Congress vs. Fioretti

Hotel takes aim at 'aldermanic prerogative'

07/08/2009 10:00 PM


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Robert Fioretti
2nd Ward alderman

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.

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By Land Grab from Dearbron Park II
Posted: 07/14/2009 7:06 AM

Claudea: Don't know where you get your information but there has NEVER been a time when Dearborn Park II children were not in the automatic enrollment neighborhood area for South Loop School.

By claudea from united center
Posted: 07/13/2009 11:21 PM

Are the kids in Dearborn Park 2 allowed to go to the school yet, or all the kids in the school from other parts of the city.

By Land Grab from Dearborn II
Posted: 07/13/2009 3:03 PM

Yeah, part of the fence will go down as they build an expansion over the park and the rest will enclose the new asphalt parking lot.

By Urban Pioneer from Dearborn Park
Posted: 07/13/2009 2:26 PM

Yeah!!!!!! Now I hear they want to expand the school.

Posted: 07/13/2009 2:09 PM

"MUSEUM MOVE STALLS OUT" by Greg Hinz === This should stick it to that land-grabbing Fioretti!! He supported that shameless land grab at Grant Park (even backstabbing the people's hero Reilly after Flip-Flop Bob said he would support Reilly). Just like he supported that other land grab in DPII by approving a fence around the people's park after he said he wouldn't. He doesn't even show his face around here now. The man has no shame!

By If Congress is a bad hotel from Don't stay there
Posted: 07/12/2009 7:26 PM

That's a valid point Miggs. Fioretti is trying to hold the hotel to account based on what he ran for. However, "[Judge] 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 ..." As the claim alleges and the judge has allowed the claim to proceed, Fioretti is accused of violating the "Equal-Protection" Clause of the US Constitution. Ironic since he is a civil-rights attorney.

By miggsathon from Downtown
Posted: 07/12/2009 10:07 AM

Process aside, I find it interesting that no one here is even mentioning what has led Fioretti to oppose the Congress Hotel's demands. That hotel completely screwed over its workers, providing very low pay and benefits, treating them like garbage, even confiscating gifts that hotel visitors had given them. So the workers went on strike. The Congress Hotel has broken that strike, thereby avoiding accountabilityand decency. Isn't it a good thing Fioretti is saying they have to do better?

By I'm sick and tired of the corruption from Calculate the corruption tax
Posted: 07/10/2009 9:20 PM

I agree with Machiavelli: Fioretti wants more power. Now we know why he ran for committeeman - a position most people don't understand. Last year when we were busy salivating over Obama, Fioretti was salivating over taking the committeeman position from lame duck Bobby Rush. Since nobody opposed his power grab, Fioretti now has slatemaking power as well as being an alderman - which he'll use to his advantage. Slatemaking gave us Toddler Stroger, and it might give us a higher level Fioretti.

By claudea from united center
Posted: 07/10/2009 7:58 PM

I'd put my money on congressman.

By Machiavelli Reincarnated from The 2nd Ward is suffering big time
Posted: 07/10/2009 6:20 PM

I don't think Fioretti forgot why he was elected. I think things are proceeding exactly as he planned. Fioretti is after power, nothing more. The only unanswered question is which office he is running for next.

By Jackie from South Loop
Posted: 07/10/2009 4:47 PM

We. the people, have sat back so long and let these politicians do whatever and now we have created "monsters." Please, I am not calling Alderman Fioretti a monster but, he has joined the ranks of a select group of people that forgot why they were elected. Our economy is hurting and people are looking for honest and ethical politicians. If our society does not change, we are not going to have a society worth fighting for.

By claudea from united center
Posted: 07/09/2009 10:13 PM

You have apoint Jim! We (all of us posters) are becoming snitty, myself included.

By Jim from South Loop
Posted: 07/09/2009 5:08 PM

Which former staffer? It is interesting how names have fallen off these blog posts in favor of titles. Personally, I don't see much value to these discussions as they have devolved into pro alderman versus con alderman for the most part.

By Intrigued from Printer's Row
Posted: 07/09/2009 1:58 PM

I am beginning to wonder if the poster who has changed other's name or made disparaping remarks about other's in the "name" box is someone who is on, or used to be on the alderman's staff. There is so much 'passion' in their e-mails, be it good or bad. These posts have the same passion that one of the alderman's former staff members put in his e-mail responses to the residents of the 2nd ward.

By Be Honest from If You Say It, Do It, Or Explain Why You Can't
Posted: 07/09/2009 12:00 PM

A pet rock would be better than Haithcock; she was aweful. Unfortunately I hear people use that as an implied defense of Fioretti. "At least he's better than Haithcock" they say. When Fioreti ran, he raised the bar for himself, but he is now failing miserably to live up to his own professed standards. He talked a good talk, but he is not delivering. So we are stuck with him for now. We realize there's some things beyond an alderman's control. Honesty shouldn't be one of them.

By Sueanne from Near West Side
Posted: 07/09/2009 11:33 AM

I do have to give the alderman some praise, however, because he is much more visable, much more active than Haithcock ever hoped to be. He has done some good, but there are areas where he really could have done good for the community (Dearborn Park 2, Skinner School) and the future of the community (Rockwell Gardens) that he has really screwed up because he listened to individual interests as opposed to those of the community.

By J John from South Loop
Posted: 07/09/2009 11:16 AM

Annesue, there is a big difference between the Childrens Museum and issuing permits to expand a building or allowing a side walk cafe. During the last Town Hall meeting Alderman Fioretti talked about how the Dunkin Dougnuts near the Roosevelt Station, wanted a side walk cafe but he denied them because of the location. He didn't want more people hanging around outside the stop. While I agree with that decision, the Alderman was speaking as if he was the one that made that decision.

By annesue from westside
Posted: 07/09/2009 11:15 AM

A sign permit does need approval from the Alderman. That is different from a vote in front of the plan commission on the Congress Hotel's expansion plans. There is no talking out of both sides of his mouth he is simply stating the facts for two totally different issues and relative powers.

By Sueanne from Near West Side
Posted: 07/09/2009 10:58 AM

I'm not attacking the alderman. I am just stating the facts as he said them at a recent public meeting in front of a whole lot of people. So he gives the clear perception that he has this kind of power in front of a large audience. That is a fact. Perhaps I should take a tape recorder to the next public meeting, just in case the Alderman is there. Perhaps, "annesue", you should bring a tape recorder as well. Then we can compare notes.

By annesue from Westside
Posted: 07/09/2009 10:26 AM

Do you even pay attentionto local politics? If Alderman had complete control then how disd the Children's Museum go in over the alderman's objection? The Congress Hotel was before the planning commission whose members are appointed by the Mayor. Alderman Fioretti spoke against issuing approval both times before the plan commission, the first time they deferred the second they allowed. So that proves his point. Your constant attacks on the alderman are nonsense.

By J John from South Loop
Posted: 07/09/2009 10:22 AM

I agree with Sueanne's statements. After going to a town hall meeting and listen to Alderman Fioretti, he definitely gives some indications that he does hold that power.

By Sueanne from Near West Side
Posted: 07/09/2009 9:12 AM

Yet, the alderman said at a recent meeting that he personally will not allow the permit for a 'flag sign for Felony Franks' to pass. Which one is it? Does he only have clout over west side hot dog stands and not over east side hotel cafes? Or is he chewing out of both sides of his mouth? And so it goes in Chicago politics as usual.