. It seems that these are the earned hallmarks of so many in the LGBTQ+ community, especially in LGBTQ+ media. Is it any wonder why we are so often viewed as small, petty and inconsequential[?]”
Would you like to get out in front of this quote, being a member of the LGBTQ+ community?
DJD: I personally stand behind that post 100 percent and this is why: I’ve been in the LGBTQ media for 15 years. I’ve seen people betrayed from gossiping or not showing integrity. One thing I’ve learned and want to get across, Andrewand this is going to be the hallmark of my campaignis that who you see is who you get.
One of the common questions I hear is “Why aren’t the LGBTQ media and community taken seriously? Why won’t [openly gay United States Secretary of Transportation and former presidential candidate] Pete Buttigieg speak with us?” He won’t because they always complain he’s not gay enough or something else, and they never pay attention to the storyand he finally got tired of it.
I understand that everybody loves to gossip, but there’s a difference saying, “Hey, did you hear this?” and saying one thing and acting differently behind someone’s back. I wonder if we aren’t taken seriously because we’re our own worst enemy. If I’m not happy with something, I’ll say itbut I won’t be vulgar about it.
WCT: What are your biggest advantage and disadvantage in this race?
DJD: Great question! My biggest advantage (and disadvantage) is that I’m not a political insider. I don’t have any connections in the city and I don’t owe anyone any political favors; I’m blissfully ignorant about Chicago politics, right now. The other advantage is that I’m looking at this as a yearlong campaign to be hired.
What a good leader is have a strong team of competent people around him. I’m a CEOI’m not a social-media person, accountant or Web designer, but I let them bring their talents to the table and I’m not a micromanager. And I have the strength of character to do what’s right.
My disadvantages are that I have no political infrastructure or experience, and I’m not a lifelong politician and I don’t know the key peopleyet. But what is the mayor, ultimately? That person is the CEO, and I’ve held that office.
WCT: In the past two yearswith the COVID pandemic and racial awakening some have hadthere’s been a lot of time for self-reflection. What have you learned about yourself?
DJD: Interesting… What I’ve learned is that I’m a product of my upbringingand that’s a scary thing. As a boomer, you’ve had a certain way of doing things but the universe, if you’re open to it, will shake up your world. What happened to me is that I’ve met people from different backgrounds, such as non-binary and transgender people, who I did not grow up withbut who I’ve learned from, and who I share a humanity with. I’m a boomer, but an open-minded one. You look past someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity and realize we’re all human beings.
Doran’s website is doran4mayor.com .