Moreno move to stop Chick-fil-A throws spotlight on ‘aldermanic privilege’

Chck fil a 2

by Camille Izlar & Donna M. Marbury/MEDILL
Jul 26, 2012

Logan Square is the latest battleground for gay rights as 1st Ward Ald.  Proco “Joe” Moreno’s decision to pull support for a Chick-fil-A restaurant continues to gain national attention and divide community leaders.

Moreno used alderman’s privilege to block a new Chick-fil-A restaurant in Logan Square because of conservative-leaning comments from the restaurant’s president. Since Moreno’s decision on Monday, Senators Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee criticized Moreno and called for an August 1 Chick-fil-A appreciation day, while gay rights groups praised Moreno on social media across the country.

Matthew Bailey, spokesman for Moreno, says that Chick-fil-A has been in talks with the alderman’s office for the past nine months about subdividing the Home Depot parking lot for a new location. “First we talked to a company representative, then a lawyer. The alderman had questions about possible homophobic policies and Chick-fil-A’s political involvement.” said Bailey.

Bailey said Moreno was also concerned about traffic congestion in the area, but comments from Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy caused Moreno to use his aldermanic privilege to put an end to the discussion.  On July 16, Cathy commented that he believed in, “the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.”

“They have a right to freedom of speech and a right to make money,” says Bailey. “But we have a right not to subdivide the land and not do business with them.”

Paul Levine, executive director of the Logan Square Chamber of Commerce, says that he supports Moreno’s decision to block Chick-fil-A. “The alderman’s conviction is based on personal sentiments which reflect the values of this community. Chick-fil-A’s attitude is not in keeping with the vast majority of folks living in Logan Square.”

Bob Burns, executive pastor of Armitage Church, located in Logan Square, says that the media coverage of the restaurant battle is unfair to Christians. “There seems to be a very strong trend to silence anyone who doesn’t agree with the powers that be,” Burns says, whose church membership is more than 3,000 people. “Chick Fil A in business selling chicken sandwiches. Lots of people I do business with I don’t agree with ideologically. It seems that everybody is being told that everyone accept homo or be quiet.”

Burns says that the church plans to contact Moreno and the mayor’s office. He says he questions Moreno’s use of alderman’s privilege as a violation of freedom of speech laws. “The mayor says, ‘I speak for all of Chicago.’ He definitely doesn’t speak for me and others I know,” says Burns, adding that he feels Cathy’s quotes are being judged unfairly. “He does not say anything about hating homosexuals or discriminating against homosexuals. This is not a civil rights issue.”

Lauren Silich, franchisee owner of a Chick-fil-A in downtown Chicago said she isn’t worried about her business.  “Our alderman has stated that he won’t exercise the privilege. We are very welcoming of every type of person. We’ve created 97 jobs and will hire and treat with respect persons regardless of orientation,” said Silich.

Former 44th Ward alderman and University of Illinois at Chicago professor, Dick Simpson, said the alderman’s privilege is a perfectly legal measure to stop or initiate a civil action in their ward. It is justified because they are “seen as being closest to the community and should have the best sense of what’s going on there.” However, he said that this case is slightly different.

“It is not usually done for such broad social issues as gay marriage, ”said Simpson.

Simpson explained that after exercising the alderman’s privilege the item will still go to a vote, either in the city council or in the zoning board of appeals. He said he wasn’t sure which body would vote on it in the Chick-fil-A case. Simpson said he exercised the aldermanic privilege on several occasions but instituted procedures to ensure that he was representing his whole ward. “I prevailed in all but one case and in that case I abided by the public mandate,” said Simpson.

First Ward Chief of Staff Raymond Valadez says it isn’t clear what route Moreno will take to gauge the opinion of Logan Square residents.

“We haven’t had the chance to discuss our next step or establish a hearing,” Valadez said on Thursday afternoon.

What is aldermanic privilege?
Many Logan Square residents had  probably never heard the term “aldermanic privilege” before Chick-fil-A decided to move into Joe Moreno’s ward. The power has actually been available to Chicago’s aldermen since the 1890’s.  Rooted in the idea that an alderman should have the discretion to represent the expressed desires of his constituents, the privilege has historically been reserved for zoning, parking and traffic violations. The privilege was curtailed in the 1950s and again in the 1990s,  but still allows aldermen to regulate actions so long as they maintain the precepts of the ethics ordinance
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