Two days after a nightclub fight spilled out into the street and triggered the fatal shooting of two people, Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to make it easier for the city to shut down bars with a history of police incidents and keep them closed.
Illegal discharge of a firearm, aggravated assault or battery, criminal sexual assault on the premises or on adjacent property would trigger immediate and indefinite closure of an establishment, according to the ordinance that Emanuel introduced at Wednesday’s City Council meeting along with downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd).
The city would be required to hold a hearing on the “summary closure” within five business days. Shuttered businesses would not be allowed to re-open until they provide an approved “plan of action” to address safety concerns or win an appeal through the city’s license disciplinary process.
City Hall already has the right to order the temporary shutdown of a business after violence occurs on the premises.
VICTIM: Second person fatally shot outside club is identified
But once the Chicago Police Department completes its investigation, the business is allowed to re-open pending a license disciplinary hearing. That’s a process that frustrates, infuriates and can endanger area residents because it could drag on for six months or more.
The mayor’s plan would strengthen the city’s hand — by authorizing the immediate and indefinite closure of an establishment deemed a threat to public safety until the appeals process is over and the “public nuisance” is eliminated.
Conduct by the business owner, license holder or patron of the business that “causes another person to suffer unconsciousness, severe bruising or bleeding or disability or disfigurement” would also trigger the new penalty, the ordinance states.
“We have heard from residents in our neighborhoods who want irresponsible business owners held accountable when they put public safety at risk and this additional enforcement tool will help us accomplish that,” Emanuel was quoted as saying in a press release.
“We will ensure that businesses causing a public safety threat are immediately closed and cannot re-open unless and until the community’s public safety is assured.”
Top mayoral aides insist that the crackdown has been in the works for months.
But it comes just two days after a fight inside Dolphin Chicago, a Bucktown nightclub with a history of police complaints at 2200 N. Ashland Ave., spilled out into the street, triggering the fatal shooting of two people and left several others with gunshot wounds.
The men had been escorted out by security guards and were standing in a crowd on the sidewalk outside when shots rang out.
The fatal shooting prompted Bucktown Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), whose ward includes the Dolphin, to demand that Emanuel crack the whip against bars and nightclubs with a history of police complaints.
“I’m not holding him responsible for the shooting. That’s not what I’m saying. But he needs to tell his [liquor control] commissioner to drop the hammer on these places as best they can and not delay so we have more incidents like this,” Waguespack, who has endorsed Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, said Monday.
“The phones are ringing off the hook. People are calling extremely angry knowing this place has had constant problems. . . . They’re wondering why they’ve had constant problems and the place is still not shut down. I’m just mad because I’ve asked these commissioners repeatedly to do their jobs and nothing happens. Then, we get another shooting, another deleterious impact hearing and still, nothing happens. [Emanuel] is not responsible. But if we pushed people and really forced them to shut ‘em down — that’s where his commissioners have to step up.”
City Hall sources said the Dolphin “was written up 14 times” since 2006 — and fined an unspecified amount — for a host of violations that range from over-occupancy to operating after hours and failure to notify police of criminal conduct.
Records show that Hodo Menetti, who is now deceased, and had been a partner in the Dolphin, contributed $500 to Waguespack in November 2011.
The nightclub itself, Green Dolphin Inc., donated $2,000 to Waguespack in 2008.
Sam Menetti, current owner of the club, could not be reached for comment.
Earlier this week, Waguespack disclosed that Emanuel approached him at a City Council meeting in August or September of last year about another bar in Waguespack’s ward with a 4 a.m. liquor license.
At the time, the mayor was holding a note from an area resident demanding the immediate shutdown of a late-night bar in Roscoe Village.
On that day, Waguespack said he brought up three places, including Dolphin, and asked the mayor to crack the regulatory whip.
“I specifically said, `Tell your commissioner to get these places in order.’ What we wanted to do was get the hearings going and have the liquor commissioner hold the hearings to shut these places down. The work had already been done by police. If you look at the record on this place and other late-night bars, police are constantly responding and neighbors are saying, `What does it take–for someone to get shot to close this place down?’ ” Waguespack said.
Waguespack noted that the city’s so-called “public nuisance ordinance” allows three violent acts within 12 months before an operator can have his or her license revoked.
“Strictly enforce the code or strengthen the code to shut these places down or rein them in. We’re losing police resources because they have to focus on these places all the time and the neighbors bear the brunt of all the problems: shootings, stabbings, fights, garbage — all of the quality-of-life issues,” the alderman said.
During City Council budget hearings last fall, aldermen put Liquor Commissioner Greg Steadman on the hot seat about problem bars and their impact on area residents.
Waguespack was among the aldermen complaining on that day. But he was not the only one. He was joined by a parade of colleagues, including Reilly and retiring Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd).
Fioretti finished fourth in the Feb. 24 mayoral election with Waguespack’s support. In Round 2, Waguespack, a leader of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus, made the switch to Garcia.