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Reilly urges residents to howl about dog ban at Maggie Daley Park

Dog-loving downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) is urging his constituents to hound the Chicago Park District about its decision to ban dogs at its latest crown jewel: $60 million Maggie Daley Park.

In a Dec.16th edition of the emailed newsletter to constituents he calls, “Ald. Reilly Reports,” the alderman sided with residents of surrounding high-rises who have bemoaned the Park District’s decision to ban dogs at Maggie Daley Park, just as they did at Millennium Park.

“As the proud owner of two dogs [Buster and Max], I am very sympathetic to concerns about prohibiting dogs in the northern portion of Grant Park,” Reilly wrote.

“I worked hard with many residents from across Chicago to ultimately defeat Mayor Daley’s ill-conceived plans to allow the development of a [Children’s] museum in northern Grant Park. Given my history defending Grant Park, and ensuring it remains ‘forever open, clear and free’ — I’m disappointed in the Park District’s decision.”

In the newsletter, Reilly notes that the Park District “operates and sets policies independent of” the City Council and that he has “no jurisdictional authority” over the agency controlled by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s handpicked board and general superintendent.

But the aldermen said he has asked the Park District to “consider reversing their policy and allow leashed dogs to be permitted on the pedestrian paths” in Maggie Daley Park and in newly-renovated Peanut Park in Grant Park.

“Because this is entirely a Chicago Park District decision, I strongly recommend you and other concerned residents share your concerns directly with Chicago Park District leadership,” he wrote.

“When sending your comments to Superintendent [Michael] Kelly and President [Bryan] Traubert at the Chicago Park District, please be sure to copy Mayor Emanuel and me on all correspondence so that I may follow-up with Park District leadership on your behalf.”

Park District spokesperson Jessica Maxey-Faulkner had no immediate response to Reilly’s campaign.

Two years ago, the Park District announced that leashed dogs would be allowed at Maggie Daley Park.

At a park board meeting last week, Kelly explained that “dog waste” and the propensity of dog owners to let their pets “off-leash” — even in “dog-friendly” areas — had prompted him to make the “tough” but “prudent” decision to change course and ban dogs at Maggie Daley Park.

The superintendent acknowledged that the decision was “not going to make everybody happy.” That’s an understatement, particularly among residents of the massive high-rise complex known as Lakeshore East.

Reilly is no stranger to Grant Park battles.

In June, 2008, the City Council voted 33-16 to approve former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s controversial plan to build a $100 million Children’s Museum in Grant Park over Reilly’s strenuous objections.

The vote set off a marathon court fight over 172 years of legal protections – affirmed by four Illinois Supreme Court rulings – that have kept Grant Park “forever open, clear and free,” as civic leader Montgomery Ward sought.

A Circuit Court judge sided with the Children’s Museum in a lawsuit filed on procedural issues while opponents waited for ground to be broken to file a lawsuit based on the Montgomery Ward decisions.

A fundraising slowdown caused, in part, by the legal cloud hanging over the museum project gave Emanuel an opening to, as he put it, “hit the re-set button.”

At the mayor’s insistence, the Children’s Museum subsequently agreed to extend its lease at Navy Pier and expand there.