So many people showed up at City Hall yesterday to protest Mayor Daley’s proposed vendor’s licensing bill that they had to move the meeting from a small hearing room to the full City Council chambers.
It was a rather unique-looking bunch for a council meeting, which generally draws middle-aged white guys in suits. There were younger men and women of all races and ethnicities — a colorful array of T-shirts, tattoos, mohawks, tattered jeans, and piercings. Not to mention a few bushy-haired dudes who looked liked they’d just rolled out of bed.
Some of them told me it was the first time they’d been to City Hall and said they weren’t really up on local politics. One fellow sheepishly admitted he voted for Mayor Daley in the last election: “He’s a dictator, but he’s a benevolent dictator.”
It reminded me of something the late west-side politico Jerald Wilson used to tell me all the time: People in Chicago will let Mayor Daley do whatever he wants, so long as he doesn’t do it to them. Plow over whole CHA communities, divert millions of property tax dollars from the schools to rich downtown developers, cover up investigations into police torture, that’s one thing. But threaten our ability to throw a really good party–my God, the outrage!
Daley’s proposal would, among other things, force promoters to purchase a $2,000 city license (renewable every two years) and undergo a criminal background check before they could promote any public event. According to Daley, it was intended to regulate the promotion business so there would never be another tragedy like the deadly stampede at the old E2 nightclub.
In addition, as more than one City Hall skeptic said today, it’s also intended to raise more revenue for the city and shift liability from the city to promoters in the event of lawsuits from another E2-type tragedy.
After alderman Eugene Schulter (47th) called the Committee on License and Consumer Protection to order, the promoters denounced the proposal. I understand their opposition. The proposed bill is a classic cases of legislative overkill. Filled with ambiguities that raise more questions than it answers, it would cause more problems than it repairs. Plus, it threatens to throw a lot of small promoters out of business. “We say Chicago is a fun town,” declared one promoter, drawing cheers from the crowd. “And this ordinance is killing the fun.”
The truth was that their testimony, no matter how heartfelt, was largely for show. As with so many other matters in City Hall, the real deal had gone down behind closed doors, when none of the little promoters were around. In this case, city officials privately met yesterday with leading venue operators, including the United Center, according to a couple of city officials I talked to. At that meeting the big boys made it clear they opposed the current proposal if only because out-of-town promoters would move their concerts and circuses to competing venues, like the Rosemont Horizon, if it passed.
After yesterday’s meeting it was obvious the current proposal was going nowhere. But the item was on the committee’s agenda, and so they held their meeting. Knowing there would be no vote, the aldermen who showed up were free to play to the crowd without facing mayoral retribution. And so aldermen Walter Burnett (26th), Tom Tunney (44th), and Isaac Carothers (29th) turned into tigers, lacing into Scott Bruner, the director of of the Department of Business Affairs and Licensing, who’d been sent down by the fifth floor to defend the proposal.
At the end of the meeting Schulter said there would be no vote on the proposal — surprise, surprise. It’s not clear what happens next. One insider told me it’s dead — it will never come out of committee. Another told me that Daley will have it reworded to satisfy objections from the big venue operators and bring it back in a few months. At that point the little promoters who filled the council chambers will learn just how benevolent this dictator really is.