Congress vs. Fioretti
Hotel takes aim at 'aldermanic prerogative'
07/08/2009 10:00 PM
Does Chicago’s tradition of “aldermanic prerogative” — which grants city council members power over much ward-level zoning and development decisions — violate equal protection rights guaranteed under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution?
Does such a prerogative even exist?
Those are some of the questions attorneys representing the Congress Plaza Hotel and the City of Chicago started debating at a trial in federal court that started July 8.
In 2007, the Congress Hotel alleged in a lawsuit that the city and Ald. Robert Fioretti, whose 2nd Ward includes the hotel, conditioned issuance of various permits, including those for a rooftop expansion and a sidewalk café, on the resolution of the now six-year-old strike at the hotel.
By doing so, the suit claimed, Fioretti and the city interfered in federal law that governs labor disputes, among other violations. The city denied the allegations.
The Congress Hotel claims it cannot get the permits it wants because of Fioretti, called a “labor-backed” alderman in the suit.
“In the City of Chicago, the Alderman of the ward where building and construction takes place must approve the proposed construction plans before the various city departments will issue necessary permits,” the suit reads, an allegation city lawyers denied.
Fioretti told Chicago Journal aldermen do not have complete sway over what happens in the areas they represent.
“Sure we should know everything that’s going on in the ward — we weren’t elected to be without a voice,” he said. “But there’s not an untold privilege alderman have in their wards. Anybody that thinks that is naďve.”
City attorneys filed twice to dismiss the suit, and Judge Ronald Guzman struck parts of the hotel’s complaint in a November ruling.
Guzman allowed the Congress suit to proceed based on the hotel’s equal protection claim, its claim that case law prohibits states and cities from regulating labor disputes and the hotel’s claim for injunctive relief.
Like Judge Guzman’s section on equal protection, the latter claims got the go-ahead because of the hotel’s allegations that essentially one person — the alderman — can decide if permits are let out of various city bodies.
“Congress Hotel has alleged that despite the language of city ordinances … defendants’ custom and practice is that the alderman of the affected ward, e.g., Fioretti, acts as a gatekeeper and the issuance of a permit is impossible without his approval,” Guzman wrote in his discussion of past labor law. “So, Congress Hotel alleges that, without Fioretti’s blessing, it is incapable of obtaining approval of a permit from any applicable City authority.”
While the attorneys dueled in court, facts on the ground in the Congress battle have changed.
At a raucous June meeting, members of the Plan Commission gave the hotel permission for their rooftop expansion, reversing their January 2008 decision denying the proposal.
Circuit Court Judge Sophie Hall ordered the commission to rehear the hotel’s application, ruling their previous reasons for denying the expansion were irrelevant. At that meeting, Fioretti asked the commission to reject the application.
But at the Committee on Transportation and Public Way meeting June 25, aldermen recommended that the Congress’s application for a sidewalk café permit be rejected by the full city council. The hotel’s was the only permit heard by the committee that day that was denied.