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The Richard M. Daley Friend of the Neighborhoods Award

Andrew J. Mooney

Eric Young Smith

He listens.

Whether guiding policy from City Hall or helping local leaders plan and pursue a better future for their neighborhoods, Andy Mooney always begins by listening.

“Top-down doesn’t work,” he explains, citing a list of failed fixes decreed from on high, from “slum clearance” to high-rise public housing. “Neighborhoods have to put together their own leadership, their own program.”

Not that key players go off in different directions. During his recently completed five-year tenure as Commissioner of Planning & Development, as with his 15 years heading the Chicago office of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), Andy perfected the art of gentle persuasion.

The Mooney Method is as profound as it is simple: Listen to find out what their needs and aspirations are; then show the actors in any community development effort – the political, the charitable and the local – that much more can be accomplished by working together.

Exhibit A was LISC’s New Communities Program (NCP). Inspired by a citywide leadership conference, blessed by City Hall, funded by the MacArthur Foundation and run by grassroots groups in 20 neighborhoods, NCP leveraged hundreds of millions in investment, engaged thousands of ordinary citizens and became the nation’s how-to model for comprehensive community development.

At City Hall, the Mooney Method has helped two mayors pull a recession-strapped Chicago back to its feet with a series of public-private collaborations that have borne fruit from Wrigleyville to Fulton Market, from Uptown to Pullman.

Andy Mooney understands, as few do, how the “City that Works” actually does work. A native of Chicago and graduate of the University of Notre Dame, he started in government as the late Mayor Jane Byrne’s first director of intergovernmental affairs, then as executive director and chairman of the board of the Chicago Housing Authority. Later he would leave to run a Des Moines, IA., regional development agency, only to return in the ’90s to lead LISC Chicago, serve on the board of CHA and donate his leadership skills to civic boards and commissions too numerous to list.

He and his wife, Mary Laraia – an accomplished community development pro in her own right – now split their time between their place on the Near West Side and along the Turquoise Trail southwest of Santa Fe, NM. He also may do a little consulting and, of course, listening.