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Alderman to Chick-fil-A: No deal

A Chicago alderman wants to kill Chick-fil-A's plans to build a restaurant in his increasingly trendy Northwest Side ward because the fast-food chain's top executive vocally opposes gay marriage.

Ald.Proco "Joe" Moreno announced this week that he will block Chick-fil-A's effort to build its second Chicago store, which would be in the Logan Square neighborhood, following company President Dan Cathy's remarks last week that he was "guilty as charged" for supporting the biblical definition of marriage as between a man and woman.

"If you are discriminating against a segment of the community, I don't want you in the 1st Ward," Moreno told the Tribune on Tuesday.

Moreno stated his position in strong terms, referring to Cathy's "bigoted, homophobic comments" in a proposed opinion page piece that an aide also sent to Tribune reporters. "Because of this man's ignorance, I will now be denying Chick-fil-A's permit to open a restaurant in the 1st Ward."

The alderman has the ideological support of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

"Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values," the mayor said in a statement when asked about Moreno's decision. "They disrespect our fellow neighbors and residents. This would be a bad investment, since it would be empty."

Moreno is relying on a rarely violated Chicago tradition known as aldermanic privilege, which dictates that City Council members defer to the opinion of the ward alderman on local issues. Last year Moreno wielded that weapon to block plans for a Wal-Mart in his ward, saying he had issues with the property owner and that Wal-Mart was not "a perfect fit for the area."

Chick-fil-A already has obtained zoning for a restaurant in the 2500 block of North Elston Avenue, but it must seek council approval to divide the land so it can purchase an out lot near Home Depot, Moreno said.

In opposing Chick-fil-A, Moreno stakes out a position likely to resonate in his hipster ward and much of the rest of the city, where public officials have long cultivated the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. But Moreno also enters the complex intersection of property and free-speech rights.

The alderman, serving his first full term, dismissed any First Amendment concerns.

"You have the right to say what you want to say, but zoning is not a right," he said, adding that he also had concerns about traffic in the area.

Moreno said he has been working on traffic issues for nine months with Chick-fil-A executives. During that period, Moreno also discussed the issue of gay rights, in light of reports that the Cathy family's WinShape Foundation had supported anti-gay organizations, the alderman said.

Company executives assured him they would take no stance on the issue of gay rights and would not discriminate in any fashion at the restaurant, Moreno said.

On Tuesday, Chick-fil-A public relations executives asked for questions to be emailed, then did not respond to them. Attempts to reach the company's local attorney were not successful.

Cathy was quoted July 16 in the Baptist Press saying he was "guilty as charged" for supporting "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."

Since Cathy made the comments, his company has come under fire in some quarters.

Jim Henson Co., creator of Muppets films and TV shows, withdrew from a deal to create characters for the chain's kids meals and donated payments it had received from Chick-fil-A to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino told the Boston Herald he would block the chain from opening in his city, but former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee wrote on his Facebook page that he was "incensed at the vitriolic assaults on the Chick-fil-A company."

Cathy is the son of the founder of Chick-fil-A, which opened its first store in suburban Atlanta in 1967. The family is known for espousing its Christian values. It closes on Sundays and Christian holidays.

Rick Garcia, a longtime Illinois gay rights activist who is a policy adviser to The Civil Rights Agenda group that was working with Moreno and Chick-fil-A on LGBT issues, lauded Moreno's decision.

"I think it's important that the city sends a message that we want business here ... but what we can't have and don't want are businesses that have discriminatory roles," Garcia said, adding that he's a defender of free speech.

Moreno, meanwhile, said it will take "more than words" to get him to reverse course.

"They'd have to do a complete 180," the alderman said. "They'd have to work with LGBT groups in terms of hiring, and there would have to be a public apology from (Cathy)."

hdardick@tribune.com

Twitter @ReporterHal

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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