Alderman lines up hefty support in effort to block Chick-fil-A

July 25, 2012

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(Flickr/Ian Freimuth)

A Chicago alderman appears to have lined up the support he would need to keep Chick-fil-A out of his Northwest Side ward, at least for the time-being.

Ald. Proco "Joe" Moreno of the 1st Ward said he’s been in talks with the fast food chicken chain for months about putting a restaurant in the Logan Square neighborhood. But after Chick-fil-A’s president, Dan Cathy, spoke out against gay marriage, Moreno decided to block a zoning change he said the restaurant would need.

"When we look at zoning, when we look at having businesses in our ward, we have to look at if they’re responsible actors," Moreno said Wednesday in the back room of the city council chamber. "And responsibility means not being discriminatory."

Moreno said he is "not going to be scared" of any potential lawsuit from the company, and said his view could change if Chick-fil-A worked with him on an "anti-discriminatory LGBTQ policy."

Solis, Emanuel support

In most cases, though not all, aldermen get final say on these kinds of local issues, and Moreno’s stance has the support of zoning committee chair, 25th Ward Ald. Danny Solis.

"This is a personal position of Alderman Moreno and I’m going to respect that," Solis said.

Solis also said that if any aldermen wanted a Chick-fil-A in their ward, he would not stand in their way either.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel appeared to go even farther, with comments that open the door to a citywide ban.

"Chick-fil-A’s values are not Chicago values. They’re not respectful of our residents, our neighbors and our family members," Emanuel said.

Aldermanic split

Chicago already has one Chick-fil-A, on the Near North Side. The alderman in that ward, Brendan Reilly, said he doesn’t agree with either Cathy's position on marriage - or Moreno's response to it.

"[Company executives] have their right to express their opinions. We have our right to disagree with them. But I don’t know that that should be a barrier to entry into a market like Chicago," Reilly said.

Ald. Michael Chandler of the West Side's 24th Ward said he’d never heard of Chick-fil-A. But Chandler said he'd gladly accept one in his neighborhood.

"And then if there was another business that they believed in gay marriage that wanted to locate in my ward, I'd put them right next door to [Chick-fil-A]," he said. "I wouldn't have no problem. If they created jobs in my ward and was going to help my people, I would do that."

Still, Chandler said "it's perfectly fine" for Moreno to use what's known as aldermanic privilege to block the restaurant from the 1st Ward.

A universal rule?

When Moreno was pressed on whether he’d block zoning requests from all businesses with that view, the alderman acknowledged such a hard line was not practical.

"I don’t have the resources and the time to question every single business in my ward, I’ve a lot of them. But when someone comes out forward [against gay marriage], if someone is proactively presenting this position, I have to react," Moreno said.

The alderman also noted - albeit far less emphatically - that he is also concerned about traffic around the site of the proposed restaurant. Moreno's position on Chick-fil-A was first reported on Wednesday in the Chicago Tribune.

The Illinois Family Institute, a non-profit based in the Chicago suburbs, quickly blasted Moreno's remarks.

"The hubris and ignorance in his words and actions are astonishing. The threat to speech rights and religious liberty, frightening," wrote the group's Laurie Higgins in a blog post.

Company goes quiet

Chick-fil-A has not responded to a request for comment.

On its Facebook page Wednesday, the company thanked its fans for their support and said, "There is a lot of misinformation out there."

Last week, also on Facebook, Chick-fil-A said the "culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender."

The statement reiterated the chain's well-known policy of "applying biblically-based principles" to the business.

"Going forward," the statement continued, "our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena."